Supply chain visibility has been top-of-mind for logistics professionals for at least two decades, yet it remains a work-in-progress for many companies. To help companies better understand the potential solutions and benefits, as well as challenges, we launched our “Profiles in Real-time Supply Chain Visibility Excellence” series where we explore this topic with leaders in the industry. In our latest installment of the series, I discussed supply chain visibility with Rollo Begley, Global Operations Manager at GEODIS, a leading logistics service provider.
Supply Chain Visibility Challenges
I began our discussion by asking Rollo what challenges GEODIS was facing that led them to look for a supply chain visibility solution. Rollo notes that several factors came together to spur their interest.
“One of the issues we’ve always had is knowing if my product is well cared for throughout its lifecycle,” says Rollo. “As supply chains get more complicated and product is handed off from team to team, from subcontractor to subcontractor, how do we vet that entire supply chain and know what is happening to our product?
“The second issue is the simple visibility to ‘Where is my stuff?’ and ‘When will it arrive?’ We find that a lot of systems are ancient…but the technology is now available where we can attach a tracker to our freight and we know exactly what’s happening to it, how it’s being handled, the atmospheric conditions, temperature, humidity, whether it has been opened, and we know exactly where it is. It’s been eye-opening for us. The more we use it, the more we like it and the more use cases we find for it.”
I next asked Rollo what capabilities GEODIS was looking for when they began evaluating solutions. He states that the single biggest issue for them was knowing their product location reliably.
“The next factor was how much more we can learn about it,” he says. “We want to see temperature and humidity; has it been dropped, laid on its side, or shocked? We wanted to build out those features as much as possible.”
Rollo comments that these capabilities have proved to be important across the various industry segments that GEODIS serves (including IT Equipment and Electronics, Medical Equipment, and Life Sciences Products) and they continue to find new uses for it.
Selecting a Partner
What factors were important to GEODIS in selecting a provider for their visibility needs? Rollo points out that for air freight shipments, what devices you can put on airplanes is highly regulated by the FAA and other sources. So, GEODIS needed a solution that is widely accepted by many of the airlines they could potentially use (and there are hundreds of them). “We wanted a partner who has done their homework and has worked with all the different airlines to get their approval,” said Rollo.
“We also wanted a solution that was easy to use, which sounds simple, but isn’t. For example, if a device is removed before it is turned off, it can corrupt your data,” Rollo notes. “We also needed something that was reusable, and that was a challenge for us early on. A consignee or driver may not return the device and we had to be able to live with that.
“Tive has been a great partner for us because it meets all of those requirements and is relatively inexpensive. And their battery life is excellent, which is another key factor.”
Rollo states that they started their rollout of the Tive solution with a single customer in the US only, then expanded to other customers and international destinations. “The complexities of international regulations and customs is where I think a logistics provider like GEODIS can add value because you have a shipment that belongs to our customer with a device that belongs to us. There’s a whole layer of complexity around the importation piece and customs compliance. So, we rolled it out slowly, country by country.
“We also had to build out the IT capabilities because you can’t have a device transmitting in flight. So, we had to connect via API to one of the flight-tracking websites and switch from tracking using the device to using the live flight data [and then matching all of the device, shipment, and flight data together].
“This all took about six months to get rolling and we continue to make improvements.”
Rollo indicates that beyond the obvious benefits of tracking and visibility, there were also unexpected benefits. As an example, he notes they found out how hot it can get while a shipment waits on the tarmac to be loaded — up to 30 degrees above the ambient temperature! Another surprise was the difference in temperature between the frontend and backend of a climate-controlled trailer. “Once you know these things you can start to change your procedures,” he says.
“One of the biggest benefits is for lost freight. When a shipment doesn’t arrive, we can quickly identify exactly where it is and minimize the impact. It’s a really nice feeling when you know where everything is and how it’s been handled. It’s been a game-changer for us.”
Getting Started & What’s Next
I asked Rollo for his advice for companies just getting started on the journey toward visibility and what’s next for GEODIS in this ever-expanding discipline. For all of his insights and advice, I encourage you to watch the full episode. Then keep the conversation going by posting a comment and sharing your perspective and experience on this topic.