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Shippers and logistics service providers are realizing the importance of advanced visibility as the best way to minimize and mitigate supply-chain disruptions.
Supply-chain visibility providers often brand themselves as leading companies with the best solution on the market. The reality, however, is that not all visibility tools are the same, and choosing the right partner requires research and due diligence.
This “red flag” checklist can help companies navigate the vetting process and find the best match for their needs.
1. Manual processes. One of the key benefits of advanced visibility is process automation. To achieve it, it’s crucial to eliminate slow and error-prone manual processes such as phone calls, email, manual data entry and legacy technology.
Ask the visibility provider how data are entered into their systems. Keep in mind that different milestone events for different modes of transportation may have very different processes for capturing that information. Many will say how easily their platforms perform this task, but if you keep probing, you might find they have large teams of people required to continually capture, massage and cleanse their data. Or worse, the provider may not do anything except pass along data gathered from a third-party aggregator — in which case you’d need to perform due diligence on that party.
2. Lack of high-fidelity data. The quality potential of visibility data has improved quite a lot with the introduction of new technologies. Still, not all visibility providers have solutions capable of pulling and enriching high-fidelity data. Without high-fidelity data, accurate, up-to-date estimated times of arrival (ETAs) and predictive analytics are simply not possible. Data quality is essential when selecting a visibility provider.
Asking about the source of data is important. Electronic logging devices (ELDs) and telematics integrations along with direct application-programming-interface (API) integrations are the preferred methods to gather high-quality tracking data. Ensure that a provider works with its partners to set up and optimize integrations, and that it scrubs and normalizes the data before connecting to your systems.
3. Reliance on mobile tracking. Mobile phone tracking is a low-cost way for a provider to track road transportation because it requires no integrations by the transportation company. Unfortunately, mobile app usage is a manual task that each driver must perform, which means you’re unlikely to get a high percentage of tracked loads with this method alone.
A mobile phone app for tracking otherwise hard-to-track loads is a great capability to look for from a provider, but it shouldn’t be the primary source.
Ask how the visibility provider obtains its tracking data. Cell phone tracking should only be done via native applications with clearly defined opt-in rules. Check if a provider uses more preferred methods like ELD/telematics integrations or direct API connections, and what percentage of data it gets from each method.
4. Reliability guarantees. Reliability is another area where most providers will claim greatness, but you cannot be sure until you are using their platform.
The most reliable providers are willing to provide guaranteed service level agreements (SLAs) for system up-time and availability. If a provider cannot guarantee some level of availability, it means even they do not have confidence in their platform.
Secondly, look for the reliability of the visibility services. Just because you can log in to a provider’s user interface does not mean their services are also available. If you are using APIs or other integrations, are those services supported with an SLA? What can the provider tell you about the performance of those services, such as latency and response time? These are details you will want to understand before selecting a provider.
5. Data privacy and security. In the information age, few things are more important than data security — especially in supply chains where you may be responsible for data from other partners.
Watch out for providers that don’t have industry security certifications, the gold standards of which are SOC 2 Type II and ISO 27001. If a provider does not have one of these certifications, then you must determine if the provider simply has not expended the effort or if they are unable to meet these rigorous standards. In either case, you will need to be extra diligent in your security audit. Ask the provider to run a thorough security audit of its visibility solution. Check their physical and cyber safety policies, vulnerability management, monitoring, backup and disaster recovery, and incident notification protocol.
If you do business in Europe, make sure the provider is compliant with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While there is no formal certification process for GDPR compliance, companies will be able to provide clear documentation of their roles as a data controller and data processor.
6. Poor network reach. Visibility requires participation from your carrier partners, but if they are not included in your visibility provider’s network, you will not be able to receive data from them. Many solutions will help you get your preferred carriers onboarded to their network, but that is not always the case.
Providers with small networks are a red flag because it likely means they do not have an efficient process for onboarding new carriers. The quality of a provider’s connections to carriers is also extremely important for receiving high-fidelity data in real time.
Ask the provider about the size of its network. Don’t be afraid to get specific and be sure to check if your favorite carriers are included. A provider that works with carriers to ensure their connection meets the highest data standards is strongly preferred.
7. Limited modes. Some visibility providers specialize in providing services for a particular mode or two. This may have worked 10 years ago, but now there’s no need to fracture your data. To get the full visibility picture, you need a partner that stitches together all the modes your shipments touch.
Ask the provider what modes its solution covers and how robust it is for each mode. There is no good reason to pick a partner that will have blind spots during important legs of your shipments.
8. Restricted geographies. For global shippers, you of course want to make sure your visibility provider can cover your modes in the geographies where you operate. However, it is also important for domestic shippers in specific geographies.
Does the provider specialize in only one geography? If they operate in limited geographies, they may not be able to grow with your business, or they may get left behind in the visibility market. Choose a provider you know will be there for years to come.
Does the provider support multiple languages and have offices and personnel in multiple countries? The best global visibility providers will have feet-on-the-street in countries around the world. They’ll have in-house personnel fluent in multiple languages, as well as multilingual documentation, training and application interfaces.
9. Siloed or nonexistent analytics. Analytics to track, measure and benchmark performance are essential to improving supply-chain operations. The analytics should highlight milestones like on-time pickup and delivery adherence to improve service.
Ask the provider what analytics it offers. Keep in mind that analytics are only as good as the data sets that were used.
In some cases, providers will offer analytics in a separate platform or for an extra charge. By design, analytics process data differently than a transactional system, so it is understandable that providers might create some separation. But you want to be able to connect insights from the analytics back to transactions to manage your supply chain. Often this is not possible if the analytics are in a separate third-party business intelligence tool.
10. Slow deployment or ROI. A fast deployment of the solution is necessary for a company to realize fast payback on an investment.
Ask the provider how long it takes to get carriers onboarded and how long deployment takes for its visibility solution. Will the provider offer a guaranteed SLA for getting your carriers onboarded and live? Find out what this process involves, and how quickly you can get your carriers on the network. A good provider can offer automated onboarding without delay.
How project44 Does It Better
Finding the best supply-chain visibility partner for your needs can optimize operations, offer useful analytics, improve customer experience and ultimately strengthen the business. Advanced visibility provider project44 connects, automates and provides visibility into key transportation processes to accelerate insights and shorten the time it takes to turn those insights into actions.
Using its cloud-based platform, organizations can increase operational efficiencies, reduce costs, improve shipping performance and deliver an exceptional Amazon-like experience to their customers. Connected to thousands of carriers worldwide and having comprehensive coverage for ELD and telematics devices, project44 supports all transportation modes and shipping types, including air, parcel, final-mile, less-than-truckload, volume less-than-truckload, groupage, truckload, rail, intermodal and ocean.
project44 has placed second, behind only Amazon, on FreightWaves’ 2020 Freight Tech 25, a list of the most innovative companies across the freight industry, and received the 2020 SAP Pinnacle Award as the Cloud Partner Integration of the Year.
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