To test the thinking and visibility of his students, Socrates held up a white ball in front of his student and asked, “What color is the ball?”
Almost without thinking, the student answered, “The ball is white, teacher.”
Socrates then slowly turned the ball around to reveal the back of the ball, painted black. “Next time, before you answer,” said Socrates, “examine both sides.”
In today’s supply chain business, where customers increasingly expect faster, better, cheaper service, success often turns on gleaning real-time visibility into shipments in transit. Indeed, who couldn’t benefit from improved transportation visibility?
Yet, for many operators, orders are still tracked using lagging carrier information gleaned from phone calls, websites, spreadsheets, emails, and other old-school forms of reporting. Then, when schedules aren’t met, it’s an unpleasant surprise to all involved. Bottlenecks form. Labor stalls. Customer satisfaction suffers. And in some cases, service penalties ensue.
Even if your transportation management system (TMS) is ingesting carrier EDI information directly, the data you receive is often hours after that fact, leaving you to “best-guess” actual delivery times. What is stopping a carrier from “fudging” the information a little to save face? You don’t know what you don’t know. Not the most efficient way to run a logistics business.
Real-Time Transportation Visibility Defined
To improve visibility and control across your transportation network, a real-time transportation visibility platform (RTTVP) is essential.
An RTTVP is a software solution that tracks, and traces loads in transit regardless of carrier or mode. It collects and stores data from a variety of sources. These sources may include electronic logging devices, telematics networks, mobile devices, RF devices, and GPS information from automatic identification systems for ship locations and NORAD for aircraft positioning. This data is then fed directly into your TMS, providing a real-time, verifiable, 360° view of shipments in process, allowing you to choose more efficient routes, save fuel and time, and provide your customers a better experience overall.
Not All Platforms Are the Same
Of course, the kind of RTTVP you use depends on the outcomes you desire. Providers offer an array of capabilities, some of which can add considerable cost to the solution you implement.
Over-equipping or under-equipping wastes time and money. So, here are a few top-level factors to consider before you go all in:
- Size and Scope: Are you running a smaller, more controllable environment, such as a warehouse or factory? Or a larger, more complex, matrixed operation, involving multiple suppliers and third-party manufacturers. Obviously, the latter will require a more sophisticated solution.
- Shipment vs. Product-Level Tracking: An RTTVP will provide visibility into load-level tracking; if you are tracking product SKUs, you’ll require a control tower solution.
- Visibility Only or Visibility with Intelligence: The former represents a simpler integration with your TMS, whereas the latter will require full platform access.
The basic question is, do you want to simply track and trace shipments for a better customer experience, or do you want to analyze and forecast for continuous business improvement? The farther you go from the simple to the complex, the more firepower you will need and the more you’ll spend on a solution.
Visibility in Action
Let’s say your carriers are reporting 98% on-time performance, but your customers are claiming 92% on-time delivery. Without some form of RTTVP, you really don’t know where the disconnect lies. Your carriers and customers may both be right. To effectively correct the disconnect, you’ll need to improve visibility into your process. A visibility-only solution may be sufficient, helping you proactively communicate with customers, internally or externally, to solve complaints before they manifest.
However, if you’re attempting to streamline operational efficiency, as in the case of a construction business needing to coordinate labor and materials for improved margins, or manufacturing business, managing various promotions and product launches, more robust forecasting and analytics solutions may be in order. Here’s where monitoring KPIs over time can shed light on opportunities and areas for correction.
Does the data show any opportunity to extend delivery turnarounds from same-day air to two-day ground without upsetting a customer? Are certain contracts coming up that can be renegotiated based on these related savings? What could you do to raise your load priority with a carrier and not incur any additional charges? Based on the right information, these “what if” scenarios can be vetted and adopted as part of your greater strategic plan.
Narrow Your List with a Smart RFP
If the time has come for you to get serious about implementing an RTTVP solution with your TMS, here are a few tips to consider when issuing requests for proposal (RFP):
- Assemble the Stakeholders First: Get everyone started in the same direction. Gather input from everyone who will use or have a stake in the implementation. This may include decision-makers from IT, finance, operations, sales, and procurement. Define expectations, determine how the project will be funded, and agree on roles and responsibilities.
- Share Your Operational Blueprint: Your RFP should define your scope of operations. Are you national and/or international in scope? Do you primarily ship by air, ocean, ground, or some combination of the above? Some solutions work better in certain geographies, modes, or industries than others. Use your RFP to narrow the best options for you.
- Clarify Your Integration Landscape: Will you be integrating smaller, regional carriers onto your platform, larger, national operators, or both? Larger carriers tend to require EDI services as part of their integration. They are also savvier in the ways of APIs and coding requirements than smaller carriers. Smaller carriers, conversely, will probably require more assistance onboarding. Your RTTVP provider should be able to assist either way.
Rely on Professional Assistance
No question, the competitive landscape in logistics today is leaning toward tighter operations with greater transparency for all. A well-vetted, right-fitting RTTVP solution can equip you with the insights you need to balance speed, quality, and cost.
Don’t be in the dark when it comes to your shipments in transit. Get on the ball with improved visibility into your transportation operation with an RTTVP solution.
Michelle Sodomka is Senior Director of Client Services at Open Sky Group. As a Senior Director and TMS Practice Leader at Open Sky Group, Michelle’s focus is on the products and services clients need to stay competitive and flexible in the ever-changing, disruptive business environment that is the world of supply chain. Open Sky Group’s mission is to deliver technology-enabled solutions that allow our customers to achieve more, often with less, while having the flexibility to adapt to change. Our mission and core values are the foundation of our culture and guiding source in our interactions. Michelle lives the core values and mission each day by bringing the best experience possible to our clients. As our TMS Practice Leader, she is an essential member of implementation teams, working alongside our clients, and encouraging them to use innovation and best practices instead of customizations for their long-term success.