Visibility and customer satisfaction are two of the biggest challenges confronting supply-chain managers today, according to Garland W. Duvall, Jr., chief executive officer of Datatrac Corp. On the customer side, suppliers must know precisely where their shipments are, whether they arrived on time and undamaged, and whether the move got the best possible rate. Over the last several years, Duvall says, shippers have been laboring to obtain that level of visibility from the "first to last mile."
Technology can help, he says, but it's no "silver bullet." Shippers looking for software to solve their problems face two pitfalls: either they attempt to buy multiple, disparate systems that create silos of information, or they acquire a single system that purports to encompass everything, yet often falls short of that goal. What shippers need is a vendor that will make an effort to understand their particular problems, then find the right mix of products to address them. Unfortunately, says Duvall, "most shippers don't have the data that allows them to get the visibility they're looking for. They buy the tools, and the tools don't have anything to look at."
Coming up with usable data, then, is the logical starting point for achieving end-to-end visibility of a global supply chain. To make that happen, shippers must reach out to service providers, then amass the data within a central collection point from which they can begin to make sense of their operations. Duvall says the effort can be a lengthy one, depending on how much the buyer relies on each supplier. His company has seen rollouts that take from a few months to several years.
The most difficult segments are those that have only recently been added to the visibility picture - the first and last miles of a shipment. Typically, says Duvall, that's where a shipper is using the greatest number of providers with the lowest level of technology.
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