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Since first founding FourKites six years ago, I’ve seen the growth of supply chain visibility as a key differentiator for the world’s largest companies, and Gartner has been a key proponent of that growing awareness. Throughout this past year, Gartner VP Research Analyst Bart De Muynck has joined several of our own virtual conferences here at FourKites, most notably our recent Visibility 2020 virtual event in September.

I was honored to return the favor by taking part in Gartner’s Supply Chain Visibility Power Panel alongside FourKites customers Walmart Canada and Cardinal Health. Over the course of our panel presentation, I spoke with Francis Lalonde, VP Transportation at Walmart Canada, and Joshua Dolan, Vice President of Global Logistics at Cardinal Health, about the top challenges and triumphs these two titans have faced over the past year.

My biggest takeaway? It’s an incredible time to be in the world of supply chain and logistics. 2020 has been a year like never before, and the lessons that companies have drawn from this difficult time are both powerful and hard-won. As leaders in these major organizations, both Josh and Francis are exposed to some of the biggest developments occurring in the supply chain and logistics space, and both have done their share in shaping the future of our industry. During our talk I was privileged to learn a bit more about what each of them values most about their respective visibility journeys.

Walmart Canada’s Visibility Superpower

Two of Walmart Canada’s biggest developments for 2020 had to do directly with supply chain visibility and their partnership with FourKites. Since early 2018, the company has been using FourKites to gather freight visibility data from their operation on both the inbound and outbound side.

Francis singled out predictive, machine learning-enabled ETAs as a product of real-time visibility, saying that these have been particularly critical to Walmart Canada’s ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and ensure supply chain agility, resilience and performance.

“We’re getting so much different data – live, dynamic data – that we didn’t have before, and that visibility is mission-critical for us. So we’re super excited about the new tech around it and what else we can do as we evolve on that journey with our FourKites friends.”

– Francis Lalonde, VP Transportation, Walmart Canada

This is true in the day-to-day challenges of supply chain management, such as extreme weather events and other unexpected disruptions. By leveraging real-time data to make well-informed decisions, Walmart Canada was able to become more predictive and better able to make tough calls effectively and quickly. This enabled Walmart as an organization to more reliably and effectively balance inventory availability, driver safety and customer satisfaction.

These new capabilities were put to the ultimate test when COVID-19 made its arrival in North America.

“I tell you, nobody goes faster than Walmart,” Francis said during our talk. “But we actually went faster than our traditional fast pace during the pandemic.”

Even amid the massive disruption that was COVID-19, Francis’ team was still able to progress toward a goal that is near and dear to his heart: Walmart’s journey to a fully sustainable supply chain. During the panel, he mentioned that over the past year, the company managed to crank up its ordering of Tesla trucks by a factor of three.

Going forward, Francis sees his company as a trailblazer in the visibility space, helping us develop new products and applying Walmart’s trademark speed and ingenuity to maximizing the value of visibility technology.

“You kind of think you’re ready for what the world’s going to throw at you,” he said, “but this is completely different. This is taking it to a whole other level. So it creates a need to build even more flexibility.”

Cardinal Health’s Cognitive Network

While Walmart stood in the vanguard of ensuring that consumers had access to critical goods and services throughout the pandemic, Cardinal Health was facing a different set of challenges. One of the world’s biggest producers of medical equipment, first aid supplies and personal protective gear, Cardinal quickly found itself facing an unprecedented surge in demand for its products when the pandemic hit.

Cardinal Health operates in more than 60 countries around the world. Just within the United States, it delivers to more than 26,000 pharmacies and supplies over 85% of American hospitals. Perhaps most impressive of all? During the COVID crisis, the company never had to close a single facility – not even temporarily.

As Josh mentioned during our panel discussion, achieving end-to-end visibility throughout Cardinal Health’s entire global supply chain has been a tall order from the start. In addition to the company’s large and distributed global customer base, they’re also one of only a handful of shippers that regularly moves freight in every mode. Being able to tie all of that together into a single pane of glass was a critical goal for Cardinal Health from the very beginning of their visibility journey.

To meet those demands, Cardinal Health has been working toward developing a proprietary cognitive network that will allow them to flow inventory, unencumbered, throughout the supply chain. The idea is to bring together all of its many individual supply chain organizations that once functioned as independent siloes – procurement, transportation, warehousing, store management – and create a centralized place to both accumulate and act on the data they create using tools like visibility, machine learning and more.

“There’s a high need to be able to not only see what’s happening within the network, but to be able to react to that in a really quick way, based on the dynamics around capacity availability, disruptions that are happening, etc… I think everyone right now is working toward this frictionless experience for the customer.”

– Joshua Dolan, Vice President of Global Logistics, Cardinal Health

Similar to other industries, customers within the life sciences space want to be served where they are, whether that’s at a hospital, at an off-site setting or even at home. By harnessing visibility and other data-driven differentiators, Cardinal Health has been able to stay ahead of the competition – and more importantly, ahead of the pandemic.

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There’s no question that both Walmart Canada and Cardinal Health are essential businesses in this troubled time. Not only do they employ millions around the country and around the world, but both are also at the forefront of ensuring that billions of people around the world have access to food, medical supplies and other countless essentials to make it through the COVID pandemic. I’d like to thank both of these leaders for taking time out of their busy schedules to sit down and discuss how they are playing a role in keeping the world healthy, fed and safe.

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