As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an engineer at heart – prognosticating is a part-time hobby, at best. But a new year always seems like a particularly appropriate time to imagine what’s ahead, and to reflect on where we’ve been. For the still relatively young supply chain visibility movement we started in 2015, 2019 was a year of dramatic growth and progress. In 2020, I expect the pace of innovation and collaboration to continue along its path of acceleration, resulting in myriad new ways for the community to improve business processes and tap new sources of value in the supply chain.

A year of rapid network growth and diversification

We talk a lot about the “network effects” of the FourKites community – that’s the term to describe how the value of any network grows as the number of participants increases. 

In 2019, the FourKites network got dramatically bigger, and far more diverse. We onboarded more than 265,000 carriers and drivers. We forged more than a dozen new partnerships. And the number of Fortune 1000 shippers in the FourKites network grew to over 380 – a number that far outpaces every visibility provider on the market by many multiples. 

At the end of the day, all of this network growth translates directly into more and better real-time freight visibility data from which the entire community derives value. I can’t think of a more emblematic example than when the largest wholesale grocery supply company in the US, C&S Wholesale Grocers, adopted FourKites in order to provide its vast network of customers and partners with real-time visibility data. At last report, C&S had achieved a 65 percent reduction in internal productivity loss, and substantially improved its customers’ delivery experience in the process. That’s the power of network effects in supply chain visibility.

This rapid network growth has also directly fueled FourKites’ growth as a company – both for our team and for our expanding portfolio of solutions and capabilities. We invested in new staff, opened our new European headquarters office in Amsterdam, held a host of carrier and broker summits around the world, and hosted our largest annual community user conference ever. We launched 13 new products (Appointment Manager, Lane Connect and Network Visibility and Dynamic ETA, to name a few) and rolled out 2,400 product enhancements, all while tracking more than 600,000 loads each and every day. 

We are in a great position to run even faster in 2020.

What’s next? (And, how did I do on last year’s predictions?)

And now for the crystal ball. And as I soothsay, I will critique – and in some cases elaborate on – some of the predictions I offered up at this time last year.

  • Forget disruption. Real-time visibility is the status quo. Last year, I talked about the choice facing so many in the industry – to disrupt or be disrupted. With all of this year’s activity and progress, that no longer feels current. We’ve achieved critical mass. The industry has answered unequivocally: Real-time visibility is no longer the future. It’s the present. There’s a growing acknowledgement amongst the supply chain community that the benefits of collaboration and sharing real-time visibility data make the entire ecosystem run better, smarter and more profitably.

In short, in 2020, if you’re not onboard with visibility, you’re behind.

  • Network effects will keep multiplying. Growth in visibility network participants – and, what’s more, participants of different stripes – means a richer set of data from which all parties can glean value. Consider carriers. We met with hundreds of them in 2019, and we launched our Premier Carrier List, which highlights the carriers who are achieving the highest levels of visibility-related data accuracy. Carriers love it because by offering great data and collaborating with the community, they can realize improvements in shipping dock turn times, reduced inventory levels and better labor management. Not to mention bring in more business. Drivers have embraced our CarrierLink app because we built it for them, incorporating their feedback into product features that make life on the road easier. Brokers, too, have a compelling business interest in visibility’s demonstrated ability to streamline carrier management and improve relationships via a better experience for all.

More users, more sharing, more data. This is why FourKites is investing in the fastest-growing data science team in the industry, to shed light on the many “supply chain black holes” that have stymied the industry for so long.

  • Visibility will impact far more than logistics. I’ll start with the mea culpa. Last year, I predicted that on-demand warehousing would take off. I jumped the gun. VCs are still placing their bets on visibility in the logistics space. Seems on-demand warehousing needs a bit more time to mature. That said, in 2020 visibility will start to impact many related areas of the supply chain, including, yes, progress in warehousing but also yard, inventory, demand and supply.
  • Sustainability remains an enormous opportunity. Last year, I said “visibility will help propel sustainability.” It did, but it’s just the beginning. So I’m doubling down on this prediction for 2020. We have an opportunity – and in my opinion, a responsibility – to maximize visibility’s potential to make a positive impact on this huge social problem that the world’s largest corporations are focusing on.

We all grew up in an era when the complexity of most supply chains made it basically impossible to identify waste and inefficiency. Visibility software is changing this for the better. I recently wrote about how visibility software allows companies to mitigate dwell, which goes directly to reducing fuel and CO2 emissions. Traceability – or the ability to verify that upstream suppliers are engaging in environmental best practices – is now possible, so everyone can understand where their products are coming from and communicate easily regarding common sustainability goals. And as I’ve written before, visibility software can help shippers mitigate the waste of “deadhead,” reducing emission and making our roadways safer in the process. Going forward, let’s continue to push ourselves in this area.

Real-time supply chain visibility is no longer the future. It’s right now. And I predict that 2020 will be the most dizzying year yet, full of collaboration, innovation and new ways of making the supply chain better for everyone.

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