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Last week I sat down with Adam Roark, Worldwide Trucking and Logistics Industry Lead at Amazon Web Services (AWS), as well as Bart Coppelmans and Peter Kueth of HERE Technologies. These companies represent two of FourKites’ oldest partners, so I was delighted to have an opportunity to speak with them and learn a bit about each company’s unique perspective on the growing role of platforms and location visibility within the supply chain.

Our topic for the day was the importance of location data in building the digital infrastructure for the supply chain of the future. It’s a great time to think about this topic because while supply chain visibility, in a general sense, has been a priority in the industry for decades, it’s only now beginning to transform from a slow simmer to a red-hot necessity for every supply chain organization — no matter how large or small.

My biggest takeaway from this conversation? Visibility is no longer about answering the question, “Where’s my truck?” Now, it’s about answering the much broader question: “Am I on track in my supply chain operations?” As the technology continues to evolve to meet the needs of all parties involved, collaboration will be the key to maximizing its potential and ensuring strong ROI.

Next-Gen Disruption Management

I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but 2020 has given us some pretty massive supply chain disruptions. It’s forced us to step up our game and develop new technologies, processes and strategies capable of compensating for the unprecedented challenges we’ve been faced with these past several months. As the year went on, we started to see a certain group of companies beginning to pull ahead of the pack.

Those organizations that already had the tools they needed to shore up their enterprise’s agility — and the talent required to use them properly — have weathered the pandemic incredibly well.

3M, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of N95 respirators and a FourKites customer, is an excellent example of this. Through a combination of forward-thinking business decisions, supply chain agility and sheer grit and determination, 3M was able to meet the COVID-19 pandemic head-on, ramping up production from 22 million N95s per month in January to 95 million by the end of 2020.

3M was able to accomplish this by not only taking the pandemic seriously sooner than other companies and making preparations accordingly, but also by being on the frontline of supply chain innovation and putting a strong emphasis on agile workflows. We’ve seen this pattern in other industries time and time again over the past year: Companies that had invested early in real-time alerts, status and recommendations for their supply chain fared better, especially during the early months of the pandemic. Those that didn’t were scrambling to make good decisions with limited information at their fingertips.

See First, Then Solve

The last six months have seen capacity stretched like never before. Shippers and 3PLs are forced to rely on a longer tail of carriers to handle their freight. Do those carriers have the resources and processes in place to achieve those customer expectations? This means that having status as a shipper of choice is now a higher priority than it’s been in the past. It means putting processes in place to eliminate long detention times, get carriers in and out quickly, and keep trucks on the road rather than sitting in the yard. Drivers want to drive, not sit around waiting to get unloaded.

On-time in-full, or OTIF, is another consideration. As a company, you should be asking yourself questions like “How do I reduce fines?” and “How do I make sure my customers are happy?” We see companies paying huge sums in OTIF fines, and not only is this an opportunity for a quick return on investment for a visibility solution; it also frees up resources you can then turn around and reinvest in other areas of the business.

New Opportunities for Leadership

The last thing to keep in mind here is that no matter the industry, the companies that emerge from this pandemic in the best shape will be the ones that recognize our current situation as not only a crisis of unprecedented proportions, but also as an opportunity for leadership, innovation and growth.

One of the consistent best practices shared by the panelists was starting with your end goals and then backing into your technology landscape, operating model and talent. “Do my employees have the tools and the training they need to do their job in a rapidly-changing space?” Having visibility, backed by good, clean data allows you to accelerate your decision-making process, remove delays, improve accuracy, and more. If you have that, not only can you respond faster when something happens. You can also act before something happens.

COVID-19 has been a huge wake-up call for companies both large and small. It’s prompted organizations to take a harder look at investing in risk mitigation, future-proofing against further disruptions, and accelerating their existing digital transformation initiatives. When the dust settles and the world finally begins to return to normal, we’ll see a big difference between those organizations that have used a proactive approach to navigate the challenges of the past twelve months, compared to those that have simply reacted to each new development as it occurred.

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Logistics companies today want to be data-driven, but they’re struggling with multiple locations where data is housed, multiple owners of the data they need to make powerful decisions. Bringing all that information together is a major challenge, but the rewards of doing so are equally considerable. This is why there’s such a tremendous opportunity for leadership in the industry right now. Those who can shoulder the burden of the challenges we’re faced with, and who can step up and find solutions to them, won’t just be solving a problem today — they’ll be safeguarding their business against all of the disruptions and trials that the future might bring. To watch my full conversation with Adam, Bart and Peter, click here.

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