Keys to a Successful Real-time Freight Visibility Implementation

 

As supply chains grow more complex, transportation professionals are being challenged to operate more efficiently. Consequently, best-in-class organizations have embraced real-time capabilities of supply chain visibility to improve their performance.

 

Yet, visibility functionality is still very new to many companies.  To realize the maximum value from their investment, these companies often need help understanding the best practices for implementing a visibility tool. For example, having a strategy to encourage adoption of the new tool is imperative to ensure success. Expecting the organization to immediately rally around the tool without first explaining its future benefits is a guaranteed way to limit its potential ROI.

 

It’s also important to have monitoring procedures that can identify potential risks within a program and opportunities for ongoing improvement.  A classic “Golden Triangle” approach that uses People, Process and Technology variables is one effective way to evaluate visibility tool implementation. Each of the variables is codependent on all of the others, and enhancing one area will usually result in an improvement in others.

 

Defining Visibility Best Practices

 

Below is a description of six interdependent variables that contribute to a successful implementation, along with examples of specific key performance indicators indicative of top-performing companies.*

 

1. PEOPLE — User Access and Adoption

 

Know where data can be accessed, who has access to that data and what data is available.

 

Top Performers

  • Recognize access to shipment information is important to multiple groups using multiple systems – not just transportation and logistics management
  • Visibility is provided to external stakeholders including customer service, merchandisers, retail stores, downstream production and warehouse facilities and the final customer
  • Shipment visibility data is available within systems used by all user groups such as TMS, WMS, ERP, sales, business intelligence reporting and customer-facing portals
  • Greater than 80% of all potential users have access to freight visibility data within the various enterprise systems
  • Executive leadership is engaged and has defined the vision and importance of the visibility program to all stakeholders – transportation/logistics users, IT, sales, carrier procurement and customer service

2. PEOPLE – Logistics Provider Relationships

 

Visibility can only be gained with the participation of the carriers, owners and creators of the data. Make sure they understand the importance of the value they provide and benefit from and are willing to make appropriate investments and changes to ensure quality data.

 

Top Performers

  • Strong carrier relationships across both business and IT dimensions to ensure access to as much quality data as possible
  • Diverse carrier base with a mix of cell phone, GPS/ELD and TMS-connected carriers
  • Recognize the importance of a two-way relationship with carriers
  • Carriers engaged in ongoing reviews of compliance metrics and with continuous improvement efforts
  • Focus on having all available ELD/ TMS carriers directly connected to its visibility platform network and commitment to automate the visibility process as much as possible
  • Are highly engaged with the carriers throughout the onboarding process
  • Clearly communicate visibility expectations and data requirements to the carriers

3. PROCESS – Exception Management

 

Exception management, proactive alerts and informed decision making help prevent customer service failures.

 

Top Performers

  • Daily notifications for exception management
  • Notifications shared and targeted to multiple user groups (i.e. customer service, customers, warehouse operations, sales, etc.)
  • Data provided to carriers proactively, so they can react and update customers to in-transit issues
  • Stop updates on > 75% of loads
  • Inbound ETA data integrated into TMS, WMS and ERP systems
  • Outbound ETA data integrated into customer and retail portals

4. PROCESS — Business Intelligence, Reporting, and Analytics

 

Capturing internal data and reporting performance metrics enables predictive analytics that can identify business trends and drive continuous process improvements.

 

Top Performers

  • Visibility data incorporated in business intelligence reporting dashboards, enabling transparency to trends
  • Reporting included in management meetings and made available across multiple groups
  • Common business intelligence metrics include performance by lane, carrier and business unit, average stop per detention location, etc.
  • Carriers have visibility to their own metrics and are involved in conversations around continuous improvement

5. TECHNOLOGY — Breadth and Depth of TMS Integration

 

Integration with a transportation management system (TMS) can expand shipment visibility beyond basic, brokered freight management to include real-time tracking data across a much broader range of service providers, vehicles and drivers.

 

Top Performers

  • Often develop their own integration to a visibility platform using a web services API; the flexibility to implement the data flows that best match internal workflow allows the best user experience
  • More than 80% of shipments are tracked with the capability to track specific lanes, carriers, modes, business units, etc.
  • All visibility data provided directly back into their own TMS, WMS, ERP and reporting systems is consumed and made available to locations where users need it
  • Integration uses business rules that add specific targeted internal and external email addresses on each order to receive exception alerts
  • Ability to provide external customer web portals is leveraged to share visibility

6. TECHNOLOGY – Data Quality

 

Accurate, robust and actionable data throughout the entire network enables companies to make informed business decisions that can provide a competitive advantage.

 

Top Performers

  • Carrier codes, stops and planned appointment windows supplied on 100% of loads
  • Load Type, Mode and other shipment metadata values provided on loads for advanced searching
  • Invalid tracking numbers on < 5% of shipments
  • Real-time shipment data in the visibility tool mirrors data in the TMS
  • TMS up-to-date in real time

Assessing Your Visibility Program 

 

The chart below provides an opportunity to score your company’s implementation practices based on the Golden Triangle variables defined for supply chain visibility.  There are a total of six categories – two each for People, Process and Technology – with a maximum score of 30 possible.  Each category is graded on the following scale:

 

  • 5 = Top Performer
  • 4 = Above Average
  • 3 = Middle of the Road
  • 2 = Below Average
  • 1 = Bottom Performer

By plotting scores in a chart, you can see the big picture, allowing immediate focus on areas that need improvement without diminishing the importance of successful areas.  In the customer example below, it’s apparent that the Integration and Data Quality are good, but improvement is needed in Exception Management and Business Intelligence. By improving those values, the company also improved its Logistics Provider Relationships.

 

This self-actualization exercise enables a continuous improvement cycle to identify areas of opportunity.  To ensure ongoing success, regular checkpoints should be established to review and re-evaluate your visibility program based on the variables.  This is also an opportunity to adjust your KPIs based on any changes or improvements you’ve experienced.

 

*Based on observations of implementation practices by companies using Descartes MacroPoint visibility functionality.

 

Download our latest eBook “Real-time Freight Visibility Tracking: Keys to a Successful Implementation” to learn more about the best practices for implementing a visibility tool.

 

Pete Currie is currently a Senior Product Manager in Product Management. Pete is primarily responsible for directing the technical integration projects for Descartes MacroPoint customers who want to maximize the value of their software solutions. With over 15 years of experience of delivering software and process solutions to the supply chain and logistics industry, Pete has held a variety of senior technical positions including Solution Architect and Product Manager at Trimble.