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10 Ways to Enhance Supply Chain Visibility

Seeing what’s happening throughout the supply chain—and being able to make changes when things don’t go as planned—is essential in today’s always-on, omnichannel shipping environment. But even though businesses have more tools, providers, and resources than ever for supply chain management, two-thirds still report they don’t have end-to-end visibility, according to the Business Continuity Institute.

Here’s how businesses can gain the insight and control they need as they move their goods around the globe.

1. Time for technology. A robust technology platform is the linchpin of the modern supply chain. If you’re still circulating spreadsheets or relying on paper files for any part of your process, migrating to a centralized platform can help you significantly reduce siloed information, data errors, and back-and-forth between your team.

2. Every carrier, one platform. Working with multiple carriers is standard business practice today, but often requires shippers to log into each provider’s platform for shipping status. Look for a tool that pulls in data for every shipper, so you don’t have to jump from portal to portal.

3. Standardize your business requirements. Keeping track of who needs what (and when) can be a full-time job for large businesses with many points of sale. Create a standard checklist of documentation, delivery requirements, and other rules for each buyer or location, allowing you to see easily if something’s missing.

4. Manage by exception. Supply chain visibility isn’t about seeing the 999 shipments that arrived on time—it’s about spotting the one that didn’t. A technology platform built around your business rules can provide intelligent alerts and escalations to head off supply chain issues quickly and make you and your team more efficient.

5. Get your numbers right. Accurate data can be hard to come by in the logistics industry. To gain a clearer picture of operations, establish a process for scrubbing freight invoices, delivery milestones, and other supply chain information as efficiently as possible.

6. Don’t forget purchase orders. As more businesses keep inventory levels at a minimum, keeping an eye on production status is essential to meet delivery timelines and customer expectations. The right supply chain management tool can provide valuable insight into lead times, vendor performance, and more.

7. Head to the cloud. A web-based platform enables your factories, suppliers, carriers, employers, and other stakeholders to get up-to-the-minute information from any device. Look for systems with user-based permissions to make sure sensitive details stay secure.

8. Take advantage of new customs tools. The new Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) is designed to streamline the import process by automating the documentation required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and dozens of other government agencies. By consolidating every filing in one spot, ACE also gives shippers new visibility into their customs program. Use it to see ports where you’ve had a history of exams, shipments that required extra screening, and other data that can guide smart supply chain decision.

9. Measure what matters. Many shippers have a treasure trove of logistics data at their fingertips, but lack the bandwidth to turn it into business insights. A supply chain platform with custom reporting tools lets you establish the KPIs that are meaningful to your business. For example, if an ocean carrier says it takes 25 days to travel from South China Sea but your last 10 shipments took 30 days, you can adjust your routes accordingly.

10. All under one roof. For complex global supply chains, establishing a point of contact responsible for overseeing all technology, logistics, and processes can have a huge impact on visibility. Consider a supply chain partner with the expertise and industry relationships to spot inefficiencies, eliminate duplicated efforts, and ensure everyone is marching toward the same goal.

Article written by Jon Slangerup. Jon Slangerup is the chairman and CEO of American Global Logistics and the former CEO of the Port of Long Beach. As a 4PL, American Global Logistics oversees all logistics activity for its customers with a technology platform that provides visibility for each shipment’s movement through the supply chain.

Navigating Ocean Shipping in 2018 and Beyond

By its nature, ocean shipping is time-consuming: Average travel times from Asia to the U.S. range from two to four weeks, and documentations, customs, handling, and inland shipping can add up to 40 additional days. While many businesses plan their lead times with those schedules in mind, it’s the all-too-common unforeseen delays that throw shipping programs into chaos.

According to a report by SeaIntel Maritime Analysis, carrier on-time reliability plummeted 8.4 percentage points to 74.5 percent in 2017, with none of the top 18 carriers improving their 2016 performance. Carriers also often fail to inform shippers about delays [1], forcing businesses and brokers alike to monitor container status closely in attempts to minimize impacts to their own supply chains. Add in the fact that ocean shipping is inherently complex – Accenture estimated that the typical international shipment requires more than 20 documents – and the potential for errors and delays multiplies significantly.

Prepare for a Bumpy Ride

Driven largely by the ELD mandate that went into effect April 1, the trucking capacity crunch is creating additional slowdowns in ocean shipping this year. A shortage of trucks is forcing some ships to sit at port waiting for drivers and delaying docking for others. In response, some ocean carriers are charging as much as $300 per container fees [2] to offset the rising cost of moving goods on land once they reach port.

Ocean shipping volumes are also on the rise, clocking in 5 percent higher in December 2017 compared with the previous year, according to the World Trade Organization. While overcapacity on super-sized ships has kept rates steady, many ports can’t handle the new generation of massive ocean liners [3], making it more difficult to source capacity in some areas and creating congestion in ports that can receive these vessels. Factor in growing demand and ongoing trucking delays, and shippers could be in for a bumpy ride with ocean timelines and rates.

The 4PL Approach

So how can businesses keep their goods moving smoothly amid constantly changing ocean shipping conditions? Many are turning to the fourth-party-logistics (4PL) model, which puts control of all logistics information in the hands of one partner to improve visibility, information accessibility and responsiveness when things don’t go as planned.

By establishing a consolidated, technology-based supply chain with a trusted partner, businesses can:

  • Understand actual lead times (and plan accordingly). With ocean carrier timelines often less than reliable, a platform that houses all shipment information, regardless of carrier, can help you calculate historical averages accurately.
  • Resolve issues faster. Rather than relying on a carrier to tell you there’s an issue, a platform built on your business rules will alert you to missed deadlines immediately so you can make alternate arrangements if needed.
  • Negotiate more effectively. As ocean shippers add surcharges or stop door deliveries [4] in response to the trucking crunch, an experienced partner can leverage its industry relationships to minimize the pinch on your bottom line. A supply chain provider can also help you explore ways to optimize rates and capacity in the long term, such as attaining beneficial cargo owner status.

Ocean shipping is the linchpin of the logistics mix for many global businesses. With the right supply chain support, organizations can ride the waves that 2018 is likely to bring without compromising their budgets or customer satisfaction.

[1] “Shippers, forwarders adjust to sharp decline in trans-Atlantic reliability,” Journal of Commerce
[2] “Ocean carriers levy emergency surface fees, restrict door delivery,” Journal of Commerce
[3] “Onslaught of mega-ships to test US East and West Coast ports,” Journal of Commerce
[4] “Ocean carriers levy emergency surface fees, restrict door delivery,” Journal of Commerce

Why Businesses Must Look for More Than Supply Chain Visibility

Businesses today have more resources and technology than ever to manage their logistics processes. So why did a recent Business Continuity Institute report state that two-thirds of them lack end-to-end visibility into their supply chains?

Juggling logistics providers, inaccurate data and outdated processes are all prime culprits behind poor visibility. As more global shippers rely on multiple carriers to mitigate risks and costs, establishing a single source of truth for all logistics information is a challenge.

Many shippers check three or four carrier systems directly for updates or circulate error-prone spreadsheets via email, slowing down their workflow and causing confusion. Information supplied by carriers can also be riddled with errors, yet incorrect data often slips through unnoticed by time-strapped employees and makes supply chains even more opaque.

True visibility into each step of the supply chain is essential for peak operations, particularly in today’s uncertain global landscape. The Business Continuity Institute’s 2016 Supply Chain Resilience Report found that 70 percent of businesses had experienced at least one disruption over the past year, ranging from IT outages to supplier insolvency.

To remain competitive, businesses need the technology, processes and systems to identify where products are and redirect them quickly around the globe.

A focus on real-time technology

As shippers seek greater visibility and control over their freight movements, the supply chain tech industry has seen several notable acquisitions this year aimed at delivering a new level of service to customers. “Real-time visibility” is the promise for many of these providers, offering businesses the ability to see every SKU’s path through the supply chain as it occurs.

But technology is only one piece of the solution. How helpful is total visibility if you can’t manage the massive amount of data produced? Does it matter if you receive real-time carrier updates if the information is wrong?

A better approach involves combining the right technology with the human capital to establish and support effective logistics processes.

A holistic supply chain partner combines systems, logistics expertise and service to ensure you can see and manage everything you need to — and nothing you don’t. Here are two areas where the right solution can help you go beyond real-time visibility.

1. Gaining transparency, not just visibility.

While visibility means having a full view into your supply chain operations, transparency means empowering the right people at the right time with the right information — and the ability to adjust as needed. This requires building your supply chain platform around your business rules, so you can manage by exception, rather than having to wade through a deluge of data for every shipment.

One often overlooked area is the actual production process. As shippers use just-in-time methods to pare down inventory levels to the essentials, an overseas factory that doesn’t hit its manufacturing target can mean delayed shipments and unhappy customers.

For one business with a five-step production process, a lack of information about what was perceived as insignicant to production progress resulted in signicant ongoing issues downstream.

By working with a supply chain provider to establish a platform that offered complete insight starting with the purchase order, the company was able to spot any items that didn’t meet expected lead times, adjust shipping timelines where necessary and identify long-term trends that allowed it to operate more efficiently.

While a robust technology platform is the backbone of a successful supply chain, businesses need to devote ongoing resources to determining which areas they can manage via exceptions and monitoring new areas for potential cost savings.

For lean internal teams, a third-party provider can offer the industry knowledge, such as sourcing international carriers for a company for the first time, that enables greater supply chain transparency and control.

2. Ensure data accuracy, not just speed.

Aggregating real-time data is a major focus for today’s supply chain tech players. But without the assurance that a carrier’s estimated time of arrival or spot rate is accurate, receiving data fast doesn’t do shippers much good.

The carrier industry is not historically known for attention to detail, a critical component of the data communication process. Claims by many providers to provide visibility alone, without accountability for its accuracy, is often misleading and, in many cases, irresponsible.

For example, Maersk reported that 12 percent of its shipper invoices had errors in 2013, according to JOC.com, while several industry observers estimated overall error rates of up to 25 to 30 percent. For businesses already overloaded with logistics tasks, poring over each carrier document in an attempt to glean data and determine their validity is neither reliable nor feasible.

A supply chain provider with the right resources, technology and commitment to service can scrub data in near-real-time, using algorithmic intelligence to determine whether it’s correct. If it’s not, they’re responsible for following up with the carrier to reconcile errors and omissions, enabling your business to make data-driven decisions.

For example, if one of your carriers consistently delivers later than stated, having that information at your fingertips can help you choose a better alternative for the next shipment.

3. Beyond visibility.

Achieving true supply chain visibility starts with understanding not only what’s possible, but what’s best for your business. By working with a supply chain provider, organizations can build a more transparent supply chain that offers unprecedented control over operations, allowing them to deliver a better experience to their own customer.

Article written by Blake Shumate. Blake Schumate co-founded American Global Logistics in 2007 as part of an accomplished team of logistics professionals. With more than 20 years of global logistics experience, he currently aligns IT, process improvement and service operations to drive positive customer experiences as AGL’s chief operations officer. Contact him at bshumate@americangloballogistics.com.