Do you know what one of the biggest productivity enhancements of the past 25 years has been for freight and logistics? Dual computer monitors.
When we went into lockdown, many businesses were distressed by having to manage their PDF paperwork, Excel spreadsheets and freight software on the single screen of a laptop or home PC. Thankfully, we’re a resilient bunch, and we found ways to make it work. Personal protective equipment and other essentials kept moving, and we’ve continued to find ways to move cargo in the most complex and challenging environment any of us have ever known.
Dealing with this mess, from factory closures to port congestion, capacity crunches and skyrocketing freight rates, has been exhausting. But even with the promise of economic recovery and a return to “normal,” we’re not going back. Consumer and corporate expectations around visibility, agility, and flexibility have shifted. We’ll never be able to transition back to opaque processes, PDFs, and Excel spreadsheets.
The goods new is that we don’t have to return to that inefficient and outdated hellscape, where there was little supply chain visibility and we managed our systems on paper. Nor will we have to configure dual monitors so we can pay smart people to spend their days re-keying data from one format to another, as they track spreadsheets back and forth between factories and warehouses.
We have an opportunity to do better. Real-time visibility, digitization, dynamic pricing, port congestion: none of it is new. These multiple crises have only accelerated the industry trends we’ve been slowly adopting for years.
So how do we march forward? We need to sit down as leaders in our companies and map out plans for 2022 and 2023, with the aim of taking the triage work we’ve done and turning it into sustainable gains.
We must evaluate the innovations that our teams made in crisis mode and figure out how to turn them into long-term business-process improvements. We can examine the new technologies that we hastily adopted and figure out how to integrate them more smoothly into our legacy environments. We can take the understanding that consumer expectations have changed, and figure out how to empower shippers with more brand-affirming data so they can create an amazing e-commerce experience.
Longing for the good old days of pre-COVID won’t cut it. Shippers won’t stand for it. They’ll demand greater visibility, open integrations, and access to high-quality, real-time data.
Shippers have caught a glimpse of what their supply chains can and should look like, and that’s where they’re steering. They’re looking to their suppliers and the market for ways to ward off these issues from continually ensnaring their businesses and supply chains. Service providers that aren’t on board with that vision will no longer be part of their customers’ strategy or operations.
Shippers understand, and carriers and freight forwarders should too, that there will be more and more events that threaten their supply chains and product delivery. First and most obviously, COVID-19 isn’t over. We’ve made hard-earned gains, but we’re still finding our way out of the woods with the pandemic. Nearly every business’s supply chain and delivery network are still under intense pressure and facing ongoing uncertainty.
Secondly, there has been at least one major disruptive supply chain event every year for nearly a decade now. Remember the impacts of the so-called polar vortex event in early 2014? Or the weeks-long strike by dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports in early 2015? Then there were the back-to-back disasters of hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, and the mounting trade war with China, economic expansion, and “bomb cyclone” of 2018. Even during 2020 and 2021, with COVID disruptions dominating shippers’ attention, there have been events like the Texas freeze this February, which caused weeks-long issues with transportation capacity, and the blockage of the Suez Canal by the mega-containership Ever Given.
Lastly, aside from disruptions like natural disasters, pandemics, and labor disputes, our world has 8 billion people and counting. We’re part of a global trade network that’s more complex than anything that’s ever existed in the history of society.
So here’s what we do: We take a breath, look at our entire digital nervous system, and see how it’s evolved through these cascading crises. Then we work to integrate that nervous system back into our baseline to create a sustainable, operationally effective and forward-looking platform for growth.
Or I suppose we could just buy everyone a third monitor.
Brian Glick is founder and chief executive officer of Chain.io.
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