We continue our ongoing strategic shipping series by covering how to use technology to provide better logistics visibility. Interestingly enough, many shippers are still using manual methods, like excel, email, and phone calls to keep track of their transportation budget. However, simply applying a little bit of technology in transportation, such as a transportation management system rich with the ability to automate and have visibility into shipments and shipping activity, can aid in creating a competitive advantage. We are digging deeper into 10 areas of strategy that shippers can employ in order to maintain a competitive advantage. We’ve already dug deeper into distressed shipments as well as controlling inventory flow for a more efficient warehouse. Keep strategic with us as we talk a bit about technology in order to increase logistics visibility for your shipments, which then aids in customer satisfaction.
Using Technology to Provide Logistics Visibility to Shipments and Communicating en Route Disruptions
As society grows more dependent on information exchange between companies and customers, the issue of supply chain and logistics visibility becomes prominent for companies. Modern shipping companies have cited visibility as one of their top priorities for optimizing the supply chain. However, visibility is commonly misconstrued as simply order tracking. However, logistics visibility actually can be used to provide insight into daily shipping processes, adjust shipping practices to account for changes in demands, and build stronger customer service relationships. Take a look at some of the best practices for using technology to provide better logistics visibility into shipments and monitor en route disruptions.
Consider Differing Fulfillment Models
Modern trade often crosses international boundaries, and trade across borders may require upwards of 20 handoffs to get the destination successfully. However, some products as part of a single shipment may also be coming from domestic locations. To successfully monitor these processes, visibility tools should take international versus domestic time requirements into consideration. Furthermore, this will help reduce delays from issues in one type of fulfillment model.
For example, trade from a single port may become congested. If the logistics visibility tools identify this congestion, incoming shipments can be diverted to a less-congested port. As a result, disruptions and distressed shipments are lessened.
Assess Data Quality
Although data can be collected automatically across all shipment processes, the quality of data greatly affects its ability to enact change across supply chain practices. Unfortunately, part of the problem with using incorrect data lies with the assumption of all data being of high quality. Warehouse managers should thoroughly screen and assess the quality of data. However, the amount of data makes this aspect of data collection and screening impractical for manual analysis.
An automated transportation management system (TMS) can effectively screen and manage incoming data. Data which points to inefficiencies and potential disruptions can be quickly located, flagged for input from a manager, and used to change the supply chain practices. For example, data about weather delays could trigger the shipment of the same item from an alternate location where the delay in shipping the order would be less than the time required to get the original order from the area with unfortunate weather to the destination.
Furthermore, customers will see what problems cause delays in their shipments. As a result, customers will be less likely to contact the company about the order. However, the potential to cancel an order for a delay always exists. This brings us to the next point, enhancing logistics visibility back to the point of origin.
Point of Origin to Delivery Tracking
For international shipments, the point of origin of shipment comes under the scrutiny of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Failure to provide accurate point of origin information about a shipment will result in delays, penalties, and possible denial of entry to the US for international shipments. This represents a major disruption in the flow of shipments across the supply chain. However, automated tracking and logistics visibility from the point of origin eliminates this concern. As a result, imports will suffer fewer setbacks and deliveries will be less likely to depart from the original, estimated date of delivery.
Many different forms of automated tracking exist, such as RFIDs and bar codes. Furthermore, robotic picking and shipping machines eliminate the human element in processing an order. These automated processes can also be used to print and apply shipping labels, which further reduces costs and possible delays in the shipment and delivery of an item. Moreover, automated tracking helps ensure compliance measures are met as required by the CBP. For example, import and export records can be immediately accessed upon request or on a recurring basis to be sent to the appropriate official at the CBP.
Gather Information in a Central Location
Although various methods and technologies exist for the tracking of shipments, the information lacks value if not kept in a central location. The central location of data or information hub provides companies with the opportunity to use correlations between existing problems or delays to reduce future delays. Furthermore, the collection of this data can be analyzed to determine how to best address a given problem.
For example, an information hub may contain data from ERPs, the TMS, and the WMS. Ultimately, the information hub provides insight into all of the possible factors, which may be affecting a given shipment. If shipment A has suffered a setback due to a warehouse emergency, nearby personnel and drivers can be diverted to assist with returning the warehouse to maximum efficiency. As a result, the shipments from that specific warehouse can be returned to on-track status, which reduces distressed shipments.
Online Shipment Tracking and Customer Service Relationships
Many modern retailers offer shipping status tracking services within their websites, which helps drive traffic to the retailer’s site and improve customer service relationships. However, online shipment tracking relies on information from the respective shipper to ensure all information is up-to-date and reflects the accurate location and status of the shipment.
To take advantage of this trend towards retailer-website tracking capabilities, the supply chain must be willing to share data about a given shipment. Essentially, the entire premise of logistics visibility rests on the concept of sharing information about a given shipment. However, the sharing of data in this respect helps to build strong customer service relationships, which enhance a business’s reputation and drive the supply chain forward.
Visibility in the supply chain is the top priority for all involved in supply chain processes. Visibility helps reduce costs across the supply chain by maintaining communication between customers and businesses. Furthermore, visibility helps reduce costs from penalties and delays when shipments become disrupted en route. Ultimately, visibility in the supply chain is a tactic to save money and improve supply chain efficiency by making an entire organization, not individual processes, accountable for possible delays. As a result, customers will have a higher degree of satisfaction with the service.