By Jerôme Burtin
Not so long ago, was I called early in the morning by the Chief Supply-Chain Officer of one of my major Automotive Customers who was wondering whether I knew the location of "that truck that was expected for delivery our plant in the North of France yesterday at 18:00 CET, coming from our Tier 1 supplier in Central Europe". Needless to say, I had no idea and no immediate answer. Fortunately, the Ops departement had some information and told us the truck should be on location before noon. But then, that did not happen… and there we were, four hours later, still chasing the subcontractor, who was himself chasing his driver. After 36 hours we finally got an update on the driver whose truck had broken down off a country road after he had decided to switch itineraries because of road blockage.
This anecdote is one of many tracking mishaps faced by shippers daily. Supply-chain visibility has been on the agenda for a while now and has gained more and more attention from CEO's and Boards. Some would say it has become a new Mantra. Studies are published regularly by leading providers such as GEODIS or market experts like GARTNER and confirm that supply-chain visibility is now amongst the top investment priorities. This comes as no surprise considering the many challenges supply-chains must face to meet increasingly high standards.
At the moment, we are facing two different challenges. First off, the new paradigm of customer satisfaction that requires B2B deliveries to adhere to the same standards as B2C with real-time follow-up of deliveries. Secondly, we are seeing a growing demand for analytics based on the detailed execution data gathered by tracking and tracing systems. This comes along with high expectations for increasingly precise ETAs.
On top of that, there’s pressure to take on even bigger challenges to meet the high performance required from supply-chains: local or regional constraints on goods’ movements from cities or states, traffic or weather disruptions linked to the climate crisis, new or 'greener' regulations fostering adaptation, sourcing and resourcing of parts, products, goods and logistics providers in the constant shift in globalization patterns.
Those underlying mega-trends are here to stay for any and all foreseeable futures. Over the past decade, technologies such as intelligent devices, SaaS platforms, Analytics, public databases, etc. have been developed to provide solutions to - at least partially- cover blind spots in the supply chain. Many companies - either shippers or logistics providers - regardless of their size, have made strong commitments and embarked on a visibility journey. KPMG and EY, to name a few, have identified hundreds of startups and VC deals in Logistics and Forwarding Digitalization. So the question remains: where do we start and what is the way forward?
The trouble with visibility deciding which horizon you want to cover and which way you should go about doing it.
This comes with its lot of interrogations:
Should we systematically be turning to advanced supply-chain planning tools or strategic planning tools when crafting tomorrow's WW supply-chain? Should you be using public databases or implementing specific devices to collect new sets of data? Should real-time visibility and detailed analysis be seen as a first critical step to gain the required knowledge to improve quality of service, optimize inventory, shorten lead times and above all align selected logistics providers in common enhancement programs thanks to unequivocal analytics and reliable ETA's?
In my opinion, real-time visibility is an indispensable first step towards supply chain excellence.
As it feeds more data and information into the algorithm, delivering immediate measurable results, it gives stakeholders tangible information to make adjustments to their processes, creating a sound base for further collaboration and trust. Finally, it also helps avoiding the traditional trade-off between costs and services that ends with the launch of yet another tender. Building visible/measurable results in terms of service, customer satisfaction and costs is the clearest way forward.
So let’s embark on the visibility journey in order to avoid making or receiving yet another call about a late delivery.
With over 15 years of experience in executive positions within the supply chain industry, Jerôme Burtin is an expert on all matters surrounding operational and commercial management.
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