Robert Sutton, executive vice president of innovation with BNSF Logistics, discusses how supply chain service providers have pivoted to meet the needs of customers during the pandemic.
Today’s menu of supply chain services includes everything from the physical movement of goods to the provision of warehousing and distribution activities, as well as the information that accompanies them. All have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, Sutton says.
Surging customer demand, coupled with labor and equipment shortages, have led to the existence of multiple “choke points” throughout the domestic and international supply chain. “We moved more goods last year than ever before,” Sutton says, “but we saw strains in that network.” Delays were experienced at marine and inland terminals, as well as in the movement of goods by truck and rail.
“Customers were left in a situation where warehouse space and capacity across all modes were at a premium,” Sutton says. “Just making sure they had product on shelves was important to them.” In fact, customer demands for service ramped up even as it became increasingly difficult to satisfy them.
In response, supply chain services providers have introduced a number of innovations throughout the system, to boost service quality and drive out waste. Chief among them is an emphasis on better collaboration between supply chain partners — in some cases, even between nominal competitors. They sought to eliminate the information lag that frequently occurs as freight is handed off from one mode to another, or between terminals and transportation providers. The goal, says Sutton, was to improve the visibility of freight and information throughout the movement and processing of goods. In doing so, providers give shippers the option to make changes on the fly, and redirect the flow of product in transit in accordance with real-time demand.
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