In today’s business world, “information” is a renewable resource and virtually a product in itself. Business intelligence technology enables businesses to capture historical, current and predictive views of their operations, incorporating such functions as reporting, real-time analytics, data and process mining, performance management, predictive analytics, and more. Thus, information in its various forms and locations possesses genuine inherent value.
In the real world of warehousing, the availability of detailed, up-to-the minute information on virtually every item in the operators’ custody, from inbound dock to delivery site, leads to greater efficiency in every area it touches. Logic would offer that greater profitability ensues.
Three areas of 3PL operations seem to be most benefitted through savings opportunities identified through business intelligence solutions: labor, inventory, and analytics.
In the first case, business intelligence tools can help determine the best use of the workforce, monitoring its activity in order to assure maximum effective deployment. The result: potentially major jumps in efficiency, dramatic reductions in downtime, and healthy increases in productivity and billable labor.
In terms of inventory management, the metrics obtainable through business intelligence can stem inventory inaccuracies that would have resulted in thousands of dollars in annual losses, while also reducing write-offs.
Analytics through business intelligence tools can also accelerate the availability of information, as well as provide the optimal means of presentation relative to the type of user. One such example is the tracking of real-time status of work load by room or warehouse areas; supervisors can leverage real-time data to re-assign resources to where they are needed in order to balance workloads and meet shipping times. A well-conceived business intelligence tool can locate and report on a single item within seconds and a couple of clicks.
Extending the Value
The value of business intelligence tools is definitely not confined to the product storage areas.
With automatically analyzed information available in a dashboard presentation, users – whether in the office or on the warehouse floor – can view the results of their queries/searches in a variety of selectable formats, choosing the presentation based on its usefulness for a given purpose. Examples:
- Status checks can help identify operational choke points, such as if/when/where an order has been held up too long; if carrier wait-times are too long; and/or if certain employees have been inactive for too long.
- Order fulfillment dashboards can monitor orders as they progress through the picking, staging and loading processes, while also identifying problem areas in case of stalled processes.
- Supervisors walking the floor with handheld devices can both encourage team performance and, at the same time, help assure efficient dock-side activity. Office and operations management are able to monitor key metrics in real-time, as well as track budget projections against actual performance data.
- Customer service personnel can call up business intelligence information to assure that service levels are being maintained or, if not, institute measures to restore them.
- And beyond the warehouse walls, sales representatives in the field can access mined and interpreted data via mobile devices in order to provide their customers with detailed information on such matters as order fill rates, on-time shipments, sales and order volumes, inventory turnover, and more.
Thus, well-designed business intelligence tools not only can assemble and process both structured and unstructured information from sources across the logistics enterprise, but can deliver it “intelligently” – that is, optimized for the person(s) consuming it. These might include frontline operators (warehouse and clerical personnel), front line management (supervisors and managers), and executives.
The Power of Necessity
Chris Brennan, Director of Innovation at Halls Warehouse Corp., South Plainfield N.J., deals with all of these issues as he helps manage the information environment for the company’s eight facilities. Moreover, as president of the HighJump 3PL User Group, he strives to foster collective industry efforts to cope with the trends and issues of the information age as it applies to warehousing and distribution.
“Even as little as 25 years ago, business intelligence was a completely different art,” Brennan has noted. “The tools of the trade were essentially networks of relationships through which members kept each other apprised of trends and happenings. Still today, the power of mutual benefit drives information flow, but now the enormous volume of data available to provide intelligence and drive decision making forces the question: Where do I begin?”
Brennan has taken a leading role in answering his own question, drawing on the experience and insights of peers as well as the support of HighJump’s Enterprise 3PL division to bring Big Data down to size:
“Business intelligence isn’t just about gathering the data,” he noted, “it’s about getting a group of people with varying levels of background and comfort to understand the data and act upon it. Some managers can glance at a dashboard and glean everything they need to know, but others may recoil at a large amount of data. An ideal BI solution has to relay information to a diverse group of people and present challenges for them to think through.”
Joe Couto is the Chief Operating Officer of the HighJump Logistics Group, which is comprised of DSD, Transportation and 3PL. The HighJump Logistics business unit is responsible for selling, implementing and supporting the software solutions which are in use by over 600 organizations in 17 countries. Joe has over 25 years of 3PL software industry experience and has been instrumental in leading the Logistics group to meet the rapid growth plans for HighJump. Joe is a recognized thought leader in the area of 3PL software including the unique requirements of “concurrent client logistics”.