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Vision and Technology Are Missing Puzzle Pieces in Your Global Supply Chain

Supply chain puzzle with missing piece

Central to supply chain change is the idea of delivery timeliness and reliability. The Amazon effect has changed customer expectations of what constitutes expected delivery performance. They’ve solved the puzzle first, and buyers expect deliveries will be made on time and be consistently reliable.

As CTO of a software company improving the delivery experience across global B2B supply chains, I focus on providing technology solutions that can give people and logistics companies the operational pieces tools to control delivery performance globally. This includes moves between ocean ports and inland warehouses, road feeder services to airports and truck deliveries to homes and businesses (Final Mile), as well as specialist delivery scenarios.

You may say, what can be so hard about booking and managing truck deliveries from A to B? But the Truck freight industry is one of the most fragmented, regional, and local businesses imaginable. In the US alone, there are estimated to be well above one million trucks, three million drivers, and 95% of trucking capacity is managed by small businesses with 10 or fewer trucks. That’s a US trucking landscape puzzle with nearly 100,000 carrier pieces.

As one senior logistics executive explained to me it can be chaotic, trying to ensure there’s the truck capacity when and where needed, across multiple legs with transparent pricing and high delivery performance. How is it possible to get the pieces to fall into place?

Most logistics companies have, over many years, developed IT solutions in-house and acquired commercially available systems but in turn, have had to deal with the challenge of getting disparate IT systems to talk to one another. Many of these systems were designed and built years ago, before cloud, mobile, IoT, and AI tech, and very possibly are no longer supported or are inflexible and costly to use by today’s standards. They won’t fit nicely into the gaps of your new tech “puzzle set”. And what’s worse, particularly for supply chain management- these systems are not suited to share data across departments, let alone a region, globally, or from remote locations.

External factors help us focus on the “Big Picture” on the box.

“Life”, as John Lennon once said, “is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. Events over the past few years have underscored this point, the pandemic, labor and truck shortages, congestion, and wars have ravaged supply chains and are leading to a shake-up and overhaul of IT vision and systems. In the last year, VCs invested billions in new supply chain tech and industry incumbents have stepped up investment in their IT strategies.

Core to reforming supply chain operations is the idea of an integrated view of the movement of goods. The aim is to eliminate paper or analog methods of capturing data to provide a single source of truth, so reducing costly errors due to missing or incorrect data. It’s your puzzle cheat sheet.

To address the need for integration, cloud and mobile technology is essential to bring data together from multiple existing systems and IoT devices, reconciling records and adding real-time updates that refer to and track the global movement of each shipment. A 100,000-piece puzzle will be solved a lot faster with a few sets of hands.

For example, a shipments’ ocean, inland, and warehouse data can be organized and shared so operations teams have better operational control and inventory tracking. This information can be filtered and presented to suit the needs of different users managing the freight moves. Data can also be automatically adjusted to reflect a shipper’s specific events and information requirements for the delivery of their freight or to capture all inventory, wherever it may be. The “big picture” will need to look different to all players.

At Clockwork the technology platform we provide can ingest and exchange data with any existing tech and present data through a configurable UI, flexible enough to meet the needs of logistics operators in different roles, often operating around the world. These users have traditionally had to work outside their other systems because they need a different view and mix of data to do their work. They can also receive real-time operational updates from links with truckers/receivers/stagers and other mobile and remote workers and can easily share shipment and workflow updates with multiple parties.

Ask any supply chain executive and they will tell you that one of the biggest problems with this type of overhaul of work processes, is getting users to abandon their spreadsheets, emails, old apps, and way of working and “buy in” to a new vision and technology.

To achieve this “buy-in” the vision of a better, less burdensome way must be shared and the new technology must be easily deployable. The new approach is often introduced step-wise, in one location, with, for example, a motivated logistics team, truck carrier, and shipper that’s urgently requiring a higher level of delivery performance and inventory visibility. Start with the corners and edges, work in. The pilot helps overcome any legacy “mindset”, irons out technology wrinkles, and supports the vision and customer value. From there a business can then roll out to other locations and achieve the full benefits of a new level of operational performance and customer satisfaction.

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