Supply chain visibility has become an increasingly important technology as carriers look to control costs, improve efficiency and address consumer demands that have risen along with e-commerce sales.
Visibility between businesses refers to tracking order placement, allocation and manufacturing, warehousing and delivery and payment, according to transportation software company 3Gtms. “Visibility in a (business to business) environment means systematically interpreting and combining inter-enterprise data from many sources and artificial intelligence and workflow to react. It’s assessing the past, monitoring and reacting in the present and adjusting for the future.”
An option to achieve visibility in the supply chain is using a transportation management system, which can be used to integrate data and translate and share information from shippers, carriers, mobile applications, financial systems and emails. The system offers a single point for visibility in data flow and tools to act on the data.
The system can determine the location of an order at the order level because it knows where the order is at throughout the supply chain. The system can automatically fight detention charges if a truck shipment arrives at the destination on time but the facility is too busy to let the truck on site to unload. It can track delivery data and show which carriers are the best based on business requirements and eliminate preferential carrier selection by a company’s planners. Also, GPS and electronic logging device data can be used for truckload visibility.
The logistics industry was one of the first industries to adopt the internet of things (IoT) technology, according to computer chip producer Arm. In the 1980s, many logistics companies started to use telematics technology to track and monitor their vehicles and containers. Now, many of the same companies are using IoT technology to continue to improve supply chain visibility and to fulfill omnichannel orders and final-mile shipments.
“The supply chain has to change in order for companies to compete,” said Thomas Kurian, head of marketing, transportation and logistics for Arm. “It’s a radical change requiring major investments. But it’s an issue of survival.”
Nearly 85% of global companies believe IoT will be used to improve visibility into identification, location and condition of products, assets, transactions or people, according to analyst firm Forrester. The IoT market is expected to increase 132% to 74.1 billion semiconductor devices shipped in 2025, from 32 billion device shipments in 2016, according to an analysis by IHS Markit. Spending on IoT is expected to reach $1.4 trillion in 2021, according to IDC.
The number of individual items that companies ship directly to the consumer has risen as e-commerce sales increase. The smaller shipments have led to the need for the tracking of individual items and packages, instead of containers or pallets. Bluetooth beacons are a technology to have real-time visibility on items, and they act as digital barcodes but don’t need to be scanned, according to Arm. They provide tracking information and environmental information, including temperature, shock and humidity. By 2021, 380 million of the beacons are expected to be used for visibility in the supply chain, according to ABI Research.
“Amazon flipped the idea upside down from transportation being a cost center to being the tip of the spear for driving customer satisfaction,” said Jett McCandless, founder and CEO of visibility systems provider project44. “They’ve been doing that for a while, and organizations are now catching up.”
Recently, Lowell-based carrier J.B. Hunt Transport Services started to work with project44 to integrate its visibility platform with the carrier’s software platform, J.B. Hunt 360. Some of the features of project44’s platform include creating custom alerts and temperature monitoring. The platform is expected to increase truck driver efficiency and improve the accuracy in determining the estimated time of arrival for shipments. The latter should lead to shorter wait times for drivers at locations where they pick up or drop off loads.