There’s been no shortage of discussion throughout the industry as to the benefits of supply chain visibility for shippers and 3PLs. Whether you have your own dedicated fleet, are relying on for-hire carriers, or even if you’re somewhere in between, the importance of good-quality data is paramount in both ensuring a well-run supply chain, and in staying competitive in today’s shipping landscape.

At least, that’s the theory. Here at FourKites, however, we like to talk about what it looks like where the rubber meets the road, rather than simply admiring the 50,000-foot view. To do that, I recently caught up with Jim Laveck, Senior Director of Transportation and Logistics at GE Appliances, to get his take on the changing expectations around supply chain visibility, from the perspective of someone who’s been working in the industry for the better part of three decades. While Jim operates on the shipping side, he also has a fleet of his own, which offers a unique perspective for logistics professionals in all sectors of the industry.

Can you tell us a little about your background? 

I have been at GE Appliances for 30 years. I’ve held a number of different roles – from our manufacturing operations, to quality, and more. But really the last 10 years or so have been very focused on the transportation distribution side of the business. I help run our final mile operation. We do have a private fleet. I run a trucking operation of a couple hundred trucks directly, and today, my role and my team is responsible for the logistics planning, as well as the oversight of all of our finished goods.

Why did your company choose to pursue supply chain visibility?

We’ve been trying to work on visibility for a number of years. In many cases, we have very manual processes in our own internal systems, to try to figure out where a truck is. That’s because in many cases, with appliances, we’re delivering to a store or a job site, or somewhere that is very much counting on that appliance today to then turn around and get to its final destination that same day, or within a very short period of time. So when we miss an appointment even by a little bit, it significantly disrupts our customer’s accountability and reliability downstream. If people don’t get their appliances on the day that they thought they would, they have to reschedule, and all those kinds of things have downstream implications.

Just a few years ago, we wouldn’t know something was late until it was late. It took us an average of one to two hours to then respond to that customer and let them know whether their truck was broken down, or whether the delivery was going to be 45 minutes late. It was very frustrating. So going to tools like FourKites, and looking for opportunities to get more reliable data has made a huge difference for us.

How has the conversation changed with carriers over time, perhaps within the context of the COVID pandemic?

We’ve started looking into various forms of visibility 5+ years ago, and what we found over and over again was that people were very wary of giving you access. We also heard lots of carriers saying, “Hey, I’ve already got visibility. You just need to sign into this site, or you need to look at this.” But that’s obviously very disjointed – having to go to multiple sites. And the reality was that carriers didn’t have the visibility that they thought they did, and they then had to go and hunt down a driver or track down a load. So the quality of the tracking was very cumbersome for many people.

Since then, visibility has gotten much more accepted as we’ve gotten better technology, and I think the best thing about FourKites’ platform is that it creates a simple one-stop-shop, where both the shipper and the carrier go and provide the data, and we don’t have to hunt down dispatchers or different data in different systems. The other nice thing I’m hearing from carriers is that once you kind of get linked in, you’re then easily able to turn on that access to other shippers. So it’s not the sort of “reinventing the wheel” experience that we encountered four or five years ago.

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To learn more about GE’s commitment to real-time supply chain visibility, check out the recording from our recent Virtual Carrier Summit, titled Carrier & Broker Operations: Efficiency, Growth, Collaboration, where we brought together close to a dozen supply chain leaders across the logistics industry – including USA Truck, FFE Transportation Services, Tucker Company Worldwide, Sysco, AscendTMS and United States Cold Storage – to discuss the future of business for brokers and carriers.

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