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A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing an Internal Audit of Your Supply Chain 

While all facets of the modern business are important, arguably the most important to any retail, manufacturing, or goods based service is their supply chain. The supply chain serves as the backbone of these companies and has a significant impact on the company’s business strategy which directly affects its operation and operational costs. Additionally, the performance of the supply chain has a direct impact on a company’s ability to provide services to their customers and create additional value via services offered or simply through reliability. With the multitude of changes that have been occurring within the logistics, trade, and freight industries now, more than ever, is an opportune time to conduct or review the process of internal audit of your supply chain. 

An internal supply chain audit is one of the most powerful methods of evaluating and possibly improving your supply chain, reduce operations costs, and increase competitive advantages.

An internal supply chain audit is one of the most powerful methods of evaluating and possibly improving your supply chain, reduce operations costs, and increase competitive advantages. The goal of the internal audit is to help you find weaknesses within your supply chain and correct pain points, bottlenecks to increase supply chain flexibility, agility, and overall efficiency.

To make the most out of your audit and its results, it’s important to understand that the supply chain isn’t a stand-alone, isolated feature of your business. In all actuality, the supply chain is suffused in every aspect of your business. As such the supply chain needs to be viewed between all participating companies and suppliers throughout the supply chain, with solutions applied from a holistic approach.

Why an Internal Audit is Necessary for Your Supply Chain

For most companies, audits are typically part of the normal routine, either for financial records or for physical inventory. The entire purpose behind an audit is to make sure things are where they should be and that everyone is playing by the same rules.

“Internal auditing is defined as an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization’s operations. It helps an organization to accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes,” as defined by The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

This is especially important when trying to maintain retail compliance, for example, with increasing customer demands like On Time; In Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD).

Simply put, an internal audit is a multi-step process that is a means of determining whether your current systems and operations are in compliance with your company’s predetermined operating procedures and regulations. This is especially important when trying to maintain retail compliance, for example, with increasing customer demands like On Time; In Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD). Conducting an internal audit does more than just evaluates the supply chain, it also takes a necessary look at the interaction between other aspects of the organization such as the accounting and financial systems, practices, and procedures. For example, are your planners and purchasers communicating properly, not only with each other but with the production floor and shipping department? Are parts coming in with enough lead time that items can be manufactured and shipped according to customer requirements? 

An internal audit is important because it allows the company executives and logistics decision makers to examine the effectiveness of their business operations and controls and applications of new policies. Over time, establishing those best practices means a more competitive and more profitable company in the future.

Things to Consider Before you Start the Audit

Performing an audit is one thing, but knowing what areas you need to be focusing on is something else entirely. While every audit should be more or less tailored to the specific needs of an individual organization, here is the basic framework for initiating an audit that needs to be included:

  • Audit Planning: Internal auditors should have a plan in place well before the actual auditing begins. 
  • Examining and Evaluating Information: Internal auditors should have a standardized criterion to compare findings against. 
  • Communicating Results: Audit should have a clear and concise method of reporting their findings. 
  • Follow Up: Internal auditors should follow up in a timely manner to ensure that appropriate actions have been taken to correct audit findings.

This framework also serves as a support system for corporate managers and allows managers of larger production systems to delegate the oversight of the audit to the internal audit department. This is important for a few reasons:

  • Operating Complexity: Automated data processing has increased the levels of complexity when analyzing data, a task better suited for those who know what to look for. 
  • Decentralization: Given that supply chains are prone to be decentralized in terms of a physical location due to globalization. 
  • Lack of Expertise: As the adage goes, stick to what you know. Leave those auditors in charge of the audit for the best quality audit.

With the right framework in place for the audit to commence, let’s take a look at the tasks involved for the actual audit.

Supply Chain Structure and Internal Audit Tasks

Like we mentioned above, every company is different and, as a result, the needs for every individual supply chain will vary. So while there is no hard and fast or “Use audit ‘A’ for Supply chain system ‘1’ ” convenient method of doing things, there are some common focal points that are applicable for just about every organization and style of the supply chain. 

The supply chain management processes identified by The Global Supply Chain Forum are:

  • Customer Relationship Management 
  • Supplier Relationship Management 
  • Customer Service Management 
  • Demand Management
  • Order Fulfillment 
  • Manufacturing Flow Management 
  • Product Development and Commercialization 
  • Returns Management

All of these processes are hallmarks of a healthy supply chain and also indicative of the successful supply chain management. Here again, we can see all of the links that connect the supply chain to every other facet of the business. Another benefit to performing an internal audit is that offers to perfect opportunity to increase the synergy between these various departments. For CFO’s and supply chain leaders, this means that supply chain management deals with total business excellence and represents a new way of managing the business and relationships with vendors, suppliers, and partners.

An internal audit can help a company in finding answers to crucial questions about managing success factors of supply chain excellence, of which these can be divided into five main sections: 

  • Strategy – To determine if the enterprise has a clear strategy tuned to business expectations and focused on profitably servicing customer requirements 
  • Organization – To determine if an effective organization structure exists enabling the enterprise to work with its partners to achieve its supply chain goals
  • Process – To determine if the enterprise has excellent processes for implementing its strategy, embracing all plan-source-make-deliver operations
  • Information – To determine if the enterprise has reliable information and enabling technology to support effective supply chain planning, execution, and decision-making 
  • Performance – To determine if the enterprise is managing supply chain performance in ways that will increase the bottom line, cash flows and shareholder returns

Supply Chain Risk Management

As much as we wish we could, the ability to see and accurately predict the future still eludes us to this day. In the end, it all comes down we can optimistically refer to as an “educated guess”.  With that being said, even the most educated guesses can’t predict the weather or a broken down truck. This means that within every supply chain, there will always be an element of risk. That risk represents any number of things that can go wrong within your supply chain and halt or delay your shipments. For this very reason, risk management is incredibly important when evaluating your supply chain. 

An internal audit can provide business leaders with the necessary framework to develop an appropriate supply chain risk management program.

Risk management is a huge proponent of supply chain health, especially given the instabilities in the global marketplace created by political uncertainty, trade tariffs, etc. An internal audit can provide business leaders with the necessary framework to develop an appropriate supply chain risk management program. This is how your supply chain audit can also help with risk reduction and increased security: 

  • Reviewing and understanding supply chains, including their strengths and weaknesses, in developing markets, to validate monitoring programs
  • Working with the company’s supply chain specialists to help develop a monitoring process that can be repeated
  • Helping to identify which suppliers are critical 
  • Assessing which suppliers may be vulnerable to threats and helping draw up a residual mitigation profile
  • Identifying strong risk control procedures
  • Helping to develop key analytic tools and techniques
  • Aiding with compliance monitoring

Ideally, the risk mitigation will also allow companies to increase supply chain efficiency to the point where on hand stock can be reduced. While having excessive stock might create a buffer in time where shipments are running late or capacity is tight, that excess can also eat into company profit margins. Additionally, having a well-running supply chain vastly lowers the chance for disruptions, operating costs, and other unexpected costs such as chargebacks, detention fees.

Despite the cause, however, the results are often the same, a drastic slow down of operations and a huge impact on customer satisfaction and profitability.

Supply chain management is a very complex structure of activities with cross-functional processes, and it presents one of the most important functions in the company since it is directly linked to all functions of the company. Supply chain problems can result from any number of things including natural disasters, labor disputes, supplier bankruptcy, an act of war or terrorism, systems breakdowns, procurement failures, and other causes. Despite the cause, however, the results are often the same, a drastic slow down of operations and a huge impact on customer satisfaction and profitability.

The supply chain internal audit aims to support managers in process optimization and above all in cost reduction which result from an uncertain environment by evaluating and directing management towards approaches which will prevent or reduce negative effects. 

After analyzing definitions and some of the standards of internal audit, it can be concluded that this process can improve effectiveness and efficiency, and by that, the performances of many functions within the organization. High-impact supply chains are more competitive and are capable of winning market share and customer loyalty, creating shareholder value, extending the strategic capability and reach of the business. Independent research shows that excellent supply chain management can yield: 

  • 25-50% reduction in total supply chain costs 
  • 25-60% reduction in inventory holding 
  • 25-80% increase in forecast accuracy
  • 30-50% improvement in order-fulfillment cycle time 
  • 20% increase in after-tax free cash flows

To increase supply chain strength, agility, and overall integrity, companies should develop a framework for a structured approach to ongoing risk identification and management. This will enable businesses to proactively address organizational supply chain risks on a periodic basis – a practice that affords stronger company and brand protection against supply chain risk gaps.

The more we know the more we can simplify.

The more we know the more we can simplify. When we know what your current transportation situation involves and what your pain points are, we can really help you simplify. The journey with our customers begins with the Needs Assessment process and the goal to determine transportation management solutions that increase productivity and decrease overall costs. To speak to one of our freight experts, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to receive a FREE Supply Chain Analysis.

How the CFO Can be a Change Agent in the Supply Chain

Managing cash flow, planning the financial outlay, keeping the balance sheet in order, and ensuring all financial compliances are met are a CFO’s core job function. But this is not all that a CFO does. The CFO is also responsible for identifying opportunities to reduce operating costs without sacrificing the quality of the products and services offered by the company.

But is it a good strategy to wait for things to go wrong to ask the CFO to step in?

Supply chain and transportation are two of the biggest cost centers in an organization. The cost for these functions is measured as a percentage of sales and differs from industry to industry. However, according to this McKinsey study, most industries report supply chain and logistics cost in the range of 1.8% to 10%. When costs remain within the industry parameters, supply chain and logistics are usually given the leeway to make their financial decisions. The CFO steps in only when the cost rise above the set industry norms or in case any other financial abnormality is noticed. But is it a good strategy to wait for things to go wrong to ask the CFO to step in? Wouldn’t the supply chain and the organization as a whole benefit if the CFO is a part of the supply chain decision making?

What Does the Corporate World Think of CFO’s Involvement in the Supply Chain?

The necessity of CFOs involvement in supply chain is not a recent phenomenon. A 2013 study by Ernst & Young aptly highlighted the importance of CFO’s involvement in the supply chain. Ernst & Young surveyed 423 CFOs and heads of supply chain around the globe to understand their view of a CFO’s contribution to the supply chain.

According to the results of the survey, of all the respondents, “only 26% finance executives and 21% supply chain executives said that the CFO’s contribution to the supply chain is based around a business-partnering model”. But this trend seems to be gradually changing as “70% of CFOs and 63% of supply chain leaders responded that their relationship has become more collaborative over the past three years”.

Organizations that have a collaborative relationship between the CFO and supply chain also tend to perform better.

The survey also revealed that those organizations that have a collaborative relationship between the CFO and supply chain also tend to perform better. “Among survey respondents with an established business partner model in place, 48% report EBITDA growth increases of more than 5% in their company over the past year, compared with just 22% of those that have not yet adopted this approach.”

In the past five years, the demand for CFO’s involvement in the supply chain has only grown. Last year, an article in the European Financial Review spoke about the book What CFOs (and Future CFOs) Need to Know About Supply Chain Transactions by X. Paul Humbert, Esq. According to the article, the book showcases not only the necessity of a collaboration between the CFO and the supply chain but also demonstrates how the company’s finances and its books are impacted by the decisions taken by functions within the supply chain:

“an organization’s financial results are intertwined with the performance of the purchasing function. Purchasing and purchased inventory affect the balance sheet and capital allocation.”

Another article in Smart Industry Update published in 2018, speaks on behalf of the CFOs seeking answers to supply chain issues which the CFOs may not have first-hand knowledge of. For example, the article lists the following three critical questions that CFOs should ask of their supply chain to be able to make better decisions regarding their supply chain and create better business strategies:

  • How accurate is our supply-chain visibility?
  • How quickly can we identify and address challenges in response to disruption?
  • How well can we respond to changes in the industry=?

The survey and the two articles leave no doubt of how crucial it is for CFOs to be involved in the supply chain function and work in collaboration with the head of supply chain. In fact, it is not only the supply chain that needs the CFO, the CFO also needs the supply chain.

How The CFO Can Be A Change Agent For The Supply Chain

An article titled How Brilliant CFOs Use the Supply Chain to Drive Business Value – Do you know the questions you should be asking in Innovation Enterprise targeted at CFOs lists down possible areas that can benefit from the CFO’s involvement.

Source: Innovation Enterprise

It says “If the answer to any of these questions highlights a potential issue then it is important to engage with the head of supply chain and agree a process to address the issue. It may also indicate that there is an opportunity to partner more closely with supply chain/operations to leverage the knowledge and skills of the finance team to enable better decision making in the business.”

The transportation offered also influences customer’s buying decisions

All the above areas are crucial from the financial, product, and delivery point and can benefit from a collaborative effort from the CFO and the supply chain. For example, let’s take a look at the second, sixth and eighth question. Freight costs are pegged around 3 – 5% of supply chain costs. Freight contract negotiation is one of the most important activities of the logistics function. It has an impact on the budget, affects the cost reduction KPI given to the logistics department. In B2C businesses, to a certain extent, the transportation offered also influences customer’s buying decisions. How can the function benefit from CFOs insight?

When the CFO is involved in this decision-making from the start, it increases the possibility of improvement in contract terms and in cost reduction.

On the cost reduction and financial front, the CFO, with their fact-based view of the organization, can help the logistics team negotiate better freight contracts. The rates negotiated in these contracts are based on a multitude of factors like government policies, fuel prices, political relations between trading countries, and global business environment. Logistics may or may not have insight into these issues, but the CFO and his team will have knowledge of what is going on in the business world. So, if they know there is a possibility of fuel prices changing in the next six months or a recessionary trend is being noticed, they can advise the logistics team to negotiate a short-term contract and revisit it later. Similarly, in the case of B2C shipments (ref Q6), the CFO and the supply chain head can negotiate for contracts with different delivery options in order to serve different customers. But this can only be done if the supply chain knows the financial viability of these options and that information can be gained only from the CFO of the organization. When the CFO is involved in this decision-making from the start, it increases the possibility of improvement in contract terms and in cost reduction.

Today, to be effective in their job and to create a competitive supply chain, CFOs need to lend their expertise to the supply chain and seek their inputs in the setting the goals and objectives of the company.

Long gone are the days when the CFOs limited themselves to matters pertaining to managing company finances. Today, to be effective in their job and to create a competitive supply chain, CFOs need to lend their expertise to the supply chain and seek their inputs in the setting the goals and objectives of the company.

At BlueGrace, we have found that working with organizations where CFOs are directly involved has helped turn over a new leaf and make significant cost reductions, positively impacting the supply chain of that organization.

We provide quarterly business intelligence reports that give updates on the savings targets you give to us, key performance indicators (KPIs), and special project updates. The CFO of a company, in particular, is able to use these metrics to budget and forecast for the organization moving forward. Connect with our team at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to find out how we can work with your CFO to build an efficient and optimal supply chain.

The State of Your Supply Chain Affects the Level of Your Inventory 

Inventory is the core of any business. The right inventory, at the right time, at the right point in the supply chain is crucial for the success of the business.

For example, the shortage of raw material at the factory will affect production. If warehouses are not replenished on time, distribution will be derailed. If retail outlets run out of stock, sales and customer relationships will be adversely impacted. Each of these processes in the supply chain is dependent on the availability of inventory to carry out their function and meet business objectives. 

While the unavailability of inventory results in a loss of sales, too much inventory leads to an increase in the carrying cost.

While the unavailability of inventory results in a loss of sales, too much inventory leads to an increase in the carrying cost. Carrying cost is the cost incurred to store, handle, and maintain inventory at every stage in the supply chain.

The factory, warehouse, and the retail outlet all incur the cost of storing and managing the inventory until it is required at the next stage in the cycle or sold. A high carrying cost ultimately impacts the price of the product and the profit margins of the company. Hence, neither excess nor a shortage of inventory is an ideal situation. 

This is why it is essential to understand the inventory consumption pattern and arrive at an optimum level that needs to be maintained at each stage in the supply chain. 

Why does the State of the Supply Chain matter?

How you operate your supply chain, how agile it is, the technology you use, the level of digitization, the extent of integration among the different stages of the supply chain. All these things affect the performance of the supply chain. The level of inventory you need to maintain at all times is dependent on the capability of these parameters.

An agile, integrated, and digital supply chain makes it easier to understand how the inventory is being consumed at each stage.

An agile, integrated, and digital supply chain makes it easier to understand how the inventory is being consumed at each stage. It enables inventory managers to calculate the optimum level of inventory more accurately. The optimum level of inventory is where minimum carrying cost is incurred and there is no loss of sale or disruption in the production or delivery process. In other words, the inventory reaches the required point just in time – not any sooner, and not later. 

When organizations use this strategy to design their supply chain they inevitably improve their inventory management.

Winning Logistics Strategies in the Race to the Urban Consumer, a whitepaper by DHL and Euromonitor on last-mile transportation, explained how companies can become more competitive and improve their supply chain by adopting the F.A.D strategy. The F stands for flexible transport, A is automation, and D is data management. When organizations use this strategy to design their supply chain they inevitably improve their inventory management. They can better plan inventory inward and outward movements, improve on speed and reduce administration and handling costs, can improve inventory forecasting and planning, process data real-time, and provide shipment tracking. 

For example, this article cites how Apple understood the importance of supply chain management as early as 1997 and with proper supply chain planning, the company successfully managed to beat the competition. For the Christmas of 1998, the company bested its competition by simply changing its freight mode from sea to air.

“To ensure that the company’s new, translucent blue iMacs would be widely available at Christmas the following year, Jobs paid $50 million to buy up all the available holiday air freight space, says John Martin, a logistics executive who worked with Jobs to arrange the flights.”

This one change made sure that its products were easily available during the holiday shopping season. Apple could not have done this if it had followed a rigid approach to transport planning and management. 

And, if the delighted customer is also a competitor, you know you’re doing something right.   

Another example in the article shows how it delighted customers with quick delivery and shipment tracking. And, if the delighted customer is also a competitor, you know you’re doing something right.   

“When iPod sales took off in 2001, Apple realized it could pack so many of the diminutive music players on planes that it became economical to ship them directly from Chinese factories to consumers’ doors. When an HP staffer bought one and received it a few days later, tracking its progress around the world through Apple’s website, “It was an ‘Oh s—’ moment,” recalls [former HP supply chain chief Mike] Fawkes.”

What are the benefits of a well-managed supply chain?

A supply chain that is managed properly makes it easier to monitor stock at various touch points. It can help improve inventory forecasting and distribution. Some of the benefits that such a supply chain offers for inventory management are: 

Visibility: Visibility allows inventory managers to monitor inventory levels at each stage. With a continuous and real-time view of the inventory, they can place orders or plan distribution of the inventory to reach the intended destination on time. 

A strong transportation management system also enables you to store historical data, provide advanced analytic tools and trend reports, enable users to optimize freight expenses thus helping you create an efficient shipping process.

TMS: While inventory is the life of the business, transportation is the backbone. Without adequate transportation management, it will be challenging to get the inventory to the right place at the right time in the required condition. In addition to planning transportation, a strong transportation management system also enables you to store historical data, provide advanced analytic tools and trend reports, enable users to optimize freight expenses thus helping you create an efficient shipping process.

Integration: We cannot stress this enough. Integration is crucial to get complete control over inventory. For integration to be truly successful, it needs to take into account the needs of different departments and their workflow. When all the parties handling inventory are able to connect to the same system, only then will you be able to get better visibility of your inventory, improve tracking, and planning. 

Analytics: The digital supply chain is a substantial resource of hard data. It provides stakeholders with the opportunity of developing and monitoring KPIs and assist them in improving their supply chains. When the data for all the functions are gathered at a single reliable source it increases accuracy in forecasting and improves execution. The reports and trends can be used for making informed decisions. 

The state of your supply chain and inventory, the levels you need to maintain are directly related. If the supply chain is equipped with the latest technology and is functioning at optimal levels at each stage, it would reflect in the form of optimum inventory levels. If it is not, then you may see piles of inventory accumulated at each stage. There may be situations when you need to keep unusually high or low inventory levels. However, when inventory levels fall below or go above the optimum without a valid reason, take it as a red flag, talk with an expert. Contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to connect with our team today for a FREE analysis of your supply chain. 

Time Definite Freight & Positive ROI

The saleability of a product is not only dependent on its quality and features, but also on how it is delivered and how soon it can reach the customer. In other words, delivery has become a crucial part of a business’s success. If it’s managed effectively, it can positively impact the bottom line and help build a stellar market reputation. If not, then it can have a negative effect on both. 
 
In our March webinar, titled Time Definite Freight and Positive ROI, Brian Blalock, Senior Manager Sourcing Strategy, and Eric Chambers, Vice President, Field Performance at BlueGrace Logistics, discuss the delivery method that is redefining the logistics landscape.

What is Time Definite Freight?

What is time-definite freight and how is it different from the normal freight delivery mechanism? How does it benefit the business and its customers? These and other such questions tend to arise when we discuss why this delivery trend is quickly becoming an integral part of an organization’s logistics strategy and customer service offering. 

Time-definite freight is precision delivery. It’s not on any given day or any roundabout day. It’s on a particular day, a particular time – morning, afternoon, AM, PM. It can be any time of the 24 hour day.

To address these questions and provide context to the discussion, Eric explains “time-definite freight is precision delivery. It’s not on any given day or any roundabout day. It’s on a particular day, a particular time – morning, afternoon, AM, PM. It can be any time of the 24 hour day.”
 
This definition provided not only answers the “what” but it also gives an insight into “why” shippers and logistics service providers need to know about it and make it a part of their organization’s logistics strategy. It is important because it puts the customer’s requirements at the center of logistics planning, ensuring that goods are delivered according to the timelines given by the customer.

Is Time Definite a New Logistics Solution?

The life sciences industry, e-commerce, cross border express providers like UPS, FedEx; last mile solutions by truckers, Amazon Prime’s free 2-day delivery, and disaster recovery institutions like the Red Cross are all using time-definite transportation.

No, it is not. Certain industries are already leveraging this delivery mechanism to optimize their supply chain and provide better service to their customers. The automotive industry started using just-in-time (a form of time-definite delivery) years ago. The life sciences industry, e-commerce, cross border express providers like UPS, FedEx; last mile solutions by truckers, Amazon Prime’s free 2-day delivery, and disaster recovery institutions like the Red Cross are all using time-definite transportation.

What Are the Benefits of Time Definite Delivery? 

“There are many many benefits of time-definite, it really depends on the individual working in a company or its customers”, says Eric. To provide an insight into how time definite can help improve the bottom line, he shares that it can help reach end customers faster and reduce handling points in a delivery.

When multiple handling points in a delivery are eliminated, the handling costs go down and it also reduces the probability of the shipment getting damaged. 

Both of these things have a huge impact on the bottom line. For example, if you are able to take your product to the market faster, it not only helps improve the cash flow but also ensures that you are a step ahead of the competition. Similarly, when multiple handling points in a delivery are eliminated, the handling costs go down and it also reduces the probability of the shipment getting damaged. 

Technology & Optimizing Time-Definite Freight

Given the fact that technology is being leveraged to improve and optimize different aspects of logistics, it is but natural to ask if time definite can be further improved with technology? Yes, it can.

Speaking about how technology is making time definite a complete logistics solution, Eric shares that: 

  • Technology can be used to improve response time and on-time delivery.
  • Technology can provide real-time visibility of the shipment.
  • If the shipment requires certain transit conditions, they can be arranged with the help of technology. For example, temperature monitoring and reporting to FDA for compliance for pharmaceutical products.
  • Technology can improve inventory forecasting and replenishment, thus minimizing loss of sales due to stockouts.

Success factors and a Real-Life Use Case

It’s not enough to just deploy new systems and processes. It is also important to know if they are working for you and your customers and how they can be further improved.

To know the success factors of Time-Definite Delivery and how we at BlueGrace collaborated with a pharmaceutical company to handle a critical business situation with the help of technology-powered time-definite delivery watch the webinar here
 
Questions regarding Time-Definite Freight, or want to explore how you can make it a part of your logistics strategy? Connect with our team by contacting us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below.

Why a Supply Chain Analysis is Crucial for Your Business

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Supply chains are complex and dynamic. They comprise many different variables that operate both on their own and as a part of a whole. The success of a supply chain depends on the integration of all the components without compromising their individual roles and responsibilities.

To design and operate a supply chain that is efficient and effective in both cost and service, it is important to analyze the contribution of each component in the system and how it impacts the other variables.

How Will a Supply Chain Analysis Help You?

A timely and periodic analysis will work as a preventive health check-up for your supply chain thus ensuring it continues to operate at an optimum level.

A thorough study of the processes will give you insight into the performance of the different aspects of the supply chain. It will help you identify which processes are crucial to the success of your business. An end-to-end in-depth analysis will also highlight which processes are redundant or need to be restructured. In short, a timely and periodic analysis will work as a preventive health check-up for your supply chain thus ensuring it continues to operate at an optimum level.

Apart from assisting you in understanding the different aspects of the supply chain, a study of planned against actual performance will also provide information on how you can further improve your services to match customer demand and control operating costs.

It’s safe to say that transportation is the backbone of the entire supply chain.

Transportation is one of the most crucial functions and is integral to almost all aspects of the supply chain. The manufacturing department is dependent on it to get raw materials to the factory on time. The factories need it to ship the finished goods to warehouses who in turn need it to ship the goods to the end customers. It connects the different parts of the supply chain and helps convert the final product into sales – thus generating revenue for the organization. It’s safe to say that transportation is the backbone of the entire supply chain.

A Deeper Look into Your Supply Chain

There are many factors that need to be considered when conducting a complete assessment of your supply chain. However, the health of the system can be easily ascertained by taking a look at how your transportation management system measures against the parameters given below:

Freight Costs: Transportation is a cost center. It’s considered to be operating at an optimum level if the rates are contained within a certain range of the cost per unit of shipment or net sales/purchase price of raw materials. The range of acceptable percentage varies from industry to industry.

Transit Time: Transit time is one of the main indicators of successful transportation planning. If your transport rates are low but the transit time is long, then you are saving money at the cost of service quality.

On Time Delivery: Are you delivering products within the timelines agreed with your customers or your retailers, such as Walmart or Target? Is the warehouse inventory replenished timely? Is the factory receiving goods in time? If the answer to these questions is yes, then its a plus point for your transportation planning. If the answer to any of these questions is no or most of the time, then you need to rework your transportation planning.

Damages: If you have managed to contain the transport rates and deliver within acceptable transit time, but there’s the rate of damage claims are high, then again, your transportation planning needs to be restructured.

Shipment Visibility: A good transportation system offers you and the customer visibility into the shipment’s location from the time it leaves the starting point until it reaches the intended destination.

Capacity Utilization: Are you utilizing truck capacities to the fullest extent possible when planning your deliveries or spaces on trucks are going underutilized? Unutilized space will translate into higher cost per shipment, leading to uncompetitive products and loss of profit.

If you’ve gotten a negative result or response for any of these parameters, then it is time to get a thorough inspection of all aspects of your supply chain.

At BlueGrace, we understand the importance of operating a robust supply chain. That’s why we offer a FREE Supply Chain Analysis to help you gain insight into how your supply chain is performing. Call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING, or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts and set up your free supply chain analysis today!

Controlling Costs and Preventing Accessorial Loss

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Controlling costs is critical for any business to be successful. When working with a supply chain, the more complex it is, the more chances there are for additional costs and surcharges, any of which can cost your company a great deal of extra money.

They are any freight services that go beyond the normal scope of pickup and delivery.  

Accessorial charges are a particular type of surcharge. They are any freight services that go beyond the normal scope of pickup and delivery. This can include inside or special delivery charges, waiting or detention time, fuel surcharges, storage fees, and many others. Given the way the freight market is changing, especially due to the rise and continual growth of e-commerce, many companies are looking to a more specialized version of last mile delivery as customers want their products sooner rather than later. The “white glove” last mile service, while costly, is growing increasingly important as customer service is becoming one of the last true differentiators among the competition.  

In our webinar, we covered the basics and most common questions of accessorial charges which include:  

  • What are accessorials? 
  • How do they affect cost? 
  • How do they affect supply chain efficiency? 
  • How can we mitigate problems? 
  • How do we know if we have a problem? 

Consumers want their product today, that means that retailers want it delivered, checked in, and on the shelf yesterday.

Logistics and supply chain management has become a very tight game, almost cutthroat in its harsh severity. Consumers want their product today, that means that retailers want it delivered, checked in, and on the shelf yesterday. With the ability to order just about anything a consumer could possibly want from the vast online marketplace, brick and mortar retailers have to run an even tighter ship than they have before if they have any hopes of competing. To that end, some retailers are upping the ante and doling out punishment for shippers who aren’t in compliance.  

WHAT ARE ACCESSORIALS?  

As we mentioned above, accessorials are extra charges associated with freight delivery that fall outside simple pick up and delivery. We gave a few examples above, but those are by no means the only accessorial charges that you could be stuck paying. Here are some other types of common accessorial charges.  

  • Reweigh
  • Limited Access
  • Liftgate
  • Residential delivery
  • Appointment / Notify
  • Sort & Segregate
  • Hazardous Materials

While inaccurate weighing of freight could be a result of an honest mistake, the cost of that mistake can add up quickly.

It’s important to control and monitor as many of these as possible to help control costs. Consider reweigh charges for example. When a carrier weighs freight and compares the actual weight to what’s listed on the bill of lading, the difference can be instantly tacked on to the invoice. For shipments that are 50 pounds or more over what the bill of lading states, there is a $25.00 validation fee as well as an increase to shipping costs. Additionally, all freight fees, fuel surcharge fees, and any other applicable accessorial fees will be adjusted accordingly. While inaccurate weighing of freight could be a result of an honest mistake, the cost of that mistake can add up quickly.

HOW ACCESSORIAL FEES CAN AFFECT YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN  

One way to better control accessorial charges is to have a more efficient and agile supply chain. Detention fees are a prime example of where efficiency pays off. For the LTL market, every shipment has a set amount of free time per stop before the charges start being applied. While this is based on weight, meaning that heavier shipments have more time, it can be hard to gauge just how long each stop is going to take which leaves your company exposed to detention fees.  

Another thing to consider is that the ELD mandate severely limits the amount of working time a driver has available. The longer it takes to load and unload freight can cause delivery delays and will ultimately increase the price of a shipment. Once you start adding detention fees onto the bill it can quickly become more expensive than you were initially anticipating. 

It’s critical to have your supply chain running smoothly and efficiently.

Because of this, it’s critical to have your supply chain running smoothly and efficiently. Not only does it increase the chances that you will make your delivery schedule, but having a more efficient operation makes you a more attractive customer to carriers (which increases the likelihood of getting the capacity you need) as well as helping to control shipping costs.  

LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN MANAGE ACCESSORIAL CHARGES   

When it comes to controlling costs, the more you understand about extra fees the better off you’ll be. Because many of these accessorial charges can compound and complicate others, it’s important to understand the full workings of your supply chain and identify any potential problems before they arise.  

The truth of the matter is that the more you understand your freight and the way your carrier works, the more accessorial fees you can either reduce or negate entirely. Many of these fees won’t even enter into the picture so long as the shipper is taking the time to make sure they’re doing things right. Doing this means preventing the issue before it even begins. On the other hand, if your freight invoice is coming as a bit of a shock, it might be time to take a closer look at the surcharges and determine what you can you do to correct the issue.  

Ultimately, everything we covered in the webinar is about helping your company to manage these fees and perform better across the board. From internal operations to external executions, everything is connected and we break it down for you. Watch the full webinar to learn more about how you can be successful!

There are a number of other benefits that can come from working with and outsourcing your logistics to a 3PL. If you would like to speak to one of our experts, call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.

Be Sure, Be Insured. Why Carrier Liability Is Not Insurance

Insurance is an important part of risk management. It helps businesses mitigate financial loss arising from unforeseen events that may disrupt their supply chain. Transporting goods from one location to another is a crucial part of the supply chain. It is what keeps the business running. Hence, transport or cargo insurance should be an essential part of a shipper’s supply chain risk management strategy. 

While most shippers understand the importance and the need for cargo insurance, there’s a debate on whether to rely on carrier liability or to get a separate insurance policy.

In the webinar titled  Be Sure, Be Insured, Brian Blalock, Senior Manager Sourcing Strategy, BlueGrace, and Tyffany Gunn Kelley, Senior Manager Strategic Partnership and Channel Partner Program, UPS Capital, discuss: the difference between carrier liability and real insurance importance of insurance insuring solutions how organizations can manage risks to their supply chain

  • the difference between carrier liability and real insurance
  • importance of insurance 
  • insuring solutions 
  • how organizations can manage risks to their supply chain

Here are a few important pointers from the webinar:

UPS Capital appointed Harris Poll to survey U.S professionals who supervise shipments or are key decision makers for their company to understand their views on cargo insurance and how they manage risks in their supply chain. For the study, Harris Poll surveyed more than 600 professionals.

Why do shippers need insurance?

Setting the direction for the webinar, Tyffany shared some of the findings from the survey which highlights the risks to shipments during transit and explain why shippers need insurance: 

  • 1 in 10 shipments face a glitch 
  • 92% of the respondents said they experience some delay, loss, or damage in transit each year
  • 15% of shipments can be affected due to in-transit incidents 
  • Approximately a loss of USD 56 Billion is reported annually due to cargo and freight movement (National Cargo Security Council)
  • No mode of transport is free of incidents like lost shipments, damages, or delays
  • Full truckload shipments report a loss of 12.8% annually 
  • LTL shipments show an annual loss of 10.8%  
  • Loss from ocean freight stands at 9.9% annually
  • Air freight reports a loss of 9.5% annually 

What is the impact of lost, damaged or delayed shipments?

To provide some perspective on the kind of damage such incidents can cause, UPS Capital asked the respondents to list down the areas that they thought were adversely affected due to lost, damaged, or delayed shipments:

  • 52% respondents said it hurt customer relationships 
  • 51% respondents said it resulted in financial loss
  • 46% respondents said it cost them in terms of employee time and cost
  • 36% respondents said it had a negative impact on company reputation

What is shippers’ view on carrier liability?

Do shippers, logistics professionals, decision makers understand what carrier liability is and what kind of coverage it provides to their valuable shipments? The survey provides some alarming results.

  • According to the results from the survey, almost 90% of the shippers rely on carrier liability to manage risks to cargo while in transit. 
  • Approximately 39% of the respondents thought that carrier liability is the same as real insurance. 
  • While 61% of the respondents believed that carrier liability and insurance were not the same, only a few of them were able to pinpoint the difference between carrier liability and insurance and the extent of cover each provides. 
  • Almost 25 – 50% of the participants thought that their carrier liability provided cover for incidents or events that it actually did not.

Why is carrier liability not enough?

Since a majority of shippers rely on carrier liability, it is necessary to understand what carrier liability is and how much coverage it actually provides. 

The Business Dictionary defines carrier liability as “Air and ocean carriers are normally liable for all damage, delay, and loss of cargo except those arising from the act of God, act of the shipper, and the inherent nature of the goods from acceptance of cargo through its delivery or release. Air carriers are usually liable under Warsaw convention, and ocean carriers under Hague convention.” 

The definition of carrier liability, also explained by Tyffany, itself provides a list of instances where a carrier cannot be held liable for loss to shipment during transit. Apart from the given instances, as Tyffany shares, the law allows carriers to limit their exposure and exempt a variety of situations thus further limiting their liability. To cite a few examples from the webinar that carrier liability does not cover:

  • Cross-border shipments getting damaged by a customs agent or other government agency during inspection
  • Pirates, hijackers or other “assailing thieves” stealing ocean containers  
  • A fire breaking out on a cargo ship that destroys cargo on board

What are the benefits of real insurance?

Along with providing a variety of policies which may be customized to suit the shipper’s requirements, real insurance also offers a host of benefits that can mitigate financial loss, help maintain the market reputation and customer relationships. Some of the benefits highlighted in the webinar include:

  • Claims are settled based on the real valuation of the shipment
  • It provides insurance coverage for all modes of transportation 
  • It covers door-to-door, so no separate policy is needed in case of multi-modal transportation 

However, getting a cargo insurance policy is not a complete solution. It is also necessary to record the information about your supply chain so that you can understand the consequences in relation to claims. One of the best ways to do it is in a transportation management system, says Brian. 

To know more about why you need real insurance coverage, insurance solutions and how a transportation management system can help keep track of and manage insurance claims, make informed business decisions for your supply chain, and mitigate risks to your supply chain watch the complete webinar HERE.  

Want to know more about UPS Capital’s insurance plans offered to BlueGrace customers or our transportation management system? Connect with our team today by filling out the form below, or call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING.

Intelligent Automation, the Future of Supply Chain. Is the Logistics Industry Ready?

It is a well-known fact that supply chain is increasingly becoming digital. But is simply adding a digital component to the complex supply chain network enough to make it efficient? Will it provide the edge that companies need to win in the current cut-throat and ever-changing global business environment?

What more is required?

According to a study conducted by IBM and National Retail Federation (NRF), the retail and consumer goods industry is designating intelligent automation, also known as artificial intelligence, as the future of supply chain. For this, IBM and NRF surveyed 1,900 retail and consumer products company executives across 23 countries.

The survey revealed that “intelligent automation capabilities help increase the annual revenue growth by up to 10 percent”. It found that of all the respondents surveyed, around 85 percent from the retail sector and 79 percent from the consumer products sector “plan to use intelligent automation for supply chain planning by 2021”. The study also found that 79 percent of the retail industry respondents “expect to use intelligent automation for customer intelligence by 2021”.

Combining human capabilities with intelligent automation can help reduce errors and encourage the culture of digital operations and customer experience innovations.

According to IBM, integrating supply chain with customer insight is essential for the success of the omnichannel. It further added that combining human capabilities with intelligent automation can help reduce errors and encourage the culture of digital operations and customer experience innovations.

When the retail and consumer goods industries, who have the most complicated supply chains, are envisaging intelligent automation as the future of the supply chain, then can logistics – the core of supply chain be left behind?

Definitely not. In fact, the current logistics landscape which is highly fragmented and complex will benefit immensely by leveraging the power of intelligent automation in its day-to-day functioning.

How Intelligent Automation Will Benefit Logistics

Better planning: Intelligent automation can integrate and streamline transportation planning, route planning, warehouse network, and inventory planning. It will enable data sharing among all functions, highlight errors and outliers in the data, and speed up data analysis thus increasing efficiency, improving accuracy and lowering operating costs.

Increased Transparency: The global nature of the industry, different rules and regulations across countries and multiple stakeholders has made transparency in operations and business transactions mandatory. Intelligent automation can be used to add checks at all data entry points to make sure that only verified and correct information enters the system and is available to all stakeholders on demand. This will improve decision-making, reduce incidents of miscommunication between users (internal and external), and decrease dependency on other departments for data.

Enhanced Visibility: A system empowered with smart technology like GPS and RFID can enable users to track shipments from pick up till the final delivery location. This can improve multimodal transportation planning and also keep the customers updated with a more accurate expected time of delivery. Visibility of shipments and other aspects of the supply chain also supports the planning function, highlights possible issues before they become roadblocks, and allows better control over the process.

Improved Efficiency: Adopting artificial intelligence to empower systems and processes will greatly reduce duplication and monotonous tasks. This, in turn, will improve both human and machine efficiency and reduce the turnaround time for each task to be completed.

Refined Analytics: Logistics is a data-intensive function. A large amount of data is used as the base for making strategies and taking decisions. An intelligent automated reporting system can reduce the time taken to collate, clean, format the data and minimize errors, thus leading to better, informed and quicker decision making.

Further benefits can be derived on a case to case basis as the technology is put in use. However, like with all new things, there’s a need to exercise caution.

These are just some of the benefits of using intelligent automation in logistics. Further benefits can be derived on a case to case basis as the technology is put in use. However, like with all new things, there’s a need to exercise caution. In a statement by the company, Luq Niazi, global managing director of IBM Consumer, explains the care organizations working with intelligent automation need to take. He says “The entire value chain operational infrastructure of B2B and B2C commerce, there has already been an increased adoption and demand for intelligent automation. This also brings forth the need for stronger transparency, ethical practices and business prioritization to evaluate and deploy AI responsibility.”

We at BlueGrace understand the importance of an intelligent tech-enabled ecosystem. Hence we have leveraged intelligent automation to build our transportation management system. The BlueGrace TMS provides its users with high-tech tools, visibility, visual analytics, speed, reliability, and it easily integrates with other systems and technologies. Along with performing all the regular functions, it also empowers you to identify opportunities to reduce costs and optimize your supply chain. To connect with our team to know more about BlueGrace’s TMS and how it can support your business growth, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below, and one of our experts will contact you today!

3PL’s Might Bridge the Gap in a Revenge Market 

We’ve all heard that turnabout is fair play but in the trucking market, that mentality could make for a vicious marketplace. Of course, no one likes to pay any more for a service than they have-to, but given the fluctuations that happen within the freight market it’s all part of the game, right?

The problem is, when you focus solely on the bottom line, working relationships, the level of the provided services, and customer care can often be shoved to the wayside.  

A Fairweather Friendship 

While not all shippers will use and abandon their third-party (3PL) logistics providers during an economic shift, enough have done so in the past that left a bad taste in the mouths of 3PLs.

Shippers tend to shy away from their “partners” when times are good, capacity is plenty, truckers are looking for freight. When spot rates climb, however, shippers tend to look for shelter in the contract market which makes for a volatile spot market that makes matters much worse than they need to be. 

If shippers weren’t as fickle during market shifts there would be more market stability. For shippers though, the bottom line is often considered as the most important factor.  

During 2017 we saw both Hurricane Harvey hit the coast as well as the introduction of the Electronic Logging Mandate. As a result, shippers skipped the middleman and dropped their 3PLs, opting to work directly with large asset-based carriers instead.

A year later, spot rates have dropped as much 12 percent, according to data from DAT solutions, which are resembling those seen back in 2017 across several markets. Conversely, contract rates have risen, on average, about 14 percent in 2018 and have increased a further 6 percent this year.  

With spot rates on the rise, shippers once again turn to third-party logistics providers with relatively no hard feelings. With negotiations underway, both parties more or less walk away happy.  

Creating a Vicious Cycle 

The same cannot be said for that type of mentality when it’s applied to the trucking companies, however. Here the negotiations tend to carry the memory of what happened the last time rates shifted in the favor of one side or the other. To be fair, that adversarial behavior does swing both ways. When capacity gets tight, trucking companies raise their rates to support the demand. When demand is low, however, and trucking companies are scrambling for a full load, shippers will push for lower rates, a behavior that seems to be hardwired into the business.  

Here is where 3PLs can bridge that gap and help to even out the “revenge” style of marketing.  

It’s hard for many companies to part with that “grudge” mentality, especially when both sides are angling to take advantage of one another when the market permits it. You’d be hard pressed to find a business that is willing to say “Sure, we’ll reduce our rates in favor of a good compromise,” and instead sounds more like “You raised your prices on us. Now it’s our turn.” Here is where 3PLs can bridge that gap and help to even out the “revenge” style of marketing.  

The True Value of a 3PL 

One of the biggest benefits of a 3PL is that they can help a shipper to access different parts of the very fragmented trucking industry. If a shipper has access to large trucking companies, a 3PL can give them access to smaller carriers, both of which have a place in a shippers supply chain. 

“It’s hard to handle relationships with tens of thousands of carriers, so if you let the broker handle that portion, and you have a relationship with your top 10­-15 asset ­based carriers, everyone can have a piece of the pie and work more collaboratively,” said Mark Ford, Chief Operating Officer at BlueGrace Logistics.  

 The main objective of any business is to conquer new frontiers and markets. And, to do this, it requires a wide logistics network and a robust, flawlessly executed logistics strategy.

As we explained it in more detail in one of our previous articles, 7 BENEFITS OF OUTSOURCING LOGISTICS TO A 3PL — The main objective of any business is to conquer new frontiers and markets. And, to do this, it requires a wide logistics network and a robust, flawlessly executed logistics strategy. Your 3PL partner is expected to and can help you achieve your business goals. They may either have their own network across regions or they may have business collaborations with transporters storage facility providers in different regions or a mix of these two, their own network in some cities and collaboration in another. They are thus better placed to help you expand and grow your business. To do this, all you need to do is work with them in a collaborative manner to din the most optimum solution to reach your customers.”

However, shippers who are too focused on their bottom line have a harder time seeing that value in a 3PL partner and might even remain hard pressed to change their ways. 

It’s less a matter of saving a few cents on the mile, however, and more about creating a sustainable and, more importantly, profitable supply chain.

It’s less a matter of saving a few cents on the mile, however, and more about creating a sustainable and, more importantly, profitable supply chain. For shippers who are willing to keep an open mind and maintain a good working relationship with carriers and 3PLs alike have a great opportunity to build longstanding and mutually beneficial relationships. Utilizing a 3PL as a broker can help to save money when the markets fluctuate, but using them as a supply chain consultant is where they can truly save in the long run.  

There are a number of other benefits that can come from working with and outsourcing your logistics to a 3PL. Not the least of all, a better and stronger bottom line.  If you would like to speak to one of our experts, call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.

7 Benefits of Outsourcing Logistics to a 3PL

To outsource logistics or manage it internally is a major point of consideration for organizations. The decision is usually arrived at after extensive cost-benefit analysis of both the alternatives. While the outcome is often based on the size and nature of the business, availability of capital and manpower, geography served, operational risks involved and extent of control an organization is willing to let go of, outsourcing is increasingly becoming a favored option. Below we will highlight the top seven reasons why you should consider it too.

While your in-house team may be expert at all the functions, the complex nature of the job makes it challenging for them to do all of it by themselves.

Expertise: Logistics is a very dynamic function. A logistician is required to understand business strategy, manufacturing planning, inventory management, and the nitty gritty of different modes of transportation depending on regions served. Along with having expert knowledge of these functions, they are also expected to be good at creating strategies and implementing them. It also requires a lot of coordination and collaboration with various service providers and government regulatory agencies. While your in-house team may be expert at all the functions, the complex nature of the job makes it challenging for them to do all of it by themselves. A 3PL has expertise in all these functions, they also have a connection with external agencies. They can take over the more tedious and complex jobs, freeing your team to strategize and plan the business.

From negotiating rates, booking the freight, providing storage, arranging for the transportation, getting the shipment loaded to following up on the shipment till it reaches the final destination, a 3PL can do it all.

Taking product to market: A 3PL arranges the transportation – local or international, to ensure that your product reaches the intended destination on time. From negotiating rates, booking the freight, providing storage, arranging for the transportation, getting the shipment loaded to following up on the shipment till it reaches the final destination, a 3PL can do it all. In the case you have international shipments, a 3PL has the experienced professionals to manage that as well. How much and how a 3PL contributes to the process depends on the organization that it works with.

Trained staff: A 3PL not only brings in the logistical facilities like warehouse facilities and transportation, but it also brings with it trained personnel who are equipped to handle the day-to-day logistics of the business. 3PL staff is trained to handle the exigencies of the business and deliver on the KPIs you set for them.

This is the age of digital logistics.

Technology: This is the age of digital logistics. A 3PL brings with it specifically designed, trusted, and ready-to-use systems and processes that can manage the end-to-end logistical process on a single platform. Most of the 3PL service providers are also open to customizing or integrating their digital platforms with that of the organization they work with. This flexibility offered by a 3PL not only helps the organization bridge the gaps in its systems but also helps it to do it at a comparatively lower cost.

Large network: The main objective of any business is to conquer new frontiers and markets. And, to do this, it requires a wide logistics network and a robust, flawlessly executed logistics strategy. Your 3PL partner is expected to and can help you achieve your business goals. They may either have their own network across regions or they may have business collaborations with transporters and storage facility providers in different regions or a mix of these two, their own network in some cities and collaboration in another. They are thus better placed to help you expand and grow your business. To do this, all you need to do is work with them in a collaborative manner to find the most optimum solution to reach your customers.

A 3PL not only has the means to do so, but also the technology and the trained staff to execute the process efficiently.

Dedicated customer service: Logistics is now a major part of customer service. Obtaining the right product, packed in the right manner, at the required delivery time is on every customer’s wishlist. This can only happen if the ordering process and logistics are synchronized and managed correctly. A 3PL not only has the means to do so, but also the technology and the trained staff to execute the process efficiently.

Cost Reduction: Last but not least, outsourcing logistics and allied activities to a 3PL not only provides all the above benefits and improves efficiency but also reduces operating costs and administration overheads.

Why BlueGrace?

When companies want superior supply chain management services and best-in-class technology, they turn to BlueGrace®. Why? Our progressive approach to transportation management helps customers of all sizes drive savings and simplicity into their supply chains.

Will 2019 Be a Carrier or a Shipper-led Market?

Trucking is a cyclical business. There are periods of intense growth followed by a lull and then there are periodic seasonalities which may vary from one industry to another. How long each period lasts depends on the internal and external factors that greatly impact the trucking industry.

International trade policies and volume, capacity, manufacturing industry’s performance, local Government policies, fuel prices, and driver availability all impact the trucking industry’s growth

International trade policies and volume, capacity, manufacturing industry’s performance, local Government policies, fuel prices, and driver availability all impact the trucking industry’s growth. For example, all of 2016 was a difficult year for trade which also affected the trucking industry. However, when business picked up at the start of 2017 and soared till September 2018, the trucking industry also benefited. From there onwards, trucking growth has been showing a declining trend, suggesting that another slump is in the offing. 

What are the reasons behind this slump? Is it a short term decline or a repeat of the low experienced in 2016?

What are the reasons behind this slump? Is it a short term decline or a repeat of the low experienced in 2016? These are the two questions plaguing the trade and analysts since the start of 2019. 

What Factors are Contributing to The Industry’s Concerns? 

The trade war with China: The standoff between the US and China is being highlighted as one of the main factors that may impact the trucking industry in the country. There is fear of freight volume reducing due to the tariffs put up by the two countries on each other. However, according to Transport Futures Principal and Economist, Noel Perry who spoke to this article in TTNews.com on the decline in trucking growth, this fear might be unfounded. Noel Perry suggests that this problem may not be as severe as it is currently being made out to be. He feels that due to the prevailing state of the manufacturing industry in China, the Chinese may be amenable to work out a compromise with the US. 

Reducing truck orders: A common factor used to judge the health of the trucking industry is the number of orders placed for new trucks. According to industry news sources, the orders for new trucks has fallen considerably in January 2019. However, while sharing the numbers, Truckinginfo.com also puts forth a plausible explanation for the reduction in new orders. According to the news in Truckinginfo.comorders reduced by 26% in January 2019 as compared to December 2018 and were 68% less than the truck orders placed in January 2018.

Going by this forecast, it is quite possible that the transport sector may also experience a slow year.  

Economic growth slowdown: 2019 began with some concerns regarding the growth of the economy. In a Wall Street Journal article published in January, leading financial institutes shared their forecast for the year. Goldman Sachs predicts a growth rate of 2% for the first 6 months of the year and a rate of 1.8% for the rest of the year. Morgan Stanley presented a slightly more pessimistic view with a forecast of 1.7% growth rate for the year which could go down to 1% for the third quarter. The article also shares a quote from Jake McRobie, Economist, Oxford Economics, “We have been looking for a gradual slowdown in manufacturing activity amid headwinds from trade uncertainty, reduced fiscal stimulus and weaker global activity, but the risks of a sharper deceleration have increased”, to provide some explanation for the low growth forecast. Going by this forecast, it is quite possible that the transport sector may also experience a slow year.  

Even if one is to consider the lower number, the driver shortage is a critical issue.

Driver shortage:According to this piece in JOC.com, the American Trucking Association found a gap of 50,000 drivers and the FTR Transport Intelligence has reported a shortage of 300,000 drivers. Even if one is to consider the lower number, the driver shortage is a critical issue. The article further highlights that hiring companies are finding it difficult to get drivers onboard even after offering a pay increase. This is one aspect that can hamper the supply chain even when all other factors seem to be positive. 

The Silver Lining

Even the worst of situations tend to have a silver lining, so does the trucking slowdown. While the cost of operating and maintaining trucks is not likely to come down, the slump in business and the extra capacity built over the last two years may provide the shippers with a little leverage when negotiating freight rates. 

Apart from the driver shortage, all other reasons leading to fear of a trucking slump are a part and parcel of the dynamic global business environment. As FTR Vice President of Commercial Vehicles, Don Ake suggests the lull in business is felt because the industry is comparing the exceptional peak experienced in 2018 to the current scenario.

Hence to get the best results irrespective of the prevailing trade cycle, it makes business sense think strategically, collaborate and maintain relations with well-established business partnerswho can help manage volatility in the current business environment.

That said, the freight market is fickle in nature and can unexpectedly turn into a carrier-led market from a shipper-led market and vice-versa. Hence to get the best results irrespective of the prevailing trade cycle, it makes business sense to think strategically, and collaborate and maintain relations with well-established business partners, like BlueGrace, who can help manage volatility in the current business environment. If you would like to speak to one of our freight experts, call 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.

How to Build an Effective Logistics Communication Process  

Communication is a vital aspect of building a successful business. An effective communication process ensures that information flows seamlessly between departments and amongst the various teams on time and in a form which will allow them to achieve individual, departmental, and organizational goals and objectives.  

While communication in varied forms and frequency is essential for all departments, it is extremely crucial for the executors of the organization’s plans and strategies – the Logistics Department. 

Why is communication important for Logistics  

Information interchange plays an important role in creating a cost-effective and agile logistics management process. It ensures that tasks are completed and transferred from one point to the other seamlessly and without delay.

For example, the sales department needs logistics data to analyze orders that have been shipped, customer service needs information to update shipment status, and the accounts section requires the data to cross-check transporter invoices. The procurement team needs information from logistics when new vendors are to be hired or old contracts are due for renewal. The other functions of the supply chain also have to collaborate or communicate with the logistics team to get their work done.  
 

In addition to the internal information requirements, vendors such as carriers, warehouse operators, and 3PLs also need to exchange information with the logistics team on a daily basis to ensure that the company’s products are delivered at the right time to the right place at the right cost.  

What are the features of an effective communication process for Logistics?

It should be in writing: Written communication is important as it minimizes the scope to misinterpret or forget the message. Today, written communication is the most common form of business communication. Since emails and all forms of messages across multiple platforms can easily be sent to multiple recipients situated across offices, countries, and continents, it is essential for all professionals to develop effective written communication skills and to encourage the same in all employees.

A clear, concise, and consistent message is the hallmark of effective communication.

It should follow the 3 C’s: A clear, concise, and consistent message is the hallmark of effective communication. A clear message ensures that there is no ambiguity in what needs to be conveyed. Conciseness ensures that the message is brief, but includes all important information. And, consistency in language, format, mode of delivery ensures that the receiver does not waste time in understanding the message.  

In logistics, given the fact that a lot of the work is time-bound, marking the right team or person on the email is of utmost importance.

It should be sent to the right recipients: More often than not information is lost in the organizational hierarchy because it is not addressed to the right person. In logistics, given the fact that a lot of the work is time-bound, marking the right team or person on the email is of utmost importance.  
 
It conveys urgency appropriately: Many executives are in the habit of marking all their emails as “urgent” to ensure that it gets immediate attention from the receiver. While this practice is great to ensure that important and critical communication does not get missed, however, if all communication is urgent, it becomes difficult to prioritize tasks. It also dilutes the meaning of the word. In such instances, the receivers take up the tasks in the priority that they think is correct. Hence, it is crucial to mark only communication or tasks that are the top priority as urgent and not all communication.  
 
It should provide clear timelines: The delivery or timeline for getting a response or the task being assigned should be clearly mentioned in the communication. This will help the receiver gather information, plan, and execute the requirements mentioned in the message and avoid unnecessary delays.  
 
It should be transparent and reliable: Interdepartmental conflicts, organizational politics, and cutthroat competition encourage employees to keep information from their counterparts or colleagues. This creates chaos, confusion, and mistrust which in turn affects the execution of tasks. It is thus important that the organizational culture promotes transparent communication and sharing of reliable information.  
 
It should be real-time: Logistics is a fast-paced function and information exchange also needs to be equally quick. Hence, information such as a change in freight rates, loading lists, customer orders, etc. needs to be verified and relayed to the next person as soon as it is received. Apart from these things, queries asked in relation to a task or process should be addressed promptly or the receiver should at least provide a timeline by when the sender may expect an answer. 

Technology Integration: In this digital age, just getting the written communication right is not enough to ensure the successful implementation of business plans. Organizations must also integrate the technologies, backend systems and processes that are used by different departments to ensure that information flows seamlessly and without manual intervention from one function to another. 

For logistics which is an intensely data-oriented function, this integration is crucial.

For logistics which is an intensely data-oriented function, this integration is crucial. It will help reduce manual data entry, delays due to incorrect system entries, and speed up the process. Digital records of all the transactions or logistical activities will also make it easier to get reports, analyze performance, find outliers, and standardize the process across different geographies and vendors. When designing or buying technology or outsourcing the process to a vendor, it is essential to understand if this technology will be able to integrate with other systems that your organization uses with ease and at least cost.

An organization’s logistical communication process can be complete only when all the above elements are present and interlinked via common technology.  

BlueGrace’s proprietary TMS (Transportation Management System) is designed to put the power of easy supply chain management and optimization back in your hands. BlueShip® 4.0 offers cutting-edge tools for strong reliability and quick performance. Many of our customers prefer to integrate their systems or ERPs such as SAP or NetSuite directly with our BlueShip platform. Our IT integrations team will work closely with your staff to complete the connection between systems. Not only will this simplify your freight but it will provide mountains of usable data to build measurable KPIs and continuously improve your program. To speak to a BlueGrace expert, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.

Tips for Becoming a More Strategic Shipper

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While there are a lot of buzzwords in the logistics industry, it may be surprising to some but “business strategy” is not among them. Every company needs a strong plan of approach and a method of conducting business that will put them in a more advantageous position. Successful companies understand that good strategy isn’t about just doing better than the “other guy” but also about not hindering themselves in the process.

One of the biggest ways that shipping companies tend to shoot themselves in the foot is by looking at their carriers as a resource rather than an asset.

One of the biggest ways that shipping companies tend to shoot themselves in the foot is by looking at their carriers as a resource rather than an asset. Being a preferred or “shipper of choice” is one of the best ways to shore up your strategy to make you more profitable today, next week, next year, in five years and years after that.

With the dwindling supply of able-bodied drivers, the relationship between shipper and carrier is more important than ever before. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to attaining that status with your carriers and carrier conduct in general.

Move to an Integrated Supply Chain

One of the worst carryovers from the inception of the logistics industry is that aspect of the business is thought of as a separate entity, a cost center. By siloing these facets rather than integrating them, it’s easy to lose cohesion and efficiency.

For a shipper, every part of their business is (and should be) connected.

For a shipper, every part of their business is (and should be) connected. Your sales team is just as important as those in the warehouse or operating the dock. Even if those are all considered to be connected and are even working as a complete unit, transportation is no less a part of that. All too often, shippers look at their carriers as an afterthought and opt not to include them in the larger operations discussions as well as providing information to them at the last possible minute.

“When an order arrives, ideally the information shouldn’t only be broadcast to inventory folks and the distribution center. The information should immediately go to the transportation group so they can start to coordinate the capacity to move that freight. Too often transportation folks are only notified when the pallets are sitting on the docks,” said Brian Gibson, executive director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation at Auburn University

While cutting down on the transportation budget might save a little cash up front, it could (and often does) have an impact on other facets of your business.

Of course, the cost is a factor in this regard. While cutting down on the transportation budget might save a little cash up front, it could (and often does) have an impact on other facets of your business. Disconnect and poor communication with a transporter tend to end up costing more in the long run with delays, detention fees, poor customer service, annoyed carriers, unsatisfied customers.

Do Unto Others

The golden rule certainly has its place in the business world and unfortunately, not all shippers and carriers have learned to get along as they should. Pricing is the perpetual thorn in the side, of course, and it’s easy for one side or the other to take advantage when the conditions are right. The “us-against-them” mentality may be useful when it comes to thinking about the competition, but it really has no place when you’re working with a carrier. Treating carriers poorly can have some serious consequences in the future.

Think about 2016 and 2017 when shippers could harangue carriers for a better rate and carriers had no option but to comply. In 2018, when demand was high enough for carriers to be more picky on what freight they carried, the worst of the antagonizers were either dropped or gouged when it came to the bill.

Trucking companies might put up with it when demand is low and they have no choice, but don’t think they won’t drop a company as soon as capacity picks back up.

Build a Good Working Relationship with Carriers

Remember, carriers, just as you as a shipper, are in the game to make money. For them, profit comes when they are more productive, so getting their drivers in, out, and on the road to the next delivery is key. However, when a driver is delayed, that puts a hurting on their productivity and ultimately their bottom line.

One of the best ways you can help to strengthen your working relationship is to ask your carriers to audit your supply chain and make suggestions and recommendations on how to make it more efficient.

One of the best ways you can help to strengthen your working relationship is to ask your carriers to audit your supply chain and make suggestions and recommendations on how to make it more efficient. While detention fees might help to recoup some of the losses from a delay, remember, carriers would much rather keep their drivers moving instead.

Looking Ahead

While we might not be able to predict the future precisely, shippers are able to put together a forecast of what they’ve got coming down the pipeline for deliveries. Communicating that information with carriers ahead of time not only helps to ensure there’s capacity available, but it also makes life considerably easier for both parties and strengthens the relationship at the same time.

Trucking companies like to know what’s coming down the line, more to the point, they like to have shipments lined up so they can keep their trucks moving. If they aren’t expecting anything from you, then they’ll look for freight elsewhere. While that’s a good move on their part, it doesn’t do a shipper any favors when they have freight that needs to get on the road.

One thing to remember is that the more communication you have with your carriers the better the relationship will be and the more reliable the service.

Small to midsize companies will typically make forecasts on a three week or monthly basis while larger companies will run a two-week forecast. Regardless of the number of days or week, though the one thing to remember is that the more communication you have with your carriers the better the relationship will be and the more reliable the service. The optimal goal is to have continuous service with the same carrier pool. This not only helps to build a more stable rapport with the carriers, but it’s mutually beneficial to both parties to have a consistent schedule that shipper and carrier alike can count on.

Make Decisions Based on Data

The technology available to the supply chain has grown up so much over the past few years that we’re able to make inductive leaps that we’ve never been able to do before. With the right technology, we can collect a seemingly endless number of data points, aggregate them and turn them into something comprehensible. From there we can take that information and use it to make informed decisions as well as highlighting opportunities for efficiencies.

Even on the most basic level, for example, this technology gives shippers the ability to track their freight in real time and proactively make decisions that could avoid delays, rather than reacting when it already happened.

Conversely, this data is also a great way to improve the communication between shippers and carriers.

Weekly communication with carriers helps to foster positive growth in relations as well as provides the ideal opportunity to discuss operational problems and pain points. Yes, the transportation budget matters, but that pales in comparison to the difference between getting exceptional service and poor service.

Why Shippers Should Consider Working with a 3PL

Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) can be instrumental in navigating this pro-trucker market. As a shipper, working with a 3PL can give you access to carriers that are not only rated and vetted but have a good working relationship with your 3PL partner. Consider it a “leg up” on building a good relationship. Additionally, a good 3PL knows what their carriers are looking for in terms of preferred or “shippers of choice.” Because of that and the changing market conditions, 3PLs are becoming more heavily relied upon to help get the job done.

“It’s more than just the growth of demand that is making 3PLs a tempting partner for shippers. With the influx of big data, analytics, blockchain technologies, and so many more innovations, attempting to keep pace can be difficult. As demand grows and capacity tightens, shippers and carriers alike need to be smarter about how they operate if they want to stay competitive in today’s marketplace.

As the industry continues to change, it’s likely that we’ll only see 3PLs continue to grow in popularity.”

Working with a partner that’s dedicated to shaping up your supply chain takes much of the guesswork out of having to do it yourself. We at BlueGrace specialize in doing just that, make your logistics work for you in the leanest and most efficient way possible.

At BlueGrace, we take your current freight data and get an inside look at what your team may be missing. Our carrier procurement strategists will help you meet tight deadlines, optimize your freight expense, and ultimately, find peace of mind. Fill out the form below to find out more about how partnering with BlueGrace can create more visibility and opportunities to simplify, overall helping you find a better way to do business.

What will 2019 bring for the trucking industry?

What will 2019 bring for the trucking industry? Will there be a capacity crunch, demand – supply imbalance? Will the rates increase or will they remain steady? What would be more cost effective – booking spot rates or negotiating contract rates? How will the changes in the trucking industry impact a shipper’s business?

Knowledge of the existing trends can also provide insight into what one may expect from the trucking industry in the coming year.

As the new year begins, all these questions and many more are on the minds of shippers. While no one can accurately predict the changes in the business environment or how the trucking industry will respond to those changes, deliberation on the current year’s performance can help form a more reasonable line of thinking. Knowledge of the existing trends can also provide insight into what one may expect from the trucking industry in the coming year.

Here’s a look at some of the crucial parameters of the trucking industry that can impact shippers.

Rates: According to an article in Logistics Management, the US trucking industry showed a rate increase at 6.2 percent. Long distance full truckload rates showed a growth rate of 7.8 percent in the first half of the year. Less-than-truckload rates increased at the rate of 7.4 percent. The report forecasts a rate increase of around 3.6 percent in the coming year.

A JOC.com article stated 3 differing opinions of what one can expect from the trucking market in terms of rates. It has a bullish rate increase prediction between 5 to 8 percent, a bearish rate hike forecast between 0 to 3 percent, and a median rate increase prediction in the range of 3 to 5 percent.

While there isn’t a consensus on by how much the rates could increase, given the forecasts, shippers might fare better by building in at least the average rate increase in their trucking budgets for the coming year.

While there isn’t a consensus on by how much the rates could increase, given the forecasts, shippers might fare better by building in at least the average rate increase in their trucking budgets for the coming year. These predictions and forecasts can also help them better negotiate their rate contracts with trucking companies or 3PLs.

Capacity: This is the holy grail of the trucking industry for both the truckers and the shippers. Availability of drivers and vehicles, manufacturing industry’s performance, and legal compliances laid down for the industry all have a bearing on carrying capacity. Capacity, in turn, has a strong impact on the rates. When there’s a capacity crunch, rates increase. When it is in surplus, rates decrease.

This increase in trucking volume may lead to capacity constraints in the coming year.

For 2019, according to this article in Reuters, the American Trucking Association (ATA) predicts a 2.3 percent increase in trucking volume every year from 2019 to 2024. This increase in trucking volume may lead to capacity constraints in the coming year. A contradicting view presented by JOC.com and Freightwaves.com, says that while earlier in the year, trucks utilization was at its full capacity, it has come down to 94 – 95 percent. The trend is expected to continue at the start of 2019.

The Freightwave article also points out that the capacity might also be influenced by the availability of drivers rather than the availability of trucks. So even if the vans are available, a shortage in capacity may be experienced due to the lack of drivers.

Given the unpredictable nature of the industry, for shippers who have regular freight, it would make better business sense to work with 3PLs or professional trucking companies instead of individual truck contractors or vendors with smaller fleets to avoid getting short supplied in the event demand increases.

The Economy: How the economy performs has a huge impact on the transportation industry. According to the GDP forecast shared at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting, as reported by The Balance, the GDP is expected to be 3 percent in 2018. In 2019 and 2020 it is predicted to be slightly lower at 2.3 and 2 percent respectively. The fall is being considered an outcome of the ongoing trade war with China. The trade war has also created some skepticism in the freight market.

However, the release also forecasts a decent growth rate for the U.S manufacturing sector. It pegs production to increase at 2.8 percent in 2018. A slight decrease in momentum in growth is projected in 2019 and 2020 with rates at 2.6 and 2 percent respectively. Even if the manufacturing growth rates slow down slightly, it is not expected to have too much of a negative impact on the local freight market.

The other trend that seems to be picking up and is expected to continue is shorter distance freight movement.

Apart from these factors, the other trend that seems to be picking up and is expected to continue is shorter distance freight movement. According to this article in Freightwaves.com which quotes Bob Costello, Chief Economist, ATA, “the average length-of-haul for dry van truckloads fell to just around 500 miles for the year-to-date period, down from an average of 800 miles in 2005”. The article highlights that this trend is being attributed to shippers basing their fulfillment centers nearer the customers.

Going by the reports and views expressed by industry experts, 2019 seems to look positive for the industry vis-a-vis economic performance and rates. Shippers may fare better by factoring in a freight rate increase. For both the vendors and the shippers, there may however be some ambiguity on capacity as it is to an extent dependent on the trucking industry’s capacity to attract professional drivers to fulfill the current shortage.

For a 3PL perspective on 2018 and what to look for in 2019, join us on February 20th at 2pm for our FREE 20 minute webinar, STATE OF THE (LOGISTICS) UNION . We’ll discuss the major concerns for shippers entering 2019, and what the next frontier in transparency will be. Click HERE to sign up today!

You can also speak to one of our experts and find out more about BlueGrace by filling out the form below or contacting us at 800.MYSHIPPING

Urban Logistics is Growing

We are witnessing one of the most interesting times in the development of logistics. Shippers and Carriers alike are working towards creating, innovating, and performing all out (and much needed) overhaul of the way we look at delivering packages.

Online and legacy retailers both are encouraged to work with their logistics partners to not only overcome the upcoming challenges but to find bold new approaches to compete as well as survive.

While every step of the process is certainly important, shippers and carriers have been placing a greater emphasis on the last mile of the delivery. And why not? It’s projected that by 2030 more than 600 million more people will be living in urban environments where standard delivery via truck may not be an option. Couple that with the booming growth of online retail sales (e-commerce) and the last mile not only becomes a crucial element for distribution but it’s also a differentiator from the competition. Online and legacy retailers both are encouraged to work with their logistics partners to not only overcome the upcoming challenges but to find bold new approaches to compete as well as survive.

Deliveries are no longer about a simple A to B route. Urbanization has seen to that. With more people living in much more crowded areas, the complexity of deliveries is growing exponentially.

Freight movement across all modes are projected to grow by approximately 42 percent by 2040.

According to the DoT, “The surge in population and economic growth brings with it escalating freight activity. Freight movement across all modes are projected to grow by approximately 42 percent by 2040. This trend means more “everything”. More pressure on roads and transit lines by commuters, more parcels delivered, particularly with the meteoric rise of e-commerce.”

Growing Trends in Last Mile Deliveries

“Shortening the Last Mile: Winning Logistics Strategies in the Race to the Urban Consumer” was a white paper compiled by DHL and Euromonitor which has identified four growing trends that are shaping urban last mile transportation.

  • Localized Delivery
  • Flexible Delivery Networks
  • Seasonal Logistics
  • Evolving Technology

In addition to highlighting these trends, the paper also explains ways that companies can begin to embrace these new tactics and adapt their supply chain to the changing market while growing their competitive advantage.

There must be more public and private sector coordination in freight planning.

“‘It must be recognized that economic activity in urban areas depends on the movement and delivery of goods through freight carriers. City and traffic planners must be made aware that urban settings can be inhospitable places for freight deliverers. There must be more public and private sector coordination in freight planning. Cities can shape markets to focus private sector attention and invest on the needs of cities and the people who live in them by mobilizing infrastructure, talent, and other assets to support the right kinds of AV-based solutions,” was one of the conclusions in “Taming the Autonomous Vehicle: A Primer for Cities (Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute)

Growing Challenges

The white paper found that major urban settings can cause a variety of challenges for distribution including cost, decreased quality of service, as well as overall organizational strain.

Seasonal growth is a good example of this. Not only are major holidays a heavy load time for logistics but many stores run various promotions throughout the year which require extra personnel. The only issue being, these short-term surges in volume aren’t nearly as easy to predict.

“Urban customers’ demands for speed and convenience are forcing retailers to overhaul their warehousing networks, replacing centralized networks with local fulfillment and distribution infrastructure, which can require a more accurate balancing of inventory,” says DHL on the matter.

The Growing F.A.D

With the importance of urban and last mile deliveries growing, how can companies best take advantage these growing trends to overcome the impending challenges as well as stand out from the rest of the competition? In order to be more competitive, efficient, and an overall more successful company the DHL study suggests applying the F.A.D strategy which they described as the following:

(F)lexible or more elastic transport networks can include the more efficient use of available transport capacity in a market, to achieve higher load factors, bring down costs, connect more quickly to end customers, and reduce environmental impact, but can also imply the ability to move shipments more easily between different modes of transport such as bicycles and vans to improve connectivity.

(A)utomation can include a higher level of automated processing at fulfillment centers, but also the deployment of autonomous vehicles and robotics to bring down labor costs, increase productivity, and enhance services.

(D)ata management enhancements allow retailers and their logistics operators to better forecast and position inventory to reduce waste within their supply chain and achieve better availability of stock. It also provides greater visibility on inventory and transport flows, allowing logistics operators to more effectively manage routing and exceptions, and providing tracking to enhance the customer experience.

There is some variance as to which sectors you’ll need to place more time and energy into.

Now there is some variance as to which sectors you’ll need to place more time and energy into. “Effectively, not all three elements need to be managed as actively or invested in as equally.

Different markets, commodities, and operating environments, as well as competitive pressures, may require prioritization of one particular focus area over the others, or a more substantial investment in certain focus areas at the expense of others. For example, if courier shortages are the most pressing issue for one company, that company would need to funnel resources into making its networks more flexible and likely consider automating some of its processes as well. However, another company may be facing increasing pressure from its customers to narrow the delivery timetables offered to them, incentivizing management to consider investing in a data system with AI capabilities to help predict the most efficient windows,” says DHL.

Not only urban consumers, but all consumers will continue to demand solutions that make life both easy and convenient.

Not only urban consumers, but all consumers will continue to demand solutions that make life both easy and convenient. When it comes to their expectations cost, convenience, and flexibility will all be important factors to both the relevance and success of e-commerce companies, as well as transportation companies who will continue to haul the growing industry along.

At BlueGrace, our proprietary technology is designed to put the power of easy supply chain management and optimization back in your hands. Many of our customers prefer to integrate their systems or ERPs such as SAP or NetSuite directly with our BlueShip platform. Not only will this simplify your freight but it also provides usable data to build measurable KPIs and continuously improve your program. To speak to one of our experts, call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.

Make Logistics Your Strategic Advantage

The November 1977 issue of Harvard Business Review carried an article titled “Logistics – Essential to Strategy”. Citing reasons such as “a decline in the growth rate of domestic markets, large incremental costs of energy, and an increasing emphasis on multinational markets in corporate strategies”, it foretold that logistics will become an essential part of the “corporate strategy of the future”.  

There could not have been a more accurate prediction.  

Today, logistics has become the game changer for both business and the nation’s economy. For businesses, it forms an essential part of the complete product and customer service offering. By enabling the movement of people and commodities from one place to another, logistics has always played a visible part in building the nation’s economy. Now, it is also a significant contributor to the GDP. In 2017 the transportation sector alone contributed 8.9 percent of the country’s GDP.   

Why is logistics gaining so much importance?  

Globalization and the ensuing cut-throat competition has made it necessary for organizations to focus on providing customers with an added incentive to buy from them. Customers are no longer easily pleased. While one can sustain in the business for some time by introducing new variants, it is not enough to keep the buyers coming back for more. At times, even a price difference might fail to attract customers.  Then what can capture the attention of the customer? 

Logistics is the new differentiator.

Now, especially with the increasing popularity of online shopping, customers look for availability of the product at the required time and place followed by quick and timely delivery of their purchases. This demand can only be fulfilled if shippers can get their logistics right. Logistics is the new differentiator.  

What are the benefits of putting logistics first? 

Customer demand: According to a research conducted by Retail-Week, in response to a question on what they expect in terms of delivery, 70 percent of the customers surveyed said they would like to have more flexible delivery options. Statistics from another survey revealed that 56 percent of online customers in the age group of 18-34 years look for same day delivery options. 61 percent of those surveyed said they are willing to pay an additional price if they can get same-day delivery. These statistics clearly highlight the growing importance of why shippers need to pay attention to their logistics strategy, planning, and execution.  

Competition: It is no longer a seller’s market. Very few products or services enjoy a monopoly in the current market scenario. If one store or online shopping portal does not have the product in stock. There are many other options in the market for customers to buy from. So, whether you are an online store or a traditional retailer, if you fail to supply the product at the store when in demand, there’s a huge possibility of losing the customer to the competition. Regular and timely supply can be maintained only if the proper logistics program is in place. 

Given the fact that customers are willing to pay for a premium delivery service, it makes business sense to procure and provide this option.  

Achieving a balance in cost and service quality: Logistics is a cost. More often than not, shippers think that to remain competitive, one must negotiate and procure the lowest rates available in the market. While it is necessary to negotiate freight rates and keep the go-to-market price of the product in control, it is also equally important to understand how too low a cost can hamper the quality of the service. If shippers have insight into where and when they need to provide premium logistics services and where a regular delivery will suffice, they can hire a mix of vendors or negotiate for different service levels with the same vendor. This will help shippers offer the flexibility and choices in the delivery that the customers seek. Given the fact that customers are willing to pay for a premium delivery service, it makes business sense to procure and provide this option.  

Geographical reach: A strong logistics strategy can help you reach wider markets and more customers at the right time. This is especially important if you’re an e-commerce business or a retail chain with branches in different cities. A well-planned logistics system is essential to cater to different geographies and ensure that the product reaches the distribution centers or retail stores in time to fulfill customer orders. If the logistics operation is weak, it becomes difficult and financially unviable to operate a multi-city or an international business.  

If shippers do not take the required effort to understand the logistical needs of their business and plan in advance to procure the services they would need, it can have a negative impact on the business.

Logistics is the core of a business. It is what ensures that your product reaches the intended customer cost effectively and on time. This activity often involves multiple handling points and different modes of transportation. If shippers do not take the required effort to understand the logistical needs of their business and plan in advance to procure the services they would need, it can have a negative impact on the business. If you need help in understanding and building a strong transport management system, contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our freight experts today!

Connected Logistics is the Future of Global Trade

According to reports, the connected logistics market is set to grow at a CAGR of 30-35 percent by the year 2021. In the next 2 to 3 years, analysts predict the connected logistics industry to be worth USD 40 – 50 Billion. It is expected to change the entire landscape of the global supply chain.

Integrated, Digital, IoT, Smart Logistics, Automation, and Big Data are some of the words and phrases that we’ve come to associate with logistics. All these together give us what we call connected logistics. With even one of these aspects missing from the mix, it would be highly difficult to build a logistics network that links all the players in international trade.

Who Are Parts of The Connected Logistics Network?

But today, logistics has ceased to be just a process of storing and transporting goods.

More often than not, when we speak of logistics we tend to associate the word with storage of goods and their movement from location A to location B. But today, logistics has ceased to be just a process of storing and transporting goods. It’s no longer limited to transport and storage facilities.  Apart from the road, rail, air, and sea transport and warehouse operators, the term connected logistics also includes customer service teams, manufacturing, production planners, inventory planners, and the sales team. All these teams have responsibility for processes that are necessary to deliver the final product to the end consumer. IT companies, software and hardware providers enable these teams to stay connected and support them to deliver a superior customer experience through cutting edge technology. This is how evolved logistics has become.

It is now not only a crucial part of the supply chain, but also an essential element of an organization’s product and customer service strategy.

In fact, it will not be remiss to say that logistics is often a key differentiator – a USP for certain consumer products. In addition to the businesses and technology providers, connected logistics also includes lawmakers, cybersecurity monitoring agencies, and government authorities – especially transport, IT, and infrastructure departments across the globe. This group is responsible for creating a framework that can take into account the variations in rules and regulations across the globe and ensure that trade across borders is carried out efficiently.

What are the features of a Connected Logistics Network?

Real-time data: With the use of new and advanced technology and advanced analytics, the connected logistics network provides its users real-time data and market insights. This is making it simpler for organizations to make informed business decisions.

Now shippers can track their shipments from the time it leaves their warehouse or factory till the time it reaches the final place of delivery right on the platform where they booked the transport. 

Increased shipment visibility: Gone are the days when one had to follow up with customer service executives at transport companies to know the location of their shipments. Digitalization, RFID tags, and GPS trackers have immensely improved shipment visibility. Now shippers can track their shipments from the time it leaves their warehouse or factory till the time it reaches the final place of delivery right on the platform where they booked the transport. This is also facilitating better transport planning especially in the case of intermodal transportation.

Inventory management: Imagine a large warehouse with stacks of boxes of different SKUs. Earlier, warehouses would have to maintain physical records of the goods and manually manage FIFO and order picking. Even after the initial ERP systems were introduced, there were still some challenges in the order picking process. Now, with the new technology like the RFID tags and ERP systems warehousing operations have become much easier, less time consuming and more efficient.

JIT inventory: Both manufacturing and retail organizations are working on leveraging the Just in time inventory management concept to help reduce inventory holding and storing cost. This process can be better managed with the connected logistics network as an advanced system can be equipped to provide triggers for when is the optimum time to place an order for inventory – FG or raw material – so that it reaches the factory or store at just the right time.

Global compliance management: Global trade comes with different rules, regulations, and legal requirements. It is difficult to keep track of changes in the rules and adhere to all the requirements of each country one does business with. New systems that are equipped to store legal checkpoints and raise a red flag when these requirements are not being met are making it comparatively painless for companies to meet country-wise compliance requirements.

This not only reduces the organizations’ cost on systems and software, but it also ensures seamless flow of information from one process to another in a standard format which will, in turn, limit the loss of data.

Integrated systems: System integration is one of the major facets of connected logistics. Now, organizations do not need to maintain separate systems for their different departments. Transport management system, warehouse management system, sales and billing, production planning, and finance-management can all be integrated into one platform with different modules and controlled access. This not only reduces the organizations’ cost on systems and software, but it also ensures seamless flow of information from one process to another in a standard format which will, in turn, limit the loss of data.

Document management: System integration has also helped improve documentation management and storage. Now, documents pertaining to a shipment or sale can be stored in digital format on the system. There is limited need to store and maintain physical copies. Authorized personnel can easily access these documents whenever they need to. Potential benefits are:
● Easy access to delivery signatures, original BOLs, and W&I docs
● Fast PODs to verify deliveries and invoices
● Clear view of delivery receipts and customer notes
● Clean/organized shipping documentation

While the initial investment in such technology and equipment might seem huge, the returns are equally attractive.

While the initial investment in such technology and equipment might seem huge, the returns are equally attractive. Since these systems and technology have become the demand of the day, it has become imperative for organizations willing to get a share in global trade to upgrade their systems and stay connected to the global business via their logistics network. This is especially critical for 3PL and 4PL logistics service providers.

Get Connected

At BlueGrace, we offer a proprietary TMS that is designed to put the power of easy supply chain management and optimization back in your hands. BlueShip® 4.0 offers cutting-edge tools for strong reliability and quick performance. Many of our customers prefer to integrate their systems or ERPs such as SAP or NetSuite directly with our BlueShip platform. Our IT integrations team will work closely with your staff to complete the connection between systems, keeping you connected every step of the way. To request a BlueShip demo, call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts. 

Festive Cheer and Cargo Theft Go Hand in Hand During the Holidays

The holidays bring three main things for the shippers – festive cheer, increased business, and high risk of cargo theft. While increased business orders and sales are the reason to rejoice for shippers, the equally high probability of having their cargo stolen during transit tends to dampen the festive spirit. But given the season and business needs, cargo theft during the holidays is unavoidable.

Tis the Season

According to LPM Insider, businesses in the U.S. lose around $15 to $30 billion dollars each year. This figure too is on the conservative side as quite a few incidents of cargo theft go unreported, it further reports.

Do we just let the robbers rob us of all the hard work that we and our teams put in to getting holiday shipments out, or is there something we can do to safeguard our business interest and our shipments?

Among the various commodities being shipped during the holiday season, products that cannot be tracked and food and beverages shipments tend to be targeted most by cargo thieves. This doesn’t mean that shippers of other commodities or bulky products can rest easy. Cargo theft is a reality for most during the holiday seasons, so much so that there are reports of gift packages being stolen from front porches. Do we just let the robbers rob us of all the hard work that we and our teams put in to getting holiday shipments out, or is there something we can do to safeguard our business interest and our shipments?

Preventive Measures

If we treat cargo theft like any other business or operational risks, we might be in a better position to deal with such incidents and mitigate their impact on our business during the holidays.

Here are some measures that the shippers, truckers, and warehouse operators can take to minimize theft during the festive season.

  1. Pre-plan shipment deliveries: While it might not be possible to completely avoid making a shipment delivery during the holiday season, it would be helpful if shippers and their transportation providers could work out a plan to deliver high-value shipments before the festive mood kicks in. This can, to an extent, minimize the risks of cargo theft.
  2. GPS enabled vehicles: Transportation providers should install GPS trackers in their vehicles to be able to effectively track the shipments until it reaches the final place of delivery. If the vehicle is tracked, any irregular stoppages or route that has been taken can be noted and inquiries can be made with the driver as soon as there is any deviation. Knowing that the vehicle is being tracked and that they can be held responsible, the drivers will also be more cautious while making unscheduled stoppages or leaving the vehicle unguarded for a long time.

    Third-party service providers, such as BlueGrace, are professional and value their market reputation. They have checks and balances in place to avoid cargo theft or any other risk to the shipments while it’s in their custody.

  3. Vetted service providers: When appointing services providers, shippers should properly vet them and do a thorough reference check. Third-party service providers, such as BlueGrace, are professional and value their market reputation. They have checks and balances in place to avoid cargo theft or any other risk to the shipments while it’s in their custody.
  4. Hire additional manpower: This point is especially for warehouse operators. During the holiday season, staff strength tends to be low. Try to get additional workers and guards for the warehouses to cover the operations and security posts during the holidays before the season sets in.
  5. CCTV cameras: Equip your warehouses with CCTV cameras to monitor the warehouse at all times. Be sure to place cameras in a position that all the entry and exit points are covered.
  6. Alarms: Installing burglar alarms in vehicles and warehouses, will work as an additional security measure and assist in warding off thieves.
  7. Locks: Even though this is one of the most basic security measures, it is necessary to reiterate it here. Check to be sure all locks on truck shutters and warehouse entry and exit points are sturdy and in working condition. Train your staff to double check the locks after the truck or the warehouse has been locked.
  8. Train your staff: Train your truck drivers and warehouse staff to be able to detect suspicious activity and people lurking around the shipment. If the staff is trained to notice any such activity around the shipment, they can be on their guard or take measures to protect the shipment. Drivers should also be trained to avoid parking the trucks in unsupervised areas or in places where the risk of theft is high. If there’s a helper traveling with the driver, both of them can take turns to watch over the vehicle when making a stop for refreshments or rest.

Year-round Security

While incidents of cargo theft increase during the holidays, making the safety of employees, customers, business partners and security of the shipments in your custody a company culture and a year-round process is crucial. When this becomes a business practice, preparing for the holiday shipment delivery won’t seem like such a huge task and will also ensure that your employees are well prepared to deal with any such situation.

Different Freight Types, Different Risks and Rewards

When it comes to running your business, it can be difficult to identify points of improvement, leading you to believe that things are as good as they can get, but in a climate of rising logistics costs, making sure that your operations are running as smoothly and efficiently as possible, can mean the success or failure of your business.

Ground transportation is a cost faced by almost every shipper in every industry, and quite a significant one, yet many shippers aren’t paying enough attention to how their ground transportation spend is being allocated, or don’t realize that there are different ways to approach it. In this article, we will break down a major factor that affects transportation costs: the differences between less-than-truckload (LTL) and full-truckload (FTL) services. We will break down those terms, what they mean for your business, and give two examples of how BlueGrace helped clients that were operating with less-than-ideal business models save hundreds of thousands on their ground transportation costs.

Yes, the perceived cost savings associated with sharing a truck with five other shippers is tantalizing, and a legitimate notion, but it’s not everything.

LTL has gained a reputation of being a more efficient, cost-saving method of transporting freight. It can be thought of like carpooling for cargo; if two people are going the same place, why not double-up and go in one car, splitting the cost savings? Translating that idea into a business scenario, if you’re a small-to-medium sized business, you likely do not have enough product going to one destination to fill up a truck’s full trailer, so LTL can seem like a cost-saving no-brainer, but unfortunately, it’s not quite so cut-and-dry. Yes, the perceived cost savings associated with sharing a truck with five other shippers is tantalizing, and a legitimate notion, but it’s not everything. There are other factors to consider when deciding between LTL and FTL, and there is no, one-size-fits all approach.

Potential Downsides of Utilizing LTL

Timing: By nature of LTL, there are multiple stops along the route that means longer lead times and may cause delays in the supply chain. So, if you are aiming to minimize transportation time, which everyone is in the logistics world, then you are making a sacrifice.

If your company operates in the realm of e-commerce, it would be prudent to examine the costs associated with the loss of business that your business suffers due to potentially longer LTL delivery times, and evaluate what options would open up if you were able to reduce your transportation times by a period of days.

For some shippers, timing is absolutely critical. The obvious examples are perishable products, like fresh produce and pharmaceutical products, which cannot sit for long periods of time in untempered conditions. But now, other “non-perishable” products, like apparel, electronics, and non-perishable food products are becoming time-sensitive in the e-commerce driven world, with monoliths like Amazon now offering same- and one-day shipping options, which have set a standard in the minds of consumers to receive products quickly. If your company operates in the realm of e-commerce, it would be prudent to examine the costs associated with the loss of business that your business suffers due to potentially longer LTL delivery times, and evaluate what options would open up if you were able to reduce your transportation times by a period of days.

Damage: Another common problem associated with LTL transportation is the higher occurrence of damage to cargo. Due to the frequent stops and touch points along routes, in which cargo is being loaded and unloaded from the trucks, freight generally incurs more damage on LTL trips than on FTL trips. For hardier freight, some light damage to exterior packaging is unlikely to be of major consequence, but for shippers dealing in more delicate products, delivering damaged product could mean having to refund a customer for the full price paid for the product, the burden falling on you. If your product is not easily damaged, this may not be an important factor, but if your product is damaged frequently or even occasionally, calculate the average cost that you end up paying to make up for damages per quarter, and then comparing to how much it would cost you to instead opt for FTL, which would result in significantly less damage. Which cost is higher in the end? It will depend on your particular business.

It’s not an easy task for shippers. At BlueGrace, we work with shippers on a case-by-case basis to help determine strategies that fit business’ specific needs. Our digital platform, BlueShip®, takes all of a company’s attributes into account to identify which options result in minimized costs and maximized profits. In the case studies, for example,“Private Equity Group & Transportation Cost Reduction,” and “Manual Process Reduction & TMS Integration for Restaurant Industry,” we dive into each case, exploring how BlueGrace helped two different clients with similar needs rethink their supply chain strategies that were giving them less-than-optimum results.

The routing guide left out multiple states that certain carriers could not go to. Because of this issue, the supplier was receiving chargebacks from distribution centers on a regular basis.

In the first case, a private equity group (PEG) was using proprietary enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to allocate resources and make business decisions. After analyzing the company’s situation, it turned out that the ERP was not suited for the client. The routing guide left out multiple states that certain carriers could not go to. Because of this issue, the supplier was receiving chargebacks from distribution centers on a regular basis. Once BlueGrace helped them downsize their carrier network to a more tailored group of carriers, it saw a 12 percent reduction in transportation costs and $300,000 in annual savings.

In the second case, a restaurant supplier was having difficulties managing their current in-house ERP system. They had looked at 3PL solutions in the past, but couldn’t find a solution that suited their needs, causing them to continue to incur chargebacks frequently, dinging their bottom line significantly over time. After the implementation of BlueGrace’s systems, the supplier was able to straighten out their supply chain and avoid chargebacks, saving them 12 percent in hard costs totaling at $468,000 in one year.

Do You Understand Your Business’ Needs?

At BlueGrace, we understand that every business has specific needs.We would love to learn what matters most to you in this aspect of your business. Contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our freight experts today, and learn how you can optimize your supply chain, minimize costs, and maximize your company’s bottom line!

GRI Season: The Importance and Benefits of Digitalization 

The arrival of fall marks the beginning of the biggest annual influx in demand for the transportation of freight. This is caused by the flurry of demand from shoppers that crop up in anticipation of the holiday season. While increased demand means increased business opportunity, it can also mean a headache for players in the logistics industry — shippers, forwarders, carriers and retailers alike — as they gear up to deal with the season’s intensity. Retailers hire on seasonal employees, while carriers brace for capacity to be pushed to the limits.

Carriers raise their rates to compensate for increased costs in fuel, equipment, technological investment, and the cost of paying their drivers.

Peak season manifests in the costs shippers pay to carriers in the form of General Rate Increases (GRIs). Carriers raise their rates to compensate for increased costs in fuel, equipment, technological investment, and the cost of paying their drivers. Depending on the current economic climate that year, GRIs can be higher or lower, but average at around 5 percent.

Which factors will be especially affected during this year’s peak season, considering the current economic climate?

Higher demand for e-commerce

Consumers’ love affair with online shopping is not going anywhere anytime soon. E-tailer juggernaut Amazon.com had their most successful Amazon Prime Day in history. International shoppers purchased over 100 million products on the website and the company saw more sign-ups for its Prime service on July 16, the Monday before the event than any day in company history.

With the boom showing no signs of slowing down, the rising costs to secure capacity are sure to remain a theme during peak season this year.

E-commerce directly affects the demand for logistics services, as it raises the demand for more routes and last-mile services. With the boom showing no signs of slowing down, the rising costs to secure capacity are sure to remain a theme during peak season this year.

The driver shortage

With the simultaneous driver shortage caused by a retiring generation of truck drivers and the somewhat unpopular ELD mandate, carriers are paying higher than average wages in order to attract good drivers. The domino effect through the supply chain means that this is another cost reflected in the GRIs that shippers pay, and ends up detracting from your company’s bottom line.

Continuously rising fuel costs

During the spring of 2018, diesel prices increased in every region of the country with prices above $3 per gallon in many key logistics regions of the United States, and in August, diesel fuel costs 23 percent more compared to the previous year. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. According to the Journal of Commerce, U.S. contract truckload rates will likely cool down to a more modest 5 percent on average in 2019, but will still be higher than in years past; the overall increases are another major factor that will continue to play into rising GRIs.

In the Case Study, “Manual Cost Removal and Freight Cost Reduction for Hardware,” BlueGrace explores a scenario in which a big box client grapples to deal with increases in GRIs. The client was operating with a single national carrier model, which at a time, was working sufficiently enough for the supplier. However, as demand increased and their business had grown, the old-fashioned operational system began to prevent the company from reaching its full potential. Operations were becoming time-consuming, employees were becoming overwhelmed, and profits were suffering.

Negotiating GRI costs with carriers during times of unexpected rate increases was a major emerging problem for the company.

Negotiating GRI costs with carriers during times of unexpected rate increases was a major emerging problem for the company. Its lack of digital booking meant that there was no way for them to verify if the invoiced amount of the shipment was the same as the quoted amount of the shipment. In addition, the overwhelming amount of volume being moved was creating a bottleneck in the process, due to the time required to record data manually.

The supplier contacted BlueGrace to address these issues, agreeing to integrate its in-house Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system with BlueShip®, BlueGrace’s Transportation Management System (TMS). In doing so, they were able to negate the time-consuming process of manually booking shipments by digitalizing the process. Digitalization also enabled the client to access its own data with better transparency, allowing it to make better-informed business decisions.

Once processes are made electronic, companies like BlueGrace are also able to help businesses save by using their pre-negotiated contracts with all of the carriers whose GRIs don’t adhere to the standard set by larger companies and working with online service providers directly to handle complex negotiations so that the client doesn’t have to.

Once processes are made electronic, companies like BlueGrace are also able to help businesses save by using their pre-negotiated contracts with all of the carriers whose GRIs don’t adhere to the standard set by larger companies and working with online service providers directly to handle complex negotiations so that the client doesn’t have to. The result is a lower cost paid by the client, and a healthier bottom line; the supplier detailed in the case study ended up saving 13 percent of their yearly freight spend, which added up to $260,000 annually.

To find out how implementing can enable your business to achieve its optimal cost reduction surrounding issues like GRIs to reach its full profit potential during the peak season rush, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our freight experts today.