In today’s supply chain vernacular, the term visibility has become almost meaningless because everybody seems to have a different definition of what visibility means to them.
A world evolving at the speed of technology demands that you move quickly, so often shippers and logistics providers listen to cursory overviews of the latest solutions—often settling on one that is “good enough.” They’re not really thinking about a plan or building a tech stack.
Let’s take a deep dive into what it means to build a robust, well-thought-out visibility tech stack—by understanding the types of freight you have within your ecosystem and which tools are best for each.
A Lack of Data Stream Diversification Limits Visibility
In the rush to adopt the latest tech, companies often overlook the importance of diversifying their visibility data streams. As a result, they settle for a solution they believe will “solve” their visibility problems, but in reality, the solution they chose provides only partial data.
One surefire way to achieve 100% visibility is to use tracking devices across all shipments. However, this method may not be cost-effective for every type of commodity. By strategically deploying trackers for visibility where it is most crucial and integrating them into a broader visibility tech stack, a robust and cost-effective visibility solution can be achieved.
For example, project44 and FourKites provide baseline tracking solutions that, for some companies, are enough. However, by layering in real-time trackers for high-value or high-risk shipments, shippers can see not only where their shipments are but can view real-time condition data related to temperature, humidity, light exposure, and more.
Application Programming Interface (API), Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), and Electronic Data Logger (EDL) technologies connect and share data from multiple sources into a single source of truth viewable by all stakeholders—in their preferred platform and in real time.
How to Build a Comprehensive Tech Stack to Gain 100% Visibility
Technology does not entirely remove the human element from shipping and supply chain management. At its best, technology enables humans to operate at a higher level—enabling people to focus on the duties and data that matter most.
Building a robust tech stack that fits your organization’s needs is possible in three steps:
Step 1: Identify Various Forms of Visibility
Begin by identifying the possible ways to gain visibility into a shipment’s location and condition:
- Phone calls (to intermediaries, carriers, or drivers)
- Asset tracking (tracking a truck, plane, train, trailer, or vessel)
- Asset tracking via algorithms and ELD (e.g., FourKites, project44, Descartes MacroPoint, Transporeon, etc.)
- Real-time trackers attached at the shipment, pallet, or container level (e.g., Tive trackers)
Step 2: Categorize Your Freight by Risk & Value
Some companies may need to expand this table to include one or more medium-value/medium-risk categories.
While asset tracking is suitable for low- and mid-value freight, specific types of high-end cargo need a more robust solution.
Asset tracking can be a solid baseline for understanding location. These solutions can often be deployed across an entire supply chain at a relatively affordable cost. However, they also have limitations, such as:
- An occasional non-compliant driver
- Loads ending up on different assets than the one being tracked
- Breaks in data streams
Any of the above could result in losing visibility of a shipment. Several factors—such as market conditions, geography, or the leg of transportation (drayage, for example)—can affect how frequently this happens.
Step 3: Layer in Real-time, Freight-Level Solutions
Real-time trackers are attached directly to the cargo and maintain constant, end-to-end shipment visibility. In addition to location visibility, the best trackers provide real-time data into shipment conditions, including temperature, humidity, light exposure, and shock/vibration events.
Real-time trackers are the most robust form of visibility and can solve issues that might arise during a shipment’s supply chain journey. The decision of when and how to use trackers usually comes down to two things: the freight’s value and the leg of the journey; real-time tracking is typically best for high-value and high-risk freight.
For instance, if you’re using an algorithm to track a $30,000 truckload of avocados, you probably won’t stress as much over item-level tracking of that shipment. If, however, it’s a $900,000+ load of prime Angus beef or high-end consumer electronics, your team will be more involved—if for no other reason than to gain the comfort and assurance of knowing where that truck is and when it will arrive.
Let’s use a drayage example: freight moves from a ship to temporary warehouse storage while you arrange truckloads to go inland. Trucks transport the goods to a fulfillment center, where orders are filled and carried through the final mile to retailers or consumers.
This common scenario is where multi-sensor real-time trackers make the most sense: You need 100% visibility because of the risks of spoilage, loss, and theft associated with drayage, over-the-road international shipments, or carrier compliance. Refrigerated foods and pharmaceutical products are vulnerable to temperature excursions. Priceless art and high-end electronics are susceptible to shock impacts. And security concerns abound throughout the journey—so you must be mindful of doors being opened, especially in areas of high theft risk.
Getting 100% Visibility Takes the Right Tech Stack
Using asset tracking for baseline visibility and strategically layering real-time trackers for your most important freight creates a proven, efficient, and cost-effective visibility tech stack—resulting in a more aware and informed team. Phone calls may still be necessary, but your team can focus on solutions rather than blindly searching for information. Teams empowered with the right mix of visibility will perform at the highest levels to assure their customers that they have made every effort to deliver each shipment