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Mary HeiserDirector, Industry & Product Marketing, FourKites

Supply chain visibility has become a hot topic in recent years as more companies realize the critical importance of having access to real-time data. However, as the need for visibility has grown, it has become increasingly unclear exactly what companies mean when they claim to provide it. In some cases, it’s simply location data. In others, it’s highly accurate estimated times of arrival (ETAs) that enable day-to-day operations like automated appointment scheduling and exception management.

But one thing is clear — many organizations still lack full transparency in their supply chain operations. According to a survey, nearly 50% of businesses rate themselves as “struggling” or “not great” at digitizing their supply chain and more than half have limited visibility into their upstream supply chain.

Whether you’re looking to get started with visibility solutions or optimize existing systems, read on as we shed light on some of the most common questions and provide practical tips for addressing the core challenges.

What is supply chain visibility?

“It’s more than just dots on a map,” explains Bryce Heckber, FourKites Solutions Consultant, “Visibility is more than ingesting real-time data across transportation modes to pinpoint shipment locations anytime — it’s about creating actionable insights.”

This includes generating ETAs, detecting potential exceptions quicker, seeing potential shortages, avoiding expedites, and quantifying the impact of supply chain disruptions in a single view for your frontline associates. If the information isn’t relevant, easy to understand, and actionable, what use does it have?

How does visibility create value?

There are five areas of opportunity where real-time supply chain visibility users can unlock value:

  1. Reducing accessorial fees
  2. Improving customer service
  3. Increasing team productivity
  4. Lowering supply chain costs
  5. Managing ecosystem performance

Start by focusing on one and determine the KPIs that you want to improve.

For example, armed with tracking data, companies can make realistic delivery promises and alert customers to delays before issues arise. Visibility also optimizes inventory to prevent shortages that require costly expedites or can monitor capacity to avoid costly detention and demurrage fees. Heckber explains:

“When you’re handling hundreds — even thousands — of trailers across your network, it’s difficult to prioritize moves based on their financial impact on your business. With accessorial fees accounting for up to 40% of a company’s supply chain expense, creating a system that alerts teams to capacity that’s about to levy fees is incredibly valuable.”

What qualities should you look for in a provider?

Seeking providers with substantial market experience across all modes is crucial. Visibility platforms become intertwined with your tech stack — and daily operations — meaning you don’t want to be on the hook for testing unproven technology or left hanging if a provider goes under. Look for a reputable customer base, strong proof points, and innovative leadership.

With real-time visibility, proactive notifications, carrier tracking, analytics, and scorecards, we improved our carrier management and have been able to improve on-time delivery to stores to up to 95% on-time, which is the highest level of on-time service for Big Lots in over 10 years. From a qualitative standpoint, our stores have never been happier.

Kory Shinlever
Director, Domestic Transportation, Big Lots

What data powers real-time visibility?

Leading visibility platforms should interface with your operating, supply chain and business intelligence tech stacks. This interconnected network syncs everything — from ETAs to inventory levels — to help contextualize and enrich insights.

For instance, think of a truck moving temperature-controlled goods across the country. What data types influence the insights generated by the platform? There’s network data — information gleaned from the actual movement, including weather and traffic. There’s IoT data — location, temperature and time. Then there’s ERP, TMS, and enterprise data – value of cargo and requested arrival time.

Sophisticated visibility platforms can pull load plan information from a transportation management system (TMS), automatically generate a facility schedule and alert carriers to their pickup or delivery times. It can take order information from Order Management Systems (OMS) to help provide dynamic forecasting. And it can push ETAs back to a TMS to give transportation managers glanceable information about the success of their carriers.

This stream of data, contextualized with AI and machine learning, gives frontline employees all of the information they need to make the best decisions possible.

How do visibility platforms handle data security?

With so much sensitive data in supply chain operations, be sure that the platform you use is taking your data seriously. Frameworks like the Minimum Viable Secure Product (MVST) checklist are a helpful resource when evaluating a real-time visibility platform.

The way you connect to your visibility provider is also paramount to bolstering data security. Using application programmable interface (API) integration helps tighten the data exchange between you and your provider, ensuring no third parties can access your data.

For more information, check out our blog on data security.

How does visibility translate across roles?

Customer service teams leverage shipment locations and dynamic ETAs to convey reliable delivery dates. Inventory planners harness data for smarter replenishment schedules. Even executives utilize analytics like inventory velocity, cycle times, and on time rates to guide strategy.

The tricky part is making sure that the data presented is relevant, real-time and reliable. It’s easy to implement tracking software, but being able to parse the data and serve up the most applicable insights is critical in making sure it’s usable. Be sure to consider visibility providers that can track both order, shipment and load-level detail so more departments within your organization can access and use supply chain data.

Having a connection to your existing business intelligence architecture is a critical component of any visibility platform. Being able to mix supply chain data, real-world logistics information, and a company’s business intelligence metrics can help create extremely precise and customizable reporting for multiple teams.

How is real-time visibility harnessing Generative AI?

Generative AI is changing the game for enterprise software. And the best AI assistants should be fully enabled with access to real-time data. From geopolitical issues to natural disasters, AI can help contextualize your network against these external factors to help teams quickly glean their impact on your operations.

For example, FourKites’ new AI assistant, FinAI, helps teams focus on the most important, relevant, and emerging exceptions within a supply chain.

“Customers struggled to make sense of a complex, dynamic supply chain.” explains Pat Mullee, Group Product Manager of AI Solutions, “Their feedback was clear: They required a way to navigate opaque global networks and “connect the dots,” — a tool that can rapidly cut through the noise and take action.”

How should I approach implementation?

Begin by identifying high-impact opportunities, as Bryce Heckber explains:

“We work with the customer to understand where we should start and where the biggest pain point is.”

By phasing capabilities to address critical areas first, value can be demonstrated before expanding visibility further. With lightweight and flexible architecture, customers can be up and running in days or weeks, reducing overall time to value.

We started a couple of years ago, developing a technology roadmap, and visibility was part of that. With each of those milestones on that roadmap, we were able to demonstrate what we would gain in that piece of it. So it took putting that together, but then also getting a team of people that was cross-functional, that started to tell a story about our journey and about what visibility might mean to our organization.

Crystal Feasby
Director, Global Logistics, Haworth

Transform Your Enterprise with Complete Visibility

Real-time tracking is now indispensable for competing as a modern business. Choose FourKites for best-in-class visibility, predictive insights, experienced guidance, rapid ROI, and future-proof scalability. Request a demo today to map your path to supply chain excellence.

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