Why real-time visibility is now a must-have

In today’s market, the demand from shipping, carrier and customer stakeholders for real-time visibility over the supply chain and freight has never been greater. In fact, it’s no longer a nice-to-have service offering, it’s now a must-have if you want your business to grow and survive as corporations like Amazon and highly integrated solutions, such as those offered by WiseTech Global, consolidate the supply chain and raise expectations.

But what’s visibility, how do you achieve it and what are the measurable benefits to your business and for stakeholders?

What is visibility?

Visibility is a product of network effectiveness. In other words, it’s a combination of how well stakeholders (within the supply chain or a logistics network) and their respective technology systems work together, and the quality of the data flowing through these systems.

When we talk about visibility, we’re talking about both supply chain and freight visibility. Shippers and logistics professionals are now demanding a single view of these operational components.

  • Supply chain visibility – is understanding the entire supply chain inside and outside one’s own walls through various channels.
  • Freight visibility – is a component of supply chain visibility. i.e. Freight in transit or at either end of transit (pick up or delivery). It’s a subset of the overall supply chain picture.

 Visibility – where it began

Until recently, the ability to have full end-to-end visibility over the supply chain hasn’t been possible for shippers across the whole industry because the technology was simply not available. In particular, the ‘in-transit’ visibility of a shipment had been a distinct blind spot. Once goods had left the warehouse, dock or premises, many questions became apparent:

Where is the shipment now?

Has it reached the customer?

Is the shipment late?

While some shippers and logistics professionals simply didn’t care, for many, the fear of customer contact swelled as they could never be sure of the exact location of shipped goods. This would lead to a disappointing and frustrating experience for the customer and possible loss of revenue for the shipper because contractual agreements were not met.

Although many businesses had visibility within their own operation such as inventory management systems or transport systems, these only gave visibility over individual assets – for example, stock levels or vehicle availability.  Without full visibility, it was impossible to have control and certainty over freight in transit.

Visibility in today’s market

Real-time freight visibility is now an essential component of supply chain management and is no longer considered a nice-to-have.  There are many robust and affordable options available, and the cost of network services has significantly decreased putting even basic technologies such as in-cab telematics (vehicle tracking) well within reach of most operational budgets.

Customers are no longer satisfied with just receiving good products. They are demanding a single, real-time view of the logistics operation so they are informed from the time they place an order, through to delivery. If you want to gain a strategic advantage over your competitors, real-time visibility is now a must-have.

How to achieve visibility

Any supply chain is made up of a number of stakeholders or vendors. This is a collection of third-parties who contribute to moving the freight and includes the receivers themselves.  To be informed and in control of your shipments, it’s important to have access to the technology used by each of those third parties.

To achieve full visibility, each stakeholder’s technology needs to be interoperable – in other words all systems talk to each other. SaaS based platforms and integration techniques such as application programming interfaces (APIs) are an enabler of interoperability and remove the historical ‘heavy lifting’ or complexity of successfully getting two independent systems to talk to each other.

In simple terms, integration allows two or more systems to have a conversation with each other, and the dialogue of the conversation is the flow of data. The accessibility of this data is what provides the visibility. Accessibility means data is relevant, complete and accurate and is delivered in a timely manner to the right people.

An example is the ability of a shippers independent despatch system to have two-way communication (integration) with multiple transport providers. In one direction – from shipper to carrier – goods are consigned and manifested, and in the other direction – carrier back to shipper – tracking statuses are provided as the freight hits certain milestones within the supply chain.

Particularly in the last mile, receivers – customers, or consumers (arguably the most important stakeholder) can benefit from integrated technology that enables push or SMS notifications to smart devices and automatically generated real-time email updates advising ‘freight in-transit’ status updates. Think Australia Post but for customers of all transport carriers.

 6 benefits of real-time visibility 

  1. Win tenders

Being able to offer real-time visibility can mean the difference between winning a tender or not, as customer demand for accurate shipment information and data is greater than it’s ever been. Real-time visibility has always been a highly desirable service component, but with the abundance of available of technology and integration techniques, thanks to modern SaaS offerings, this has now become a powerful bidding tool.

  1. Meet service level agreements

Delivered In Full and On Time (DIFOT) is a significant metric for wholesale businesses and carriers in terms of meeting service level agreements (SLAs). Having the ability to track shipments in real time allows you to better manage and meet SLAs.

  1. Relationships and accountability

Having access to live information and data means you’ll be able to provide an improved service to your customers, which in turn will help you to build stronger customer relationships. You’ll also be able to keep carriers accountable and understand when delays are caused because of factors beyond their control.

  1. Scalability

Issues in meeting DIFOT requirements and other customer demands will be largely solved by having a consolidated system and real-time visibility.

  1. Certainty of delivery fulfilment

The cost of losing a customer is far greater than any DIFOT penalty. Real-time visibility will allow you to have certainty on delivery fulfilment, stop losing revenue from lost customers and provide a better overall customer experience by having the ability to access and share information.

  1. Return on investment

You’ll see a significant return on investment. Compare the cost difference between manual and automated shipping and tracking. While the initial cost of integration may seem high, in the long run system interoperability will save you time and labour costs involved in chasing shipments and fielding customer enquiries.

Does real-time visibility increase control over freight tasks?

Having real-time visibility over your freight task not only gives you greater control but other benefits including increased revenue, reduced labour and operating costs and a strategic advantage over competitors.

As I talked about in my e-book, in today’s wholesale and distribution B2B environment gaining customer loyalty is harder than ever, and selling a great product just isn’t enough. Customer expectations are high, and it’s up to wholesalers and distributors to not only build strong relationships but to give customers a compelling reason to repeat business. Having full visibility of the supply chain and freight will bring you once step closer to achieving this.