For years, logistics service providers and carriers have been adopting digital technologies to help them streamline a wide variety of transportation and logistics processes. However, until recently, the transportation and logistics industry’s true digital Holy Grail has remained elusive – the ability to view, manage and optimize their global supply chains in real-time.
This situation is beginning to change, thanks to the introduction of new Application Programming Interface (API), cloud, IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and other technologies. For example, new advanced visibility platforms have been introduced that use these technologies to collect various types of real-time supply chain data across transportation modes and geographies. These platforms are making it easier for businesses to view, analyze and act upon real-time information from the start of a shipment, through transport, to delivery.
As businesses evaluate these platforms, they must remember their value depends on the amount, accuracy and timeliness of the supply chain data they collect and analyze. Businesses should look for advanced visibility platforms able to:
· Seamlessly connect into a global carrier network that spans all transportation modes and geographies
· Securely access real-time data across different systems
· Cleanse, normalize and enrich data to produce reliable ETAs and alerts
With these capabilities, an advanced visibility platform has the high-fidelity data needed to deliver businesses the insights to streamline operations, lower costs, improve delivery performance, and enhance their customers’ experiences.
A Comprehensive View: A Multimodal, Global Carrier Network with Real-Time Connections
Perhaps the most important capability to look for in an advanced visibility platform is a wide-reaching, global carrier network able to collect accurate, real-time data no matter how many borders a supply chain crosses or modes of transportation it includes.
Time-to-value is critical here. Selecting a vendor with the most expansive global carrier network, along with an automated application to onboard new carriers quickly and efficiently, will deliver shippers the fastest ROI on their visibility investment.
To collect visibility data, some platforms still rely on legacy data collection technologies, such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), that push a limited amount of data at periodic intervals into these platforms. Worse yet, some platforms use offshore labor to manually enter carrier data, significantly degrading the quality of information.
The most high-fidelity platforms connect to carriers via APIs or collect information directly from Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) and other telematics devices in real-time, automating the transfer of data and improving its reliability and timeliness. APIs can also be easily configured for new types of devices and data. This makes it easier to collect data across modes and geographies, and to support new types of data in the future.
Connections First: Modular, With Easy Integration and Interoperability
An API-powered approach to advanced visibility also enables the platform to be quickly integrated with different systems deployed by supply chain partners. With this partner data, advanced visibility platforms enable a high-level control tower approach to supply chain management – an approach that automates processes while providing insights when action is needed.
This interoperability is not as easy as it might seem. It requires a platform built from the ground-up to use APIs to create stable, secure, easy-to-implement connections with thousands of other systems. The investment required for this is why some platforms still use email, phone, fax, web scraping, and manual entry data collection techniques that result in lower quality, less timely data, and platforms that are not as scalable as API-powered platforms.
Seamless scalability is essential for most users. Adoption of advanced visibility is a journey, with the platform first proven on a specific supply chain, product or business unit, and then expanded to include new partners and markets. Plus, APIs support the data security capabilities required to ensure compliance with GDPR and other data privacy regulations.
To ensure the platform will support their business today and in the future, companies need to “look under the hood” at how data is collected.
Data Purity: Clean, Structured, Normalized and Enriched Data
Just collecting data from a diverse range of systems is not enough – this data will vary between systems, and needs to be cleansed and normalized to be effective. For example, an ERP system and a TMS might use different terminology and categories. Advanced visibility systems should include technologies that normalize the data they collect, to ensure the accuracy of the insights they provide.
To maximize the value of normalized data, platforms need to further enrich this data with traffic, weather and other third-party data. Then, by applying predictive analytics to this normalized, enriched data, advanced visibility platforms can generate more accurate arrival, pickup, location, ETA, and delivery alerts and other insights. With these insights, companies can shorten detention times, improve resource utilization, optimize inventories, and otherwise increase operational efficiency.
By selecting an advanced visibility platform with global, high-fidelity data capabilities, companies can grasp the industry’s digital Holy Grail – an end-to-end real-time view on what is happening across their supply chain. This transforms transportation and logistics operations from a cost center into the tip of the spear for driving customer satisfaction.
Michael Reed is Chief Strategy Officer at project44.