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In the wake of our wildly successful Visibility 2019 user conference last week, I wanted to reflect on the nature of innovation and collaboration within the supply chain and logistics industry. The general perception of our industry is that it is slow-moving, outdated, resistant to change and innovation. However at the conclusion of our conference, I feel more strongly than ever that this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

What most people outside our community don’t realize is what a massive industry logistics really is. We in the supply chain space are responsible for the safe and timely delivery of everything from food to furniture to industrial materials. We don’t have the luxury of halting operations for a year and redesigning our processes from the ground up. If we do, the world as we know it will simply cease to function. Any change we see, therefore, must happen incrementally.

Our keynote speaker, Josh Linkner, referred to this approach as “everyday innovation”. It’s those little changes, those tiny improvements to our processes and operations that – little by little, day over day – have the power to transform even the most sprawling systems into something newer, cleaner and more efficient. At FourKites, everyday innovation is our guiding principle, and after hearing about the improvements that so many of our customers have experienced, it’s clear that we are not alone. 

Supply Chain Management Starts with Real-time Visibility

Day 2 of our user conference witnessed the successful launch of our new FourKites brand. Building on our foundation of real-time visibility for the world’s largest shippers, we are redefining supply chain management as it is known today, up-ending the status quo, and creating a new lexicon for our industry. 

FourKites is uniquely suited to set the new standard because of our unparalleled network and market-leading technology. We have the largest shipper network, the most data, the most advanced technology on the market…and we continue to grow and evolve each and every day. This is what it takes to successfully transformation an industry complex as the global logistics space. 

The mathematics of network effects means that the more connections you have within a given network, the more powerful that network becomes. It means that you can create something that is truly greater than the sum of its individual parts. Here at FourKites, because of the size of our network and the tools we are building to facilitate close collaboration across that network, we empower our customers to operate in ways that no other platform can. It all begins with our foundation of real-time visibility, but it’s extending to all corners of the supply chain in ways that have never before been possible.

Good Data Means Good Results

As a business in the 21st century, your data is one of your greatest assets. It’s the foundation upon which all the most complex and valuable modern business processes are built. Predictive analytics, rock-solid ETAs, accurate benchmarking – all of it relies first and foremost on having good, clean data. And the most important factor in having good, clean data is your people. 

As Matt Harris, Import & Customs Compliance Manager at Kimberly-Clark pointed out during his session, before implementing any sort of supply chain technology, you can’t overstate the importance of first setting expectations and addressing concerns among your internal stakeholders. Without your internal team behind you, you can never hope to drive full adoption by your team and your your external stakeholders, as well – and you’ll never have the data quality you need to innovate effectively. 

But by appropriately setting expectations, and through effective implementation of the solution, you’ll find areas for improvement that you never even knew existed before – what Linkner referred to as the “empty closets” of your organization. 

No Business Is an Island

Modern businesses are deeply interconnected systems, and the supply chain is certainly no exception. Let’s look at one key example: Drivers. In another excellent session, Jeff Tucker, CEO of Tucker Company Worldwide, pointed out that until we as an industry start to prioritize the needs and voice of the driver, we’ll never see complete adoption of any new technology. After all, even the best technology platforms are worthless without the people who are willing to put it to use. To Jeff’s point, most visibility solutions haven’t taken into consideration the experience of the driver. 

I have to smile as I think back on last year’s FourKites field trip to the World’s Largest Truck Stop: the Iowa 80. As a team, we made the trip down from Chicago to ask as many drivers as we could if they had heard of FourKites, what they thought of it, and what we could do to make it better for them. What we learned from that trip wound up informing the direction of our driver-facing CarrierLink app, and our community of drivers continues to help guide the development of additional tools to this day. 

Here’s another example: Throughout our conference, I overheard dozens of representatives from the world’s largest shippers and logistics organizations talk about the power of cross-company collaboration to share loads and slash deadhead and backhaul miles – changes that would have a profound impact on reducing emissions and lightening our environmental footprint for years to come. These changes start small, sure; an extra load squeezed in here, a little extra deadhead reduced there. But when you’re connected to some of the largest supply chains in the world, those changes start to compound faster than anyone would have imagined, and you’re left with a highly efficient and collaborative ecosystem.

To me, it all just goes to show that no business exists in a vacuum, and as supply chain professionals we know this better than most. Our industry has always been one of collaboration, connection, partnership and mutual trust – all prerequisites for innovation. Tools like FourKites offer the opportunity to further unite our industry’s many moving parts, open opportunities for collaboration and mutual gain, and deliver that innovation in ways that have never before been possible. If we succeed, we add value not only to our own businesses, but we also generate change that benefits all supply chain constituents.

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