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This byline was originally published on Logistics Viewpoints

Where’s my shipment? 

That’s the question that continues to bedevil the global supply chain industry. As I detailed in a recent column, the answer to constant supply chain volatility is pervasive real-time visibility into the precise location, temperature or status of a shipment — at any point along the journey. Widespread industry collaboration and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and other cutting-edge technologies to interpret all of these signals will also help leaders move from reactive management to proactive mitigation of disruptions.

The good news is that the supply chain industry has finally “got religion” about digital transformation technologies — an important silver lining after two years of seismic supply chain disruptions. Yet end-to-end supply chain visibility continues to be a challenge, for many reasons.

Solve for Europe, solve for the world

The European supply chain industry is comparable in size — by some measures bigger — than the North American supply chain industry. It is a vital cog in the complex machinery of global supply chains.

Europe is also more complex than North America, given factors such as the sheer number of countries and the wide variability in policies, infrastructure and the like. Europe is a fragmented market, and maintaining visibility over a vast multimodal freight ecosystem throughout the continent is no mean feat. To make it more complicated, the regions’ privacy regulations are the strictest in the world.

As such, one thing has become increasingly clear to me: If we solve for the unique challenges of European supply chains, we can improve supply chains around the world.

My company, FourKites, recently partnered with Reuters to survey over 450 supply chain leaders across the continent to learn about the concerns and challenges surrounding European supply chains, sustainability and the role of real-time visibility in streamlining operations. We learned a great deal that can help Europe and, in turn, the globe.

Some key findings:

  • Most respondents (67%) cited end-to-end freight traceability as their biggest pain point when transporting goods. For the UK, it’s 71%. For Germany, it’s unanimous at 100%.
  • 60% of European companies admitted that they’re slow to react to changing trends in logistics technologies.
  • Over half of all respondents are currently using supply chain visibility solutions, but 33% are having trouble improving data-driven processes, such as forecasting, receiving operations and labor.

Multimodal shipments are more important than ever — and the mix will continue to shift

Across Europe, the most commonly used mode of transportation varied widely. 63% of UK respondents cited full truckload as their key mode of freight; 80% of Netherlands respondents are using less-than-truckload (LTL); And 100% of German respondents are transporting freight by air, both domestically and internationally. Net-net, the supply chain industry — nowhere more so than in Europe — is increasingly relying upon multiple modes of transport to get goods to their final destination. And the mix of modes employed is shifting in significant ways.

Case in point: Europe is at the forefront of the push to move freight from trucks onto trains. That makes sense, given the maturity of rail infrastructure in Europe (particularly relative to North America) and rail’s many inherent advantages in advancing sustainability goals, compensating for labor shortages in over-the-road transport, and mitigating the rising costs of ocean transport.

Finally, transport companies, carriers and logistics service providers in Europe have their own distinct needs for real-time visibility, chief amongst them being the need to maintain complete control over the secure sharing of their network and their data. Nonetheless, they and their shipper customers need to collaborate based on a common, trusted data set.

Stitching it all together

For all of these reasons and more, Europe needs a two-pronged approach to delivering multimodal, end-to-end visibility to the market. It needs tailored solutions for both carriers and shippers, and secure data-sharing between them in order to make end-to-end visibility a reality.

European carriers need to monitor ALL telematics data from ALL transport service providers to operate efficiently and better serve their customers. This means engine diagnostic data, including emissions data. It means temperature data for high-value transports, such as pharmaceuticals, fresh and frozen products, and electronic equipment. And carriers must have a means to securely share relevant data with customers.

Similarly, shippers need true end-to-end, intermodal tracking throughout Europe and the world. The confidence that goods will be delivered on time and in full. And the peace of mind that their carrier partners will proactively communicate any delays, disruptions or updates to the estimated time of arrival.

This all requires new thinking, new partnerships and new approaches to address the unique requirements of Europe. Solving for the challenges in Europe — like data privacy and carrier onboarding — is one major piece of the global, end-to-end supply chain visibility puzzle. To create the complete, single-pane-of-glass picture, we must continue building a comprehensive network of relevant data, and an ecosystem in which every single stakeholder can collaborate and derive value.

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