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Amazon’s Next Frontier: The Food and Grocery Business

Amazon has already proved its mettle in the e-commerce space and in the distribution sector. Earlier in the year the company also staked its claim in the digital freight brokerage industry. Now, it has set its sight on the grocery business.   

Amazon’s Grocery Connect 

Unlike its other ventures, the retail giant’s foray into the food and grocery business has not been profitable — at least not yet.

For the uninitiated, Amazon is not new to the food business. It has been operating in the food and grocery sector since it acquired Whole Foods in 2017; Amazon Go stores; and its fresh grocery delivery service. However, unlike its other ventures, the retail giant’s foray into the food and grocery business has not been profitable — at least not yet. According to an article published in The Motley Fool, Amazon’s CFO Brian Olsavsk speaks about the company’s latest quarterly results saying, its sales from physical stores, which are principally Whole Foods revenue, were actually down by 1.3% from the previous year — “this is the only major segment of Amazon’s net sales that didn’t show any growth”. 

This has not dissuaded the company from making further investment in the food and grocery business though. Early last month, it announced its plans to launch a new brick and mortar food and grocery store brand. The first store will be opened Woodland Hills, California in 2020.  This new business will be separate from its existing food and grocery business.  

With this announcement, one can say with certainty that for next year, one of Amazon’s major business goals will be to acquire a large slice of the global grocery and food retail market which is estimated to be worth USD 12.24 trillion by 2020

What will be different in the new venture?  

While Amazon has a presence in the food business, its reach has been limited. According to news reports, Amazon is aiming to reach a wider customer base. While Amazon’s Whole Foods business caters to the high-end customer, the new stores will be designed to cater to mid and low-income households. The new stores are expected to enable Amazon to offer their customers a range of products more in line with other large retailers like Walmart, Costco, and Kroger.   

In an article in Forbes retail expert Neil Stern, explores in-depth what the customer can expect from Amazon’s yet to be named new grocery venture: 

  • The new store will be omnichannel from the beginning 
  • It will have ample space for in-store picking and holding facilities 
  • The focus will be on mainstream products 
  • It will be more price-competitive than the Whole Foods business  
  • It may focus more on Amazon’s private label  

Will technology be a part of the new venture?  

Anything that Amazon does is powered by technology.

Anything that Amazon does is powered by technology. So it goes without saying that technology will be a large part of the newly announced grocery venture as well. In his article, Neil shares that the new store might not be as tech-savvy as the facilities available at Amazon Go stores. Further adding that technology in the new store might not be immediately scalable.  

Irrespective of the level of savviness, we can safely assume that technology will play an important role in the store, if not initially, then going forth.  

What’s in it for you?  

Business opportunities.  

Anyone associated with the business world knows, Amazon works on a large scale. The new grocery venture will sell a wide range of products. To run this operation efficiently and competitively, Amazon will need to source products from a variety of suppliers. And for this, the e-commerce behemoth will need to enlist a large number of suppliers.   

While working with a large scale operator like Amazon has its perks, it also has stringent requirements. Organizations like Amazon expect high quality, regular supply of goods, and adherence to delivery timelines from their suppliers. Given the fact that the e-commerce giant is a technology-driven company, it will also look for tech-savviness in its business partners.  

So, what are the qualities required to become a supplier for such a large scale venture? 

You need to have a rigorous inventory management system, a strong forecasting technique, and a well-managed distribution center. 

While the company will share what it would look for in a supplier, there are a few things that are usually expected from suppliers working with large scale multinational companies such as Amazon: 

  1. Quality products: There can be no compromise on this ever. The product, packaging, and delivery all have to follow a set standard. Any deviation from the standard can lead to losing the contract.  
  2. Technology: Technology is gradually taking over the retail space. Data transfer, reports, and invoicing are all done electronically, usually with the help of specialized software. Suppliers need to ensure that their organization is not only able to transfer required data in a systematic way electronically but is also connected internally through technology. This will help ensure both accuracy and speed in work and data exchange.  
  3. Strong supply chain: A robust supply chain with end-to-end visibility is an essential requirement to do business with large scale organizations such as Amazon. For this, you need to have a rigorous inventory management system, a strong forecasting technique, and a well-managed distribution center. 
  4. Reliable transporters: Another important factor in successfully servicing a large retail store chain is a reliable transporter/carrier with a well-connected network and a good track record of on-time delivery.  

To know what other factors come into play for qualifying as a supplier for a large, food and grocery retail chain, download our whitepaper  Whole Foods: Thriving as a supplier in the complex supermarket supply chain.  

The food and grocery retail landscape is set to change with new technologies being adopted by the retail leaders. To cater to them and work alongside them, their suppliers will also have to deploy modern technology in their business.  This is where we can work with you to make your supply chain – Amazon ready or any food and grocery retail business ready.  To know how we can assist you in getting there, connect with our team at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below.

Supply Chain Technology 2020: What to Expect?

Technology has become synonymous with supply chains. It’s not only creating new and innovative products to support global supply chains,  but is also rapidly changing how the industry operates. These new technologies are being leveraged by both traditional and tech-first logistics companies in the freight and logistics space to help build digital and integrated supply chains that provide end-to-end visibility to all the stakeholders.  

According to this report by Gartner, released in January 2019, the top technology trends for the year were artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, IoT, robotic process automation (RPA), autonomous things, digital supply chain twins, blockchain, and immersive experience.  

Others like artificial intelligence, autonomous things, blockchain, and robotic process automation are comparatively new and yet to be explored fully.

While all the above technologies are gaining ground in the industry and are being used to solve supply chain problems, some of them like IoT and advanced analytics have been around for a while and are familiar. Others like artificial intelligence, autonomous things, blockchain, and robotic process automation are comparatively new and yet to be explored fully. However, 2019 did see some of the newer technologies making big strides and are expected to be in trend in 2020 as well. They are:  

  1. Autonomous trucks: We’ve been hearing about autonomous trucking for a while now. In 2019 autonomous trucking gained a lot of ground with a few companies in the sector ready to roll out their self-driving trucks on the road. Some companies making news in this sector are TuSimple which got funding at the beginning of 2019 and Plus.ai, a Cupertino, California-based startup, that has already tested its autonomous truck on the road. Plus.ai’s autonomous truck has made the world’s first cross-country trip to transport butter to a town in Pennsylvania. The autonomous trucking industry is expected to keep up the momentum in 2020 also. According to an article in Supply Chain Digital, Allied Market Research has forecasted that the global market for autonomous trucks is expected to cross $1 billion this year and show a growth rate of 10.4% every year up to 2025.  
  2. Blockchain: While Blockchain technology has been around in the logistics and freight industry for a few years, there’s still a lot of scopes to explore this technology. Last year, TradeLens – a blockchain shipping platform developed by Maersk and IBM finally started picking up after a lackluster start. According to a news release on Maersk’s website, the platform will now be used by MSC, CMA-CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, and ONE. The success of platforms like this will help in getting more companies in freight and logistics to explore blockchain technology. More supply chain partners on a single blockchain-enabled platform will help facilitate the timely and safe exchange of data among the various stakeholders, even competitors, and enhance traceability, reliability, and transparency in the system.  
  3. Artificial intelligence: The Gartner report had listed artificial intelligence as one of the promising supply chain trends of 2019. Since all technologies that require a certain level of responsiveness and user interaction are empowered by artificial intelligence, this is one technology that will evolve with new technologies and needs of the industry. So in 2020 also one can expect AI to be an important part of the technological revolution in multiple supply chains.  
  4. Robotic process automation: Robotic process automation (RPA) is an artificial intelligence software that helps program robots to carry out standard processes without intervention. It is also useful in programming robots to collect data while they are doing their set activities. According to a 2019 Gartner press release, in 2018, the global market for robotic process automation grew 63%. The research firm expected the revenue in 2019 to reach $1.3 billion. Similar to AI, the RPA software demand will grow along with the deployment of robotics in supply chains. 
  5. Digital supply chain twin: A digital supply chain twin has been defined as a replica of the real-world supply chain function. The digital platforms that helped integrate all organizational functions and manage and monitor the processes digitally have now given way to more sophisticated systems that present a mirror image of the on-ground supply chain functions. These digital replicas are making it easier for organizations to simulate the real-time supply chain, identify plausible issues and take preemptive actions. This kind of technological representation of the supply chain is expected to be one of the top trends in 2020.  

While technology forms a critical part of understanding where the logistics and freight industry is headed, it is not the only factor.

These are just some of the main technological trends of 2019 that are expected to continue getting focus in 2020 and probably even in the next few years as well. While technology forms a critical part of understanding where the logistics and freight industry is headed, it is not the only factor. There are other aspects like regulations, laws, economy, and freight rates that help determine the fate of the supply chain. To know how the industry fared on these counts on the year gone by and how these aspects are expected to impact the logistics and freight community in the new year, register for our webinar: State of the Logistics Industry here

In addition to connecting with industry experts and gaining insight into where the industry is headed in the new year, all registered webinar attendees will also have the option to get a free supply chain analysis and optimization study based on their current data! Get in touch with our team at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to find out more.  

What you can do to help “Weather-proof” Your Supply Chain?

Weather events can put a drastic slow down on your operations and unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to predict exactly when these events will happen. Sure, there are seasonal weather events like snow and hurricanes, which gives us a reasonable timeframe in which to expect these types of events. But even then, it still becomes a matter of “wait and see” as to whether or not the event will come to pass. And what about the events that we don’t expect such as nor’easters, polar vortex, or wildfires? There are certain catalysts that can create a potential for these events, such as an extended drought, but there’s no way of knowing for sure until the event is actually happening.  

In the event of something truly catastrophic, such as a hurricane, there’s even more pressure for the trucking industry to keep rolling on schedule.  

For most businesses, bad weather simply means staying home for the day and waiting for the weather to pass. Trucking companies, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Drivers are still expected to maintain their routes and delivery schedules, in spite of bad weather conditions. In the event of something truly catastrophic, such as a hurricane, there’s even more pressure for the trucking industry to keep rolling on schedule.  

Severe weather events can disrupt the supply chain causing lag and bottlenecks, especially during a true black swan event in which trucks are rerouted for emergency relief.  

For shippers and manufacturers, weather events can wreak havoc on delivery schedules, even when the weather event is thousands of miles away from you. Severe weather events can disrupt the supply chain causing lag and bottlenecks, especially during a true black swan event in which trucks are rerouted for emergency relief.  

So what can you do to prepare your supply chain against such events? 

A Reason for the Season 

Winter or summer, springtime floods or tropical storms in the fall, Mother Nature has predictably unpredictable conditions to throw at us. Plan in advance for alternate routes and parking locations if the regular road is closed and the usual truck parking is filled. Know in advance where road construction is planned. Always carry emergency gear appropriate to the season. Have a reliable response ready when faced with unreliable weather conditions. 

Part of preparing that reliable response is having good resources to turn to for accurate information. Every truck driver and every motor carrier dispatcher should have a list of phone numbers and websites for up-to-date reports on local weather, road closures, road construction and emergency notifications, such as during floods and storms. There are, of course, excellent commercial websites, products and services available. 

Here is a guide to begin building your own list of resources:

Always pull off the road and park in a safe location before checking websites or placing a phone call. Predictable responses and resources will help you meet the unpredictability of Mother Nature. 

Dealing with Sudden Spot Rate Hikes

One of the major aspects to keep in mind when you’re planning for weather events is how truckload rates can be affected by the weather. Since supply chains have become a global engine, a disruption in one location can cause problems in another. For shippers, that disruption can mean unexpectedly higher rates for shipping.

Here are a few best practices to dealing with a sudden surge in spot rates.  

  • Consider working with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider to augment your available capacity and carrier options: Outsourcing eliminates the burden of completing work in-house, but it still relies on efficiency in operation. 3PLs holistic approach, buying, and negotiating power can help augment your operations year-round.  
  • Explore intermodal and multimodal shipping options when the first chances of a storm’s arrival become apparent: Intermodal and multimodal shipping are usually used interchangeably, but both offer unique advantages to getting around after a major weather event.  
  • Increase the shipping budget through proactive, cost-saving measures through year-round operations: Cost-saving measures, such as improved dock management and load planning will naturally lead to savings in the budget. Such savings must not be 100% logged into the company profile. Instead, a percentage should be allocated for use in handling stretches in the freight budget after a disaster. More importantly, gains in efficiency will build resiliency and agility, allowing the supply chain to flex to meet the demands after a disaster.  

Batten Down the Hatches at HQ 

Spot rates are one way to deal with weather events abroad, but what happens when the storm is on your doorstep? Trucks being diverted can slow down your supply chain but when your base of operations is out of commission, everything comes to a grinding halt. Having a robust plan in place is necessary, especially if you operate in a location where inclement weather events is a yearly risk.  

Having the right infrastructure in place should be your first step.

Having the right infrastructure in place should be your first step. Does your main office have a contingency for backup power? How about internet access? Can your employees remotely access your company’s phone and operating systems? Something so simple as backup generators and remote desktops can keep operations moving despite external factors.  

Consider your personnel as well. Flexibility and cross-training of your staff mean that everyone on your roster is capable of handling a wider array of responsibilities. This is especially crucial during situations of crisis management when your A-team for customer service might be occupied with other necessary tasks.  

The better prepared it is, the more efficient it will be when it really counts.  

Having the right infrastructure in place is only the beginning, it’s important to have a plan in place for when the weather turns awry. More importantly, your team should know and understand the procedures for when such events take place. The better prepared it is, the more efficient it will be when it really counts.  To speak to one of our freight experts, contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below

USMCA – What is It and How Does It Impact the Shipping & Logistics Industry?

What Is USMCA? 

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is the new trade deal between the three countries. It is set to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was in effect since January 1, 1994.  As on date, the new trade agreement has already been approved by the Senate Finance Committee and it is due to be presented in the full Senate in the latter half of January 2020. While Mexico has already ratified the new trade deal, Canada is yet to ratify it.  

The Office of the United States Trade Representative describes the new agreement as: “The United States, Mexico, and Canada have reached an agreement to modernize the 25-year-old NAFTA into the 21st century, high-standard agreement. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will support mutually beneficial trade leading to freer markets, fairer trade, and robust economic growth in North America.” 

The Trade Representative’s website also quotes President Trump on the new agreement, saying – “USMCA is a great deal for all three countries, solves the many deficiencies and mistakes in NAFTA, greatly opens markets to our farmers and manufacturers, reduces trade barriers to the U.S. and will bring all three Great Nations together in competition with the rest of the world.” 

In short, the new agreement aims to update the provisions of NAFTA to suit the current economic and business scenario. 

How Does The New Trade Deal Benefit The US?

The new trade agreement provides the US with benefits in the areas of intellectual property, digital trade, De minimis, financial services, environment, currency, and labor. It is also expected to help improve agriculture trade in the region and boost manufacturing activities.  

According to an article published in CNN.com, which quotes data from the US International Trade Commission, a federal government agency, the initial phase of the new trade agreement is expected to add around 176,000 jobs after 6 years of its implementation and increase the GDP by 0.35%. It is also expected that the USMCA will help streamline trade among the three participating nations and provide them with opportunities to optimize trade transaction costs.  

What Will Be Its Impact On The Shipping And Logistics Industry? 

Like all cross border trade agreements, the USMCA will also have some amount of impact on the shipping and logistics industry. Chapter seven of the trade deal talks in detail about the Customs and Trade Facilitation aspect of the agreement, the points mentioned here will directly affect the shipping and logistics industry.  Some of the key points are:  

  1. Digitalizing regulations: Lack of proper and accurate regulatory information is one of the biggest hindrances to cross border trade. Incorrect information or cumbersome data gathering process often keep small businesses away from expanding their trade. USMCA aims to eliminate this primary barrier to trade. It has provided guidelines to the trading partners to provide easy, free, and online access to the country’s regulations, trade procedures, laws, duties, various charges, and documentation requirements. 
  2. Online documentation processing: In keeping with the current times, the USMCA has directed the member nations to leverage technology to simplify and speed up the process. The trade deal requires the trading partners to create a digital platform to submit customs declaration and other required documents and make the system accessible to all concerned parties.
  3. Streamlining compliances: In Article 7.11- titled Transparency, Predictability, and Consistency of Customs Procedures, each of the participating nations are expected to create uniform trade/export-import rules and regulations for their country.  This will not only help smoothen the trade procedure but will also simplify it. 
  4. Increase in De minimis: In the new trade deal, the US has acquired an increase in the De minimis shipment value from both of its trading partners. When the USMCA comes into force, in addition to the current USD $50 threshold for tax free shipment, the US will also get duty free shipment up to USD $117 from Mexico. Canada has also increased its De minimis shipment value from C$20 to C$40 and will offer duty-free shipments up to C$150.   

A higher De minimis value will help both small businesses and transporters to increase their trade with the two partner nations without having to bear the burden of additional duties and taxes.   

  1. Express shipments: One major complaint shippers have is delay in shipment release at customs. This point has been addressed in the new tri-party trade deal under the express shipment clause. The clause asks the nations to process all documentation prior to shipment arrival and expedite the release of such shipments if all required documents and data have been duly submitted.
  2. Single window: To speed up the cross border trade, the new agreement has made provisions to set up a single-window clearance system that is technology-based. It also instructs the trading countries to ensure that the system timely informs the exporters, importers and other users of the status of their cargo.  

Along with these provisions, the USMCA has also taken into consideration import-export aspects like post-clearance audit, risk management, protection of trader information, and creation of a committee on trade facilitation among other various provisions with an aim to boost trade in the Northern region.  

If you would like a FREE supply chain analysis or if you would like to know more about how the Customs Administration and Trade Facilitation rules and regulations impact your business, get in touch with our team today at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below !  

Round Two of the ELD Rush 

We could be seeing another speed bump in the road for trucking as we’ve just passed the Dec. 16 deadline for motor carriers and truck drivers to make the switch from automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) to the federally mandated ELD or electronic logging device. 

The AOBRDs were originally grandfathered into the ELD mandate back in 2017, but are currently being targeted for an upgrade. No one is quite sure just how many of the older systems are in play currently, let alone how many companies and drivers have made any progress towards the switch.  

As ELD technology continues to evolve, the technological (and financial) gap between the two technologies continues to widen.  

What complicates this issue is the growing complexity behind the switch from AOBRD to ELD. As ELD technology continues to evolve, the technological (and financial) gap between the two technologies continues to widen.  

“The industry as a whole would have liked to transition earlier, but the providers didn’t have software ready at the time,” said Michael Owings, vice president of corporate services and support at less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier Southeastern Freight Lines. 

And, to a certain extent, there are a number of carriers that are hesitant to make the change to the more exacting ELD. With AOBRDs it was easier to find logging loopholes in how you move a truck,” said Jeremy Stickling, chief administrative officer of truckload carrier Nussbaum Transportation. 

For example, ELDs will trigger “on-duty” status for a truck that begins to move faster than 5 mph. For tractor-trailers that have to stay overnight at a customer’s site before they can be loaded for their trip, that becomes problematic.  

“Let’s say the docks were full the night before, so they knock on the driver’s tractor door at 5 a.m. to get him to drive to the dock for a live load that takes three hours,” Stickling said. The ELD will start the driver’s clock for the yard move, meanwhile, the driver is left waiting until the truck is loaded before they can hit the road. If the loading process takes around 3 hours, the driver has now lost over a quarter of their daily on-duty time.  

“We try to train [drivers] against this, but it does happen,” Stickling adds. “Shippers leaned on that, but it’s not going to be an option anymore.” As ELDs become the norm, “shippers are beginning to feel the letter of the regulations a little more than they used to, and that’s not a bad thing.” 

Installation Takes Time 

For the past few months, ELD vendors and truck telematics companies have been warning the trucking industry that waiting to have an ELD installed to the last minute could impact last-minute deliveries. Barring the physical hardware installation, there is also the need to train drivers on new policies, orient them to the new device, and adapt the software to communicate with company operating systems. All of these things take time and time is running out.

For the South Carolina based regional carrier, Southeastern, making the switch from AOBRD to ELD took approximately six months. The company had to install the new software and subsequent equipment in nearly 3,200 trucks and tractors, and train their driving team of over 4,000 drivers on how to use it.  

“It went well, but it did take a very long time,” Owings said. “We sent teams from our safety department and operations to every location to do onsite training. We would convert all the tractors during the training, and then the drivers would come out and log in to the ELD. Our team would be there for a couple of days to help as they got used to the system.” 

The ELD is Not the End of Efficiency 

When the ELD mandate was first announced, it was heralded as the end of times. Carriers rallied that it would kill productivity and it would cause the industry to come to a grinding halt. But in truth, Southeastern, and Nussbaum, two very different companies operating in different regions, have seen little impact on their productivity levels as a result of switching over the ELD. 

However, that is because both companies were diligent in keeping up with the hours of service regulations.  

While trucks are still picking up and dropping off loads more or less within their routine operating schedule, the missing time usually comes out of a driver’s “home time.”  

There is, however, a trade-off. While trucks are still picking up and dropping off loads more or less within their routine operating schedule, the missing time usually comes out of a driver’s “home time.”  

“Our productivity really hasn’t dropped, we’re getting the same loads and the same miles,” Nussbaum’s Jeremy Stickling says. “But it takes us more on-duty time to do it. We’re using more of that 14-hour daily on-duty time to get the same work done, and that squeezes the driver’s weekly 70-hour limit.” According to the US HOS ruling, drivers may work up to 70 hours in an eight-day period, or 60 hours in seven days. 

That loading delay that we mentioned earlier is the real impact of the ELD. A seven-hour loss of driving time in one day means that a driver is likely not where they wanted or expected to be by the next day or even the day after. The loss in driving time, which is measured in minutes instead of miles, is cumulative throughout the week.  

“The drivers feel it when they’re not getting home Friday at 7 p.m., they’re getting home Saturday at 6 a.m. That’s squeezing their home time, the amount of time they sleep in their own beds during their 34-hour reset. Maybe it’s just on Saturday night, rather than Friday and Saturday. You can still leave Sunday evening for a Monday pickup, but it’s less time at home.” 

Still, the closing of loopholes that allowed drivers to take shortcuts around hours of service rules “is a good thing,” Stickling said, as is pressure on shippers to eliminate slack in their own operations, ensuring that they’re not saving time and money at the expense of truckers hauling their freight. 

An Overall Positive Change  

The trucking industry is decidedly less doom and gloom about the logging device, although some grumblings are still being heard about the hours of service regulations. And, overall, there is a positive change taking place due to the ELDs.

As a safety precaution, there are less exhausted drivers on the road, making it safer for everyone. 

By having a more permanent less “fudgeable” means of tracking drivers times, companies are cutting the slack out of their operations, running cleaner, leaner, and more efficiently. As a safety precaution, there are less exhausted drivers on the road, making it safer for everyone.  

The additional benefit is the vast influx of new data that is being collected by the ELDs. This data will create a turning point for the transportation industry. Linked into the various technologies that are driving change throughout transportation and logistics, the ELDs might be the herald of the new future for trucking.  

Trucking Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon

There is absolutely no doubt that we have entered into a new era of technology. As computing is getting more powerful, many technologies that were once science fiction are now either on the horizon or already here. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation are three of the biggest hot tech topics out there.

While there is certainly a potential for job loss as this technology reaches maturity, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

Of course, whenever new tech starts to hit the market, there is speculation as to what it means for the already existing framework of our reality. In this case, what do automated vehicles and AI mean for the truck driving industry? Currently, truckers move over 70 percent of all U.S. freight, by weight. The speculation is that we’ll see some 2-3 million jobs fall to the wayside as a result of emerging tech over the next few years. While there is certainly a potential for job loss as this technology reaches maturity, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

According to the study: Industrial and Labor Relations Review, there is always a measure of attrition in terms of job loss when a new technology is introduced to an industry. However, there are three key reasons why truck drivers won’t be going away any time soon.

There’s More to Trucking than Just Driving

While it might seem like a truck driver has a fairly simple job of driving the truck from point A to point B, there’s a lot more to it than just that. Truck drivers also perform a number of other tasks in their daily routine. Everything from checking the status and upkeep of their vehicle and securing cargo, maintaining logs and invoices, and perhaps most importantly, customer service. While some of these tasks such as logs and vehicle status might be automated in the future, the technology isn’t there yet and some of those tasks aren’t even close to being ready for automation. For example, a smart sensor in the truck might be able to detect an imbalanced load or a flat tire, but it falls to the driver to fix that issue before rolling on down the road.

Customer service is also an incredibly important task of the truck driver

Customer service is also an incredibly important task of the truck driver, especially when you consider that customer service is one of the key distinguishers between companies today. Service needs a face, a smile, and a friendly voice and it’s that human interaction between the driver and the company that provides those necessities.

Fully Autonomous Trucks are Still on the Horizon

Just looking at the task of driving itself we can see that there are still quite some ways to go before trucks no longer need a driver. The Society of Automotive Engineers has developed the current standard to define automated vehicles on a scale of 0 to 5 with 0 being no automation and 5 being a fully automated and capable self-driving vehicle. Obviously, the amount of necessary human interaction/control goes down the higher up you go in the scale.

In fact, there tends to be a bit of sensationalism when it comes to headlines for automated vehicles. What we end up seeing is the full level 5 tests being touted as broad-scale implementation. These tests are very rare and conducted under carefully controlled conditions. In actuality, what we will see is somewhere between levels 2 to 3 where a human driver’s capabilities are augmented by robotics and automation. For example, the autonomous drive feature could take over for highway driving but for rural or city driving, it would be under human control.

Assume for a moment that level 4 automation was target for the trucking industry, how many jobs would that actually affect?

“Most of this development is focused on automating the long-haul/interstate portion of a truck trip, not short haul or local truck moves. We estimated the proportion of trucks in the U.S. that are used for long hauls, using the Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS), last updated in 2002,” says an article from HBR.

“According to our computations, roughly one-quarter of all heavy trucks are used in long hauls of 201 miles or more, compared to roughly half of all heavy trucks used in relatively short ranges of operation (50 miles or less). Given that truck automation is currently targeted at these longer hauls, we are looking at potential job losses for roughly one-quarter of heavy truck drivers, or about 450,000 drivers, as the technology becomes more sophisticated and reliable over time and as regulatory obstacles are overcome,” HBR adds.

That is still a fairly significant number, but it is far from the millions of jobs lost that is being predicted now.

There’s Actually Fewer Drivers than People Think

Many of the sensationalized articles that are proclaiming the untold job loss at the hands of automation are also exaggerating the actual amount of human truck drivers employed in the United States. Most of the articles put the number around 3 million drivers when, in fact, that number is quite a bit smaller, meaning there are less jobs that can be lost due to the “total automation” scenario.

The federal government’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system has a category called “Drivers/Sales Workers and Truck Drivers”, which is then divided into three smaller groups: “driver/sales workers”, “light truck or delivery services drivers” and “heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers.”

The total pool employed within the broad heading is where most of these articles are getting the 3 million driver figure from. However, many who fall under one of these employment categories aren’t actually drivers or, if they are drivers, don’t fall under the risk of job loss due to automation.

Truckers Will Stay on the Road

Even if the technology for consistent level four technology was here, there would still be a heavy amount of government regulation to get through in order for it to be fully adopted throughout the industry. As there are so many variables to consider, there would likely need to be a massive infrastructure change for trucks to reach a level of autonomy that would completely remove human drivers from the picture.

It is fair to say, however, that as the technology continues to develop, we’ll likely see the amount of human drivers start to change roles.

It is fair to say, however, that as the technology continues to develop, we’ll likely see the amount of human drivers start to change roles. Instead of being phased out entirely, we’ll likely begin to see re-skilling of drivers into a different role that will continue to support the trucking industry. In light of all the challenges the industry is already facing, this could be a turn for the better.

5 Easy Ways to Make Your Supply Chain and Business Environment-Friendly

Climate change and a deteriorating environment is the most discussed subject around the world. In fact, it would not be remiss to say that issues related to environmental degradation and climate change have already begun to emerge in various parts of the world. In some places it is in the form of floods, storms, hurricanes, others it is showing up in the form of famines and long dry spells. In a few parts of the world, a distressed environment is protesting in the form of unbreathable air and shortages of clean drinking water.

It’s time to wake up and take positive action.

Irrespective of the way in which the environment is showing its displeasure, it is sending the same message everywhere – it’s time to wake up and take positive action.

While each one of us is responsible for protecting the environment and managing climate change, businesses can lead the way in creating positive change by making their supply chain environment – friendly and following sustainable business practices.

Why is it important for businesses to participate in this movement?

Given the negative impact certain business activities or accidents have on the environment, it makes sense for businesses to take preventive actions proactively. Sometimes the impact of these incidents lasts for years to come or worse, irreversible. While one doesn’t have any control over accidents, organizations can try to reduce activities such as throwing out untreated industrial waste, air pollution, noise pollution, energy wastage, and oil spillage. The other reason is that big corporations and brands tend to influence how people think and behave, this can be used to encourage people to practice sustainable living.

How can you contribute?

Overhauling an entire supply chain or changing business practices takes time. So, while all of us may not be equipped to build and operate a distribution based on renewable energy like Nike is doing or put up a fight against the ruling administration like the State of California, all of us can do little things to help the cause. Here are some ways in which you can make your business and supply chain environment friendly:

  1. Eliminate Single Use Plastic: This should not be difficult to do. Whether it is a part of your product-straws, bottles, stirrers, and packaging or a part of things you use within the company like drinking bottles and disposable cutlery in your canteen, plastic can be replaced with other eco-friendly materials. These 22 companies are doing it, so can you.
  2. Participate in The Community Discussion: This is a critical step to finding sustainable solutions that can help both businesses and communities live sustainably. At BlueGrace, we believe in working with the community. Our CEO, Bobby Harris joined the Northwestern University Transportation Center (NUTC) Business Advisory Council (BAC) last year. This group comprises of highly respectable senior – level business executives from the transportation industry. The group meets regularly to discuss the latest NUTC research and to consider solutions to the economic, technical and social problems facing national, local and global transportation systems. Connect and work with your local administration, research institutes, and environmental associations to find plausible and implementable solutions for the community. This will not only work for finding solutions to the environment problem but will also aid in identifying and finding solutions to other issues that impact the lives of the people who live in the community. Isn’t that what businesses are for?
  3. Use Energy-Efficient Lighting: Save electricity. Use lighting solutions that consume less power. Encourage your employees to switch off lights that are not centrally controlled and turn off the switches to their charging points or desktop connections when not in use. If possible explore if you can install solar panels to generate electricity in the office and other facilities like your warehouses and factories.
  4. Go Digital: One of the easiest ways to start the sustainability project is to eliminate or minimize the use of paper. Start digitizing company-wide communication, and bring all processes and systems online. While it may seem costly at the beginning, digitization will not only help you save paper but will also make your operations more efficient and easier to monitor. If you’re looking for an integrable logistics solution, connect with our team and let’s work on making your supply chain environment-friendly, effective and efficient.
  5. Optimize Logistics: Movement of goods is essential for both businesses and consumers. So while trucking is an integral part of logistics, it also causes air pollution. However, the threats to the environment from trucking can be controlled and minimized by making better transportation plans and optimal planning of loads. And as we said earlier, transportation is our area of expertise.

If you’re looking to optimize your logistics and contribute to reducing pollution levels, then let’s talk. Contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts today.

CEOs Should Be Focusing on Their Supply Chain

As Jeff Bezos, CEO of the e-commerce juggernaut once said, “When [executives of other companies] are in the shower in the morning, they’re thinking about how they’re going to get ahead of one of their top competitors. Here in the shower, we’re thinking about how we are going to invent something on behalf of a customer.”

As a CEO, the path forward will be through optimizing your supply chain while keeping an eye on the goal; your customers.

That alone shows an interesting shift in the perception and could explain why Amazon is so wildly successful. It is that customer-centric focus that is going to pave the way for success going forward. Sure, it’s still going to be good business to be ahead of the competition, but the way we do that is measured by the way we serve our customers. That’s going to be vital going forward, especially when you start to consider all of the challenges facing the supply chain today. As a CEO, the path forward will be through optimizing your supply chain while keeping an eye on the goal; your customers.

With that in mind, however, there are some very uncertain times on the horizon, as the current administration continues to press its trade war with China, ensuring tariffs could bite some manufacturers hard.

Moreover, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers, there are plenty of other areas of concern, including; attracting and retaining a quality workforce and increasing the cost of raw materials.

There are no shortages of concerns for the manufacturing industry and all of these issues will have some effect on the supply chain for most industries.

If that wasn’t enough to contend with, there’s also the challenge of rising transportation costs and the overall challenge of managing a smooth-running supply chain. Simply put, there are no shortages of concerns for the manufacturing industry and all of these issues will have some effect on the supply chain for most industries.

For CEO’s the big question is this, “Is your supply chain ready for the road ahead?” Supply chain optimization will be crucial for the success of any manufacturing industry as failure to do so will mean missing out on growth opportunities as well as the inability to fulfill current customer orders and expectations. A flexible and well-structured supply chain will mean the difference between addressing new challenges appropriately or being knocked off balance by unexpected disruptions in the future.

A Changing Future for the Supply Chain

It’s not all doom and gloom on the horizon, and that’s part of what is keeping the levels of optimism high in the manufacturing industry. Many positive changes and developments are driving us towards a breakthrough in the way we do business. The new levels of technology and advancements in the Internet of Things are moving us closer to Industry 4.0 which will drive the levels of visibility and efficiency across the supply chain to new heights. The applications of these new technologies and advancements will separate winners from losers, survivors from the deceased, often in just a few years.

It will no longer serve to think of the supply chain as an isolated aspect of your business.

For the CEO of the Industry 4.0 company, you’ll have to keep in mind that supply chains are only going to get more complex going forward, especially when you start to consider the potential impact of tariffs. Think about manufacturing which is expected to be spread across the world as parts outbound China are hit with punitive tariffs. What kind of confusion will this cause within the industry? Within your own organization? What sort of opportunities will this create? As a leader, your approach will also have to become more sophisticated, using data-driven analytics to probe deep into your supply chain. It will no longer serve to think of the supply chain as an isolated aspect of your business. Instead, you’ll need to work on expanding your business philosophy. Who are your suppliers’ suppliers? Who are your customers’ customers? It is that total end-to-end level of thinking that will allow for the necessary insight into the supply chain to avoid potential disruptions to your business.

Is Your Supply Chain Ready?

Even at the best of times, the average supply chain is packed with pitfalls and bottlenecks, any of which could be the event that prevents an organization’s ability to maximize growth. At the worst of times, those hangups could cause a drain in cash and capital when the economy is in a downturn. This is why optimizing for growth now is important. It creates the environment and opportunity for critical improvements when times get tough. There is no mutual exclusivity in this, high performing supply chains and operations excel in either condition.

So is your supply chain ready? As a CEO, here are the three big questions you need to ask:

  1. How will my suppliers respond to a rapid increase or decrease in demand?
  2. How well are manufacturing and operating distribution facilities prepared to cope with an increase or decrease in demand while still maintaining quality and service with appropriate cost and cash levels?
  3. Do our logistics capabilities have enough capacity and responsiveness to accommodate a change in demand?

If your company can’t keep pace with the change, it’s as good as leaving money on the table, as your competition will likely be more than able to pick up the slack.

The answers to those questions are critical when estimating how well your company can perform in the event of an economic shift, in either direction. If your company can’t keep pace with the change, it’s as good as leaving money on the table, as your competition will likely be more than able to pick up the slack. Responding to these opportunities goes beyond simple, and BlueGrace can help with that. To speak to one of our experts, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below:

Shippers Growing Success With 3PLs 

The 24th Annual Third-Party Logistics Study for 2020 has been released and it shows a growing success between shippers and their 3PL partners. 

“The majority of shippers, 93%, report that the relationships they have with their 3PLs generally have been successful. A higher number of 3PLs, 99%, agree that relationships have generally been successful,” the study says.  

As 3PLs continue to offer a wider array of services, shippers have been eager to leverage what they have to offer.

The study continues to find that shippers and their 3PL partners are developing a much greater awareness and synchronicity of goals, as well as how data sharing and new technology can help them advance those goals. As 3PLs continue to offer a wider array of services, shippers have been eager to leverage what they have to offer. The result is an optimization of the supply chain, reduced costs, and the creation of overall value within the supply chain.

“This year’s study once again proves that shippers and their 3PL providers are strengthening their relationships and continually moving toward meaningful partnerships. They are collaborating to accomplish their supply chain goals and improve efficiencies. The available evidence confirms that both parties are creating reliable solutions and improving the end-user experience for the customer, which is allowing shippers to use the supply chain as a strategic, competitive advantage.” 

3PLs Are Rising to the Occasion 

Currently, both shippers and 3PLs have been enjoying favorable economic conditions both at home and abroad. That is not to say that it has been a perfectly smooth road as both continue to face challenges in transportation capacity and facility-based resources. However, the relationship has proven to be beneficial to both parties as they’ve worked together to overcome tight customer deadlines and raise both customer and consumer satisfaction levels. 

Another advantage to the relationship between 3PLs and shippers is the ability to adapt to and overcome challenges .

Shippers, of course, have higher expectations of their service providers and third-party providers have responded by increasing not only their service offerings but also their innovations when it comes to overcoming challenges within the current market environment. Simply put, transportation and logistics companies are realizing that the focus needs to be placed on digital capabilities, cost and asset efficiencies, and a broader range of services to meet their customers’ needs.

Current Global Market Challenges

The logistics and freight industry is in a state of flux currently. New technologies, tighter regulations, and growing customer expectations are all forcing necessary changes to the supply chain. According to the 2020 study, here are some of the biggest challenges shippers and 3PLs are facing to date. 

Growth of e-commerce: E-commerce and the “Amazon effect” have had a tremendous impact on brick and mortar retailers. The result is that many of them are branching out into omni-channel marketing and distribution to meet customer needs. This adds a whole new layer to existing logistics and supply chain structures.  

There are both domestic and global economic changes that are putting pressure on supply chains to adapt and react.

Economic uncertainty: There are both domestic and global economic changes that are putting pressure on supply chains to adapt and react. Many of these include sourcing new suppliers and improving cross border relationships with trading partners. There are also signs of slowdowns within certain major global economies which will soften demand and create new challenges for shippers.   

Driver shortage: This problem is not unique to the United States, but it’s certainly one of the most prevalent locations. With the average age of the American truck driver approaching retirement, there is a decided lack of interest in younger generations to get behind the wheel. ATA’s chief economist,  Bob Costello estimates that the current 60,000 driver deficit could reach 160,000 by 2028.  

Disruptive technologies: While disruptive technology breeds innovation within the industry the difficulty of adapting and integrating these new technologies also increases. Some of the disruptive technologies impacting supply chains include the use of drones, autonomous vehicles, cloud-based capabilities, artificial intelligence (AI), internet-of-things (IoT), blockchain.  

While dealing with all the above challenges, there’s also the challenge of keeping pace with the competition.

Competitive challenges: While dealing with all the above challenges, there’s also the challenge of keeping pace with the competition. Especially as there is a new start-up for every day that is poised to disrupt businesses, business models, or even entire industries. This applies to all, trading and manufacturing companies, as well as logistics providers, who are attempting to differentiate themselves from a growing number of startups backed with millions of dollars worth of venture capital investments. 

The take away from the survey is that shippers and third party providers are growing and prospering together.

The take away from the survey is that shippers and third party providers are growing and prospering together. As new challenges arise, shippers are looking to 3PLs for answers, innovations, and solutions. Conversely, 3PLs are looking to build long term and steady relationships with shippers as the number of providers continues to grow.  

With growing uncertainty in the geo-policitical arena, new technologies, and the explosive growth of e-commerce, it’s likely that we will continue to see growth in the relationships between shippers and 3PLs. For more information on how BlueGrace can be the partner to help strengthen and bring visibility to your supply chain, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts.

Can Advanced Analytics Put a Pin in OTIF?

According to the 2020 Third-Party Logistics Study, data analytics is not only becoming more viable in the logistics industry, but it’s also becoming a necessity and make a difference. With the growing storm that is e-commerce, brick and mortar retailers have had to step twice as fast in order to stay in the game. Especially, when you consider some of the power plays made by the internet titan, Amazon. As one of Amazon’s biggest sources of competition for domestic goods Walmart, in particular, has tightened their game up significantly.

In particular, Walmart uses some stringent policies to ensure that shelves stay stocked and goods are arriving exactly when the retail stores need them to. First is the Must Arrive By Date (MABD) provision, which means that suppliers must have deliveries to the store within a certain delivery window, typically four days, while also having a high invoice accuracy. This is a fairly standard industry practice for retail stores to ensure timely deliveries. 

Failure to meet these requirements could mean a 3 percent chargeback per case value of each missing item. 

However, Walmart as since followed that up with their heavy-handed On Time In Full (OTIF) policy. Now suppliers must have deliveries at the store within a two-day window, no later and no earlier either (even early deliveries will still be penalized.) Failure to meet these requirements could mean a 3 percent chargeback per case value of each missing item. 

As of April 1st of 2018, the company made the policy even harder. Prior to then, the OTIF policy stated that full truckload shipments needed to meet a 75 percent OTIF rating and less-than-truckload shipments needed to meet 33 percent OTIF to avoid fines. Now, FTLs are required to meet an 85 percent standard (down from the lofty 95 percent they had originally planned) while LTL requirements have increased to 36 percent. In addition to the chargebacks, too many violations could cause a shipper to fall out of favor with Walmart and lose supplier status, which would be a major financial hit for most companies.  

But what happens if demand is peaked and capacity is booked?

For shippers, OTIF can make for a tight schedule. But what happens if demand is peaked and capacity is booked? What if there’s a major weather event that has the logistics network scrambled? Shippers need better tools at their disposal to keep things running smoothly, and that’s where data analytics comes into play. 

How Analytics can Make a Difference 

There is a truly astounding amount of data that can be captured within the supply chain. As more companies begin the process of digitizing their operations and automating their systems, just about everything can be tracked, traced, quantified, and speculated. The challenge, however, is making sense of it all. There is such a surplus of data that it leads to a sort of data overload and can turn even the most avid analyst catatonic. 

Analytics turns this vast amount of information into insight, according to the 2020 Third-Party Logistics Study by Infosys Consulting, Penn State University and Penske Logistics presented at the CSCMP Edge conference in Anaheim, California. And with this insight, “you stand a much better chance of improving your operations,” says John Langley, professor of Supply Chain Management at Penn State University. 

Real-time information can help to match supply with demand. But that’s not all it can do. Far from it, in fact.  

To some degree, the logistics industry has already started to use real-time data and analytics. Langley sites dynamic pricing in freight for an example. Here, real-time information can help to match supply with demand. But that’s not all it can do. Far from it, in fact.  
 
For shippers, there is a wide array of challenges they encounter on a daily basis. Of the shippers that responded to the 3PL study, many agreed that the use of analytics would be helpful to many facets of their operations as well as overcoming the challenges they face day to day.

Type of problem % of shippers who said analytics would be helpful 
On-time and complete order fulfillment 69% 
Shipment visibility 63% 
Freight costs per shipment 60% 
Transit time 59% 
Cost to serve 58% 
Order-to-delivery cycle time 58% 


Langley says that analytics is ideal for tracking and improving a KPI like Walmart’s OTIF, because the policy itself is a compound metric. And while it might be easy to villainize Walmart from a shipper’s perspective, they aren’t the only company to use aggressive tactics like this. Target, Kroger, Costco, and others are also tightening their regulations in order to keep their shelves stocked. 

Learning From Your Mistakes 

Perhaps one of the most powerful tools of data analytics is it gives you a different perspective of your operations and allows you to drill down to pivotal details. Why was your shipment late? Why were there missing pieces? Analytics can determine the cause and effect relationships to target the root cause of the issue while sorting out coincidence and other anomalies. In other words, real-time data analysis allows you to track where things went awry and focus on improving operations so that particular issue doesn’t happen again. “If you can measure it, capture it, analyze it, you can use it to your advantage in terms of knowing more about your own processes,” Langley says.  

Getting to be a supplier for Walmart is no small matter.

Getting to be a supplier for Walmart is no small matter. For companies that already have that title, keeping it is important. However, even shippers that don’t have the best scorecards, analytics can prove to be a useful bargaining chip. If you’re able to prove yourself, and that you have the right measures in place to improve operations, it’s likely that you can demonstrate your worth as a supplier and make it to the “in” list.  

For a better understanding of how to navigate OTIF and other ways to improve your operational efficiency, check out our white paper: Walmart: the retail-supplier relationship. You can also speak with one of our experts by calling us at 800.MY.SHIPPING, or filling out the form below.

The Definition of Transparency

As companies mature and the market changes, our understanding of crucial operating components of any industry has also grown. Supply chain transparency, in particular, has come a long way over the past twenty years. Transparency within the supply chain has gone from an unrecognized concept to a focus item for the C-Suite across a vast number of companies and industries. Given the current state of the market, it’s no small surprise either.

So in order to begin understanding transparency in the supply chain, we first need to define it.

Many, if not all, companies are facing increasing pressure from governments, consumers, non-profit / activist groups, and stakeholders to provide more information about their supply chain. Failure to do so could mean some serious damage to the company’s reputation. Slave or forced labor conditions, health and safety violations, animal exploitation, and child labor are all becoming hot button topics of the growing consumer conscience. While the reasons for explaining a higher need for transparency are clear, what is less clear is how to get there. Some companies are struggling to make a meaningful change to their operations to provide the much-needed levels of transparency.

As it is with most problems there is a lack of a clear and concise definition, according to an MIT study which conducted a survey of the apparel industry only to find wildly different results. So in order to begin understanding transparency in the supply chain, we first need to define it.

Understanding the Need Transparency

At its core, supply chain transparency is understanding what’s happening within the supply chain and being able to communicate that knowledge both within and outside the organization.

As we mentioned earlier, there is an increase in customer demand for insight into the supply chain, but it’s not without benefit. The researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management found that consumers are willing to pay between 2 and 10 percent more for products produced by companies that have better supply chain visibility. The study showed that consumers place a higher value in a company that can prove the ethical treatment of their workers. What’s more is that this growing consumer base is seeking more information about product ingredients and materials, where the product is coming from, and the conditions in which it was produced.

As the demand for visibility continues to increase, so too will the potential fallout for companies that fail to provide it.

As the demand for visibility continues to increase, so too will the potential fallout for companies that fail to provide it. Over the last decade, there have been a number of scandals that have had a significant detrimental impact on company image and reputation. Slave labor in the Thai seafood industry and deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia are ample examples of this.

The backlash created from these scandals has forced the creation of new transparency laws around the world. Australia the UK have created new regulations to combat forced labor. The state of California has also created supply chain transparency laws (California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.) The U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act is targeting food safety and ingredient fraud. There are also further regulations to come from the Netherlands and Switzerland, with other countries to follow suit.

What this means for companies is that a lack of supply chain transparency can stop operations dead in their tracks.

What this means for companies is that a lack of supply chain transparency can stop operations dead in their tracks. Something as simple as missing origin documents could cause a shipment to be either held up or even turned away at ports which can result in a costly delay throughout the entire supply chain.

So Why Aren’t All Companies on Board?

You would think that with the new levels of consumer consciousness and the growing global regulations that all companies would be scrambling to build transparency into their supply chains. Yet, there are many companies that are either slow to act or not act at all.

One reason for the delay is that the supply chain itself was never designed to allow for transparency. Manufacturers and suppliers alike fear to expose their sources as they might lose the edge against their competition. Another explanation for being slow to act is inaccurate data coming from upstream, assuming there is data to be had at all. Lastly, there’s also considerable concern about the ROI for investing in supply chain transparency.

Despite the challenges, there are plenty of reasons to get on board with supply chain transparency.

The Benefits of Supply Chain Transparency

The returns gained from efforts made on improving supply chain transparency will vary by business model and industry but overall there are a number of benefits that are applicable to most companies.

One of the most straightforward benefits is that increased transparency means keeping in compliance with the new regulations that are being enforced. Operational risks drop as a result as companies no longer have to worry about being able to get freight through customs.

There are also considerable benefits to a company image that come with higher levels of visibility. Consumer conscience is a huge market factor right now. Customers are happy knowing that their products are made with care and concern towards the environment and the people working to make their products. As a result, they’re willing to pay more, which can help offset potential higher supply chain costs. Additionally, consumer trust and satisfaction also rise, which creates stronger brand loyalty and a larger customer base.

Better visibility means better, more actionable data, which in turn can help drive a company’s growth and profitability.

Of course, there are also operational benefits to be had by utilizing a highly visible supply chain. Better visibility means better, more actionable data, which in turn can help drive a company’s growth and profitability. That data also highlights areas of improvement, meaning a company can run leaner, cleaner, and a whole lot greener.

This isn’t a trend in the sense that we’ll see it fall out of fashion any time soon. Supply chain transparency is becoming an industry standard and will continue to flourish. If your company isn’t working towards transparency, it might be time to get started. For more information on how BlueGrace can help give you the visibility you need to gain efficiency, feel free to contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below:

Making your Warehouse, Worthy

For a logistics player to be successful, it is imperative to regularly check if every aspect of the supply chain process is working at optimum capability. The surest way to ensure this is to keep a checklist. Tom Peters, the author of In Search of Excellence, says, “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing, layout, processes, and procedures.”

In this article, we delve into the details of making a warehouse future-ready and examine the steps required to achieve warehouse excellence.

The Bigger Picture – Before getting into the nitty-gritty and finer details, it is first important to have a macroscopic view and understanding of the warehouse as a whole. This entails mapping the warehouse, studying the building & area and checking the surfaces for damages and weak areas. All these actions ensure that before the warehouse is stocked, and equipment such as forklifts are brought in, it is capable of handling the capacity and regular operations.

Goods that are easily visible, make them easy to locate when timelines are short and add to the smooth functioning of the supply chain process.

Light, Ventilation & Drainage — A well-lit warehouse makes it easier to navigate and work in. Goods that are easily visible, make them easy to locate when timelines are short and add to the smooth functioning of the supply chain process.

Ventilation goes a long way in combating dust and fumes that may arise when moving equipment within the warehouse. A well-designed ventilation system will make a huge difference in maintaining the longevity of the warehouse. 

In a similar way, a disaster-proof drainage system can make all the difference in the preservation of products during a natural disaster such as a storm or a fire or even areas that are exposed to the elements. Paying due attention to designing these crucial details improves efficiency and adds immensely to not just improving daily operations, but also, preserving the warehouse in the long term.

Cleanliness is the Key — Keeping the warehouse clean entails a number of practices that contribute to the overall hygiene of the warehouse while making it easy to maneuver on a daily basis. Ensuring that trash cans are placed at convenient locations, emptying trash cans periodically, keeping the area clean, all play a part in the overall maintenance and upkeep of the warehouse. Additionally, keeping the floors clean afford clear visibility of the exit signs and protect against accidents that could occur due to spillage and obstructions that may happen during daily operations.

Safety is the most important factor in any industry and must be prioritized above all else.

Safety is Paramount — Safety is the most important factor in any industry and must be prioritized above all else. This includes various aspects from regular fire drills and ensuring the equipment is serviced and up-to-date for any contingency to giving employees access to adequate training and gear for safe operations. Staff handling forklifts and heavy machinery must be provided with certified hard hats, gloves, and other protective gear to protect against any mishap that might happen. Labels and handling instructions on products must be visible all the time. Continuous training of staff about the correct and expected ways of protecting themselves, others, and assets is essential. In the event of an emergency, staff must have easy access to all the tools necessary to not just protect themselves but any other persons that may be in the warehouse. These competencies can be the difference between life and death in times of crisis.

Regular checks and inspections are essential for maintaining the standard of a warehouse.

Miscellaneous — Apart from taking care to examine that the above aspects are in order, regular checks and inspections are essential for maintaining the standard of a warehouse. From checking the storage racks and vehicle inspection processes at the loading dock, to inspecting elements such as the quality of the railings, uniformity of the stairs, access areas, aisles etc. on a regular basis must be taken into due consideration and set within processes that should be part of a cycle within organizations.

Apart from the above, Everything Warehouse lists a warehouse audit checklist that demonstrates what an audit should include:

  • Facility current and optimum capacity and throughput
  • Logistical layout and material flow
  • Safety, security, and housekeeping
  • Systems functional capabilities and performance
  • Customer service performance metrics
  • Productivity analyses
  • Storage and handling equipment
  • Inventory accuracy
  • Identification of opportunities for improvement
  • Comprehensive warehouse audit report with recommendations

In conclusion, there are many aspects that go into making a warehouse and in turn, the whole supply chain process efficient and future-ready. If done periodically, this ensures smooth operations, regular maintenance & review and better planning.

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An Uncertain Trucking Horizon—“The Risks of a Mild Recession Have Increased”

While the U.S has boasted some rather pleasing levels of growth and continued prosperity following the recession nearly a decade ago, we might be seeing an end to it, at least in some sectors, shippers and carriers in particular. According to the Cass Freight Shipments Index, May statistics dropped 6 percent, year over year, while the ATA For-Hire Truck Tonnage index shows only a suggestion of growth at 0.9 percent from May 2018, the smallest annualized gain since April 2017. 

Shippers not only paid less to move freight, but they also moved less product as well, indicating a slowing down of business. 

That however, is only the tip of the iceberg. The Cass Freight Expenditure index turned negative by one percent, beginning a descent after climbing a healthy 6.2 percent. This is a rather substantial switch which indicates that shippers not only paid less to move freight, but they also moved less product as well, indicating a slowing down of business. 

Stats are also slowing down for the US truckload linehaul rates, with rate increases of only 1.2 percent in May, year over year, whereas the Cass Intermodal Price Index was up 4.2 percent the year before. 

As the Cass Shipments Index has declined for the sixth straight month, author of the index report Donald Broughton, declared it a signal of economic contraction. “Whether it is a result of contagion or trade disputes, there is growing evidence from freight flows that the economy is beginning to contract,” he said in the report, issued Tuesday.

Contraction, as you might have guessed, is quite the opposite of expansion. It’s not even a matter of incrementally slow growth, but rather shrinking. A contraction is what has people nervous. Textbook definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of economic contraction and we’re at six, presently. That has Broughton sounding the alarm, however, the contraction is not yet universal, nor is the Cass Shipment index going negative a guaranteed indicator of economic distress.  

The question is, does this sudden reversal in spending and drop in shipments mean simply a slow down in growth, an economic contraction, or is it mirroring a shift in freight demand brought on by the Trump Administrations tariffs?

The question is, does this sudden reversal in spending and drop in shipments mean simply a slow down in growth, an economic contraction, or is it mirroring a shift in freight demand brought on by the Trump Administrations tariffs? Or, is it a mix of all these factors? 

A Recession Could Hurt Some More than Others

When you don’t take risks, that means we are not going to grow at the same pace that we were.

Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist and senior vice president of international trade policy and cross-border operations, spoke to the council here. “When I come to meetings like this, everyone is like, “What is going on? Are we headed for a recession?’ ” Costello said. “When people start asking those questions, you know what that tells me? You go back to your businesses, and you are not going to take risks. And when you don’t take risks, that means we are not going to grow at the same pace that we were.”

Costello sites President Trump’s trade war as a cause for much of the uncertainty in the industry which is one of the many unknowns that could hurt the U.S. economy, ending the period of expansion since the third quarter of 2009. 

To be fair, that is a considerable time for expansion to go uninterrupted, but Costello also is hesitant to call the current market status a possible recession in 2019 and 2020. 

“The risks of a mild recession have increased,” Costello told the audience of freight officials and executives at a recent NAFC conference. “It’s not my forecast. All I am saying is, the risks have increased.  The theme is slowing but growing.”

With the increase in pay to help keep experienced drivers and attract new ones combined with the lower spot rates for hauls, it could prove to be a deadly combination for smaller carriers.

Fleets stand to lose the most during the economic uncertainty, especially smaller carriers who are at the mercy of the spot markets which has been getting hit with rate drops over the past few months. With the increase in pay to help keep experienced drivers and attract new ones combined with the lower spot rates for hauls, it could prove to be a deadly combination for smaller carriers.

“Contract freight is doing better than the spot market,” Costello said. “The spot market has been hit hard … I think you are going to see more and more fleets going out of business.”

The situation could result in potential “carnage” with some fleets, as they seek bankruptcy protection or simply go out of business, he added.

A Muted Spring for Freight

Spring was undoubtedly a soft season for the freight industry this year, but we’re seeing the dam start to break, or at the very least crack. Truckload rates reported by DAT solutions out of Atlanta have risen by double digits in the last few weeks as more and more freight appears to be moving in land from U.S. West coast, always a good sign as it will mean that June statistics and rates were higher than May. 

This is very good news for owner-operators and independents that depend on the spot market more than their larger counterparts. However, that breathing room might not be long-lived if the current downward trend continues. 

“In the short term, Los Angeles, northern California, and Atlanta are much more robust in the last thirty days, both in load-to-truck ratios and, more recently, pricing,” says Mark Montague, an industry pricing analyst at DAT.

“While we are starting to see higher quantities of summer produce, USDA and DAT’s own internal data suggest it continues to be a sub-par year for produce shipments.  It could still turn around with a few weeks of favorable growing conditions, so this remains a wild card. This will also have a ripple effect across other segments of the supply chain,” Montague adds.  

A recession, while not a great thing, wouldn’t be totally devastating to contract carriers, but it might be damning for smaller companies.

What we’ve seen so far is that the future is decidedly unclear, much of it due to the current geopolitical standing and impending trade war as the global economy reshuffles its hand preparing for the next round. A recession, while not a great thing, wouldn’t be totally devastating to contract carriers, but it might be damning for smaller companies. As for shippers, now is the time to review your supply chains and develop your contingency plans for a multitude of events including the growing impact of e-commerce demand and rapid fulfillment expectations on freight flow and distribution locations. 

The industry is changing, and we will be seeing a radical shift in the topography of freight shipping, both the highs and the lows, not just in the United States but globally. BlueGrace is committed to helping our customers navigate through the constant changes the industry brings. No matter the situation, we are here to simplify your freight needs. If you have any questions about how a 3PL like BlueGrace can assist, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak with a representative today!

Regaining Lost Customers in the Digital Age 

Let’s be honest, there are few things that feel more rewarding than securing a new customer. It’s incredibly important for business growth and development and at the end of the day, more customers mean more money. With that being said, no business should ever operate on a model where the acquisition of new customers supersedes the importance of advancing old or preexisting customers. More specifically speaking, winning back profitable old customers that you might have lost. 

In the business-to-business (B2B) world, reacquisition is incredibly important. Losing customers happens more often than you might expect, especially given the current market, where customers have more options than ever to evaluate and re-evaluate their suppliers, find new ones, and make changes. 

Losing a customer can be a costly endeavor, and that cost is only going up.

Losing a customer can be a costly endeavor, and that cost is only going up. For some firms, long-standing customers are also their best customers.  As recently as 2014, for example, “the average publicly traded manufacturing firm received over 25% of its revenue from large buyers, up from 10% in the early 1980s.”. Any company, regardless of size, would be leery at the prospect of losing a customer like that. 

Former customers already have a certain expectation about your company and capabilities, and it’s almost impossible to change the first impression.

The reacquisition process, however, is a bit different than acquiring fresh customers. The most obvious difference is former customers already have a certain expectation about your company and capabilities, and it’s almost impossible to change the first impression. The other side of the coin, however, is you also have your own set of criteria and history, so you know if that customer is worth pursuing. 

Fortunately, when it comes to winning back a lost partner, it’s less about wining and dining, although that’s certainly a part of it in some cases. Realistically it comes down to this, can your company get the job done this time better and in a most cost-effective way? The good news is that a lot of what customers are looking for, both new and old, can be found from within your supply chain.

Rebuilding Relationships in the Digital Age

Assuming you’ve done the math, you’ve come to realize that Customer ‘X’ is definitely an asset to your roster and is worth romancing back into a partnership. Where do you begin? This isn’t necessarily an easy question to answer as not only does it depend on the specific customer, but it is also prone to change due to the current state of flux in the market. Everything is shifting, getting technological upgrades, and becoming digital. Even customer expectations are starting to trend towards digital solutions. Having said that, finding the right way to move forward is like trying to find the needle in a haystack, in the back of a moving truck. 

What many businesses are looking for today is visibility, flexibility, and assurance that they’ll get what they need, when they need it.

What many businesses are looking for today is visibility, flexibility, and assurance that they’ll get what they need, when they need it. The ability to provide those things to a customer not only marks you as a good business partner, but it’s also a key differentiator amongst the competition. The digital “olive branch” in today’s market is what kind of data and information you can provide your customers, and overall accountability of your services and, most importantly, the strength of your supply chain.

Managing Customer Expectations

Customer expectations are constantly growing and changing. Walmart is a prime example of this. The superstore is locked in a battle of epic proportions against Amazon. Every empty spot on a shelf means a potential missed sale. A sale that could end up going to Amazon or even a different competitor. 

As a result, Walmart started stepping up their expectations from their suppliers, hitting those that don’t hold up their end of the bargain with charge-backs and other fees. However, given the size and reach of a retail giant like Walmart, business potentials for suppliers are enormous. If you make the supplier list, they tend to be the kind of customer you don’t want to lose. To that end, suppliers have little other choice but to pull up their bootstraps and live up to Walmarts expectations.

No doubt, the bar is set high, but this may also present the opportunity for those who are able to demonstrate that they have been developing and evolving their business practices. Showing your former customer that you can get the job done and done right is a sure fire way to win that customer back. 

You need to be able to prove that you have a robust plan to meet their needs as well as the capability to follow through. If they have a tight delivery schedule, then you’ll need to have a plan in place to accommodate it.  Those accommodations are made through shoring up your supply chain to create the flexibility and visibility necessary to handle the freight, even when capacity and other elements are against you. 

Controlling Costs 

Controlling costs and optimizing the supply chain also means that you can provide your customers the visibility, flexibility, and the overall assurance that they will have what they need, when they need it. 

Costs are a big factor in any working relationships. A lot of partnerships have dissolved simply due to an inflating price point, which can be caused by any number of reasons. Unfortunately, it tends to be either a knee-jerk reaction to pass the buck when times get tough and for some customers, that cost is simply too much. Controlling your costs goes a long way towards repairing broken relationships, especially when it means that you can regain a former customer at the expense of your competition. Controlling costs and optimizing the supply chain also means that you can provide your customers the visibility, flexibility, and the overall assurance that they will have what they need, when they need it. 

The benefit to this approach is two-fold, really. First, you’re gaining back a lost customer as well as proving that your business solutions have grown and matured from the last time you’ve worked together. This not only opens the door to regaining a lost customer but could also provide opportunities to gain new ones. The other is that controlling your costs, via your supply chain, also increases overall efficiency which extends to all of your customers and your operations as a whole. Ultimately, the bulk of costs comes from transportation and the supply chain. As freight rates are prone to fluctuate wildly, the cost of shipping goods can also vary to a great degree making it hard to manage. For manufacturers shipping goods to customers, this needs to be managed effectively to keep costs low and both parties happy.

There are a number of different factors to consider when you’re trying to evaluate your supply chain. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone.

Making these corrections and changes on your own can be a difficult proposition at the best of times. There are a number of different factors to consider when you’re trying to evaluate your supply chain. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. Having a 3PL partner like BlueGrace can help get your supply chain where it needs to be, not only win back former customers, but to also help you win over future prospects. Call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to see how we can help!

The Secret of Successful Supply Chains: A Culture of Continuous Improvement 

Why are some supply chains operating at an optimum level, while others are struggling to perform day to day operations? How are some supply chains able to respond quickly to market demands, while others miss opportunities? Why are some supply chain managers able to reduce costs without compromising product and service quality, while others are dealing with rising costs?  

There is only one answer to all these questions.  

An organizational culture of continuous improvement is the secret of a healthy, cost-effective, responsive and efficient supply chain.  

What is the Culture of Continuous Improvement?

As the name suggests, Culture of Continuous Improvement means – having a culture where process, system, service, and product improvement is an ongoing and continuous activity. This culture is embedded in the organization’s foundation. It involves, encourages and motivates all the employees, management, vendors, and suppliers to seek out avenues and means to improve how the organization functions at every level.

How do Supply Chains benefit from Culture of Continuous Improvement?

The supply chain is one of the biggest cost centers in an organization. It is the function responsible for manufacturing, storing, and distributing the product. It makes the product available to the end customer. To be able to keep up with industry trends and market demands it is necessary for supply chains to constantly innovate. And, innovation can’t happen without continuous improvement. In fact, both are interdependent. 

When supply chains improve and innovate, they are able to do the following:  

  • Reduce costs 
  • Enhance efficiency 
  • Optimize processes 
  • Improve service and product offerings 
  • Decrease go to market time 
  • Reduce response time to market and customer demands 
  • Helps integrate the different functions within the organization 

All these things help the organization improve revenues and remain competitive.  

How to Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement in the Supply Chain

Creating a culture of continuous improvement requires the involvement of the entire organization. It can’t be done in silos. For example, if you plan to continuously improve your supply chain, you will by default have to roll out the continuous improvement plan in all the other departments as well.  

Here’s how you can create a culture of continuous improvement in your supply chain and all the other functions of the organization:  

  1. Align the C-Suite: Any process or strategy change in the organization can’t succeed without the involvement of the C-suite and function leaders of the organization. Once the leaders and the management is aligned and agrees to make continuous improvement a part of the organization culture, it becomes comparatively easier to implement changes.
  2. Set clear objectives and goals:  Any change or activity undertaken without a goal or objective is not only difficult to achieve but also challenging to “sell” to the employees. So, when you decide to make continuous improvement a part of your organizational culture, define what you aim to achieve from it. For example, the supply chain’s objective can be improved inventory management, better machine utilization, or lower transportation costs.
  3. Define how you will measure it: Along with setting objectives and goals, it is also necessary to define how you will monitor and measure their performance. Unless there are proper metrics in place to measure the outcome, you will not understand if your plan is working in accordance with your goals. Apart from knowing how your plan is performing, results also help keep employees engaged. If they are achieving the said goal, it motivates them to do better and take initiatives to find other ways to further improve their performance. If it is not providing the said results, it helps find new solutions and opens doors for innovation. Either way, it keeps up the spirit of continuous improvement. 
  4. Seek input from employees: Your employees are responsible for implementing the strategies for continuous improvement. They also have first-hand knowledge of the pain points of the process they handle and have insights regarding how it can be improved. If they are also involved at the planning and strategizing stage, they will be motivated to take ownership for its success.
  5. Allow room for failure: Condemning failures is one of the biggest hurdles in embedding a culture of continuous improvement in the organization. If employees feel they will be penalized for failure, they will neither suggest new ideas nor be enthusiastic about implementing anything new. On the other hand, when they have the assurance that they will not be punished for failure, they will not only be motivated to find new ways and means to improve the processes and systems but will also put in their best efforts to make them a success. 
  6. Introduce technology: Technology is one of the tools to improve systems and processes within the organization. Any strategy to create a culture of continuous improvement in the organization can’t overlook the contribution of technology. By using the right technology, you can eliminate redundant and duplicate processes, reduce manual work, and integrate different processes. Technology also helps connect the end customers to the business, thus improving your service offerings. For example, if your logistics department uses a transport management system, you can connect with transporters and customers on the same platform. Track your shipment real-time and offer the feature to your customer as well. Additionally, a TMS will also help you monitor and track your logistics department’s performance. Thus, aiding you in your efforts to build a culture of continuous improvement. 

While these steps will help you initiate improvement, to make it a part of the culture and keep it “continuous” you will need to pursue it relentlessly and passionately.

While these steps will help you initiate improvement, to make it a part of the culture and keep it “continuous” you will need to pursue it relentlessly and passionately. It will require steadfast efforts starting from the leadership team going down to the employees at the bottom of the hierarchy. 

At BlueGrace we believe the passion for our work is what enables us to constantly look for ways and means to improve our services and products and find better solutions for our customers. It is the secret of the success of our organization. Want to connect with one of our experts to see how BlueGrace can help simplify your supply chain? Call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below!

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

Want A Free Supply Chain Analysis?

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!