Through supply chain visibility technology, it is now possible for companies to view their parcel and freight shipments no matter their locations, and track them in as close to real time as data feeds allow. Executives, managers and ground-level employees can use visibility technology to make on-the-spot, educated decisions that save their companies money and increase efficiency. 

    Unfortunately, outside of supply chain professionals, not a lot of people know that supply chain visibility technology exists. Even some big companies are still using paper invoices to track volume, costs and trends, even though paper processes leave a large amount of room for overpayment errors and are generally inefficient.

    Paper options and processes will likely soon become obsolete. As the globalization of our cities, countries and regions makes it more necessary for companies to ship worldwide in order to remain competitive, electronic supply chain visibility technology will become more mainstream. Companies will use it not only because it enables them to create savings and correct logistical errors, but because the environment will continue to be a priority, and using paperless methods is a very powerful tool that any company can use to make greener shipping decisions.

    Can you imagine what it would it mean for the planet if every company in just the US were to track its packages and make sure they were being delivered by the most efficient routes possible? The positive effects on the environment would not just be impressive, but incalculable. 

    How It Works
    Most supply chain visibility technology is Web-based, which means that it is paperless and software-less. Going the Web-based route allows companies to manage complex supply chains without having to try and interpret stacks and stacks of paper or involve their IT departments. Personnel at all levels can easily query imported shipping data using an online visibility dashboard with just a few key strokes. High-level personnel and upper management can make large-scale strategic decisions and hold the appropriate people accountable for noncompliance with their company’s shipping policies, and mid to ground-level employees can see the dollar impact of each and every decision they make, and make leaner, greener day-to-day decisions. 

    Below are two hypothetical scenarios that will hopefully help you gain a greater understanding of how the major functions of supply chain visibility technology might be able to help you and your company create and support a greener supply chain.

    Scenario 1

    Issue: You want to increase the number of shipments you consolidate in order to cut down on the amount of fuel emissions for which your company is responsible, but first need to determine which shipments could be consolidated and whether consolidating them will make sense financially. 

    Actions: You request four to 52 weeks of your company’s detailed shipping history directly from your carriers electronically, then use your supply chain visibility technology to benchmark your company’s shipping characteristics against those of the thousands of other similar companies. (Note: If you are already set up to receive live data feeds, you will not need to request additional data from your carrier.) Next, you create reports based on your benchmarking results that show that if you had been consolidating all of the orders being placed by a particular client on a daily basis, you could not only have saved money, but limited the amount of pickups being made. You use your supply chain visibility technology to consolidate these orders, monitor the number of pickups and deliveries, and track your savings. 

    Results: By consolidating the orders for one client, you reduce the amount of deliveries being made from five a week to two to three a week. This enables you to take advantage of the prices of consolidated shipments while reducing the amount of surcharges that appear on your carrier invoices, saving you three to 10 percent on your annual logistics expense. 

    Scenario 2

    Issue: Shipping by air is most expensive way to ship, and you’ve just learned that most climate experts believe that aviation is responsible for at least five percent of the warming caused by greenhouse gases. You want to switch the bulk of your company’s air shipments to a more efficient mode, but are concerned that doing so will increase transit times and cause delays for your end customers. 

    Actions: You access your online supply chain dashboard and select report parameters that allow you to create a report that contains all of your company’s air shipments. You then select additional parameters that will determine which air shipments could be sent by another mode and still arrive at their destinations on time. You do this for both your inbound and outbound shipments. When you are finished running your reports, you are able to see that while it would delay transit times to ship by any mode other than air for your outbound shipments headed to Europe, the bulk of your inbound and outbound shipments shipped within the US would not experience delays if sent via ground. Your supply chain visibility dashboard notifies you that within the US, UPS uses more train services than any other carrier. Because your visibility program allows you to switch all of your national shipments to UPS with just a few clicks of the mouse, you are able to share your preferred carrier choice with the rest of your company and begin monitoring in-house compliance with your decision right away.

    Results: By moving more of your business over to UPS, you are able to negotiate better base rates and push for a lengthier contract. You are able to save $23,000 annually by switching the majority of your shipments being shipped within the US over to UPS and shipping by ground. (Disclaimer: This is a hypothetical scenario. Your company may be able to achieve greater savings with a carrier other than UPS.)

    In addition to enabling you to make better, greener, faster, shipment consolidation and mode selection decisions, supply chain visibility technology can also help you to run a greener supply chain through:

    • High-level benchmarking that shows how similar companies have found ways to go green and achieve better carrier incentives at the same time
    • Analyses that show how warehouse consolidation or moving warehouses would result in shorter transit times, less fuel emissions and greater savings
    • The ability to import all of the green services offered by carriers into your visibility dashboard so that you have immediate access to all of your carriers’ green-specific solutions
    • Acting as your live routing guide and monitoring not only in-house compliance with your company’s green ordinances, but vendor and carrier compliance
    • Enabling you to manage all of your logistics-related invoices online so that in addition to auditing your carrier invoices and being compensated for any discrepancies, you can see where waste and unnecessary spending is occurring throughout your supply chain
    • Providing you with all of the data you need to show your carriers your actual logistics spend and leverage your volume to achieve better base rates
    • The ability to track and view individual shipments and receive e-mail alerts when shipments are being sent by a mode or carrier that is not in alignment with your company’s green shipping policies so that you either reroute shipments or make contingency plans
    • Significantly reducing the enormous amount paper invoices that you would otherwise be receiving from your carrier 

    When sourcing supply chain visibility technology, you can look to Oracle and SAP, both of which offer supply chain visibility tools, or find a provider that is able to create custom technology solutions specific to your company or industry. The best way to find a company that offers custom solutions would be to ask partners for referrals, search on the Internet using phrases like “supply chain data analytics provider” and “logistics expense analysis,” and research authors of green supply chain articles to find out which providers they might recommend. 

    Another thing to keep in mind is that custom solutions providers may be able to provide you with more personal service and green solutions than bigger outfits, are often cheaper, and may be able to implement solutions in much less time than bigger organizations. Mid-size and smaller companies, in particular, may decide it is in their best interest to partner with an organization that is not a huge conglomerate.

    As you search for a supply chain visibility technology provider, familiarize yourself with some of the technology that’s available by asking potential third party partners for things like free online demonstrations. Supply chain visibility technology is the future. The more companies use it, the sooner we will all benefit.

    Mikael Trapper is Managing Partner, BridgeNet Solutions, Inc. Visit www.bridgenetsolutions.com for more information.

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