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supply chain efficiency

Delivering A Passion For Logistics

Mark Derks, Chief Marketing Officer

I have a passion for logistics and recently joined the BlueGrace Logistics team as Chief Marketing Officer. In my initial weeks of onboarding, I’ve been able to connect with many of the customer facing and supply chain engineering resources for the organization.

In my discussions I’ve asked what, as a shipper, should I be considering for a successful supply chain logistics program. Here’s a synopsis of what some of the industry’s most forward thinking thought leaders have to say.

Automate & Simplify

Breakdown your internal processes on a continual basis and automate everything you possibly can. Automating even one step of a process can mean significant savings over time. There are benefits such as employee/customer/user satisfaction, driving business rule compliance and creating scale while reducing OPEX when you simplify process to make work easier. The mostly likely areas for automation could be procurement, order fulfillment, service and system queries, tender activity, track/trace, payments and invoicing and any type of data entry or reconciliation processes. Eliminating repetitive, non-value-added tasks, while improving internal and external workflow should be a top priority across multiple business units.

Focus on Order Management

By unlocking order management processes, you remove bias to things like mode selection or freight service and focus on improving the entire fulfillment process for your end customer. The use of business rules can drive load planning and match your executive strategy to your tactical execution. For organizations who are ready to scale, order management supports automation across the supply chain. Order receiving, tracking, fulfillment, etc. under one cohesive brand experience.

Improve Data Accuracy

Good clean data drives viable consolidation, automation and optimization. Volumes of accurate data employ AI and machine learning strategies. Much of the available historical data from legacy transportation management systems doesn’t hold the accuracy or structure standards needed to accomplish actionable results. Improving data quality increases trust in technology and tech-driven outcomes. Quality data also helps brings normality to a fragmented industry. Efficiency, productivity, experience and more all start with clean, accurate data.    

Final Mile & COVID-19 Evolution

COVID-19 has resulted in changing buying patterns, shifting freight networks, fluctuating manufacturing cycles and more. As the market reshapes itself to address a more B2C environment now is a great time to adapt and be proactive in engaging a final mile strategy.

Sales Leadership

Include Sales Leadership in your supply chain strategy and decision making. The commercial leadership role stands behind the value proposition and service requirements to make customers successful. Supply chain logistics is at the heart of every customer transaction and being inclusive of sale leadership offers advantages and scale in customer service, communications and overall growth and retention. Actionable data and a proactive transportation network also help enhance the customer experience. Brands who leverage their supply chain team throughout the organization can increase sales and grow results.

Work with a Driver-Lead Provider

Drivers are the most critical part of transportation and the end-delivery of your freight. Most think truck drivers are the responsibility of the carrier they work for. In fact, organizations should consider their support and engagement of drivers directly, beyond that of the carrier. Driver retention depends driver experience throughout their supplier list, so it’s all our responsibilities to try to improve their life on the road. This driver-lead approach is unique and can keep the two most important commodities you have in transit: the driver and your freight.

Find Value

Grow valued-based relationships and bring them your biggest challenges. Solely buying on price might save you a few dollars but won’t bring you value and solve your biggest challenges. Look for that provider that makes you say, “I got what I paid for and find value in that.”

The Number One Item to Consider: Have A Passion For Logistics.

When prompted on what that means, it’s the idea that logistics can make every business better. Across industries, companies can make themselves better, provide greater customer experience and achieve higher employee engagement by improving supply chain logistics. One small change in the way you plan, organize, execute and communicate can have immediate and great impact on your costs, risks, efficiencies and growth.

Sound advice for organizational success. Does your company have a PASSION FOR LOGISTICS? I’d love to hear your thoughts as to why.

Better Truckload Operations Efficiency Through Digitalization

Digital trucking is bringing unprecedented, large-scale benefits to the national transportation grid. Digitization takes living, real-time data from once futuristic fantasy to practical present-day tools. Companies who embrace these changes can stay ahead of shipping needs, coordinate the arrival and departure of shipments at distribution facilities and offer customers full transparency regarding product tracking.

Having uniform data instantly updated across many locations translates into an efficient organization. 

Digitally integrated metrics also mean the more efficient movement of goods. Well-kept maintenance and repair information leads to more uptime for fleets. Processes that depend on fax and phone calls to delegate shipment orders can see improvement through digitization by providing transparency in a shipment’s progress across the operation. Digital trucking further protects against losses from laggy communication by providing access to information like rates and available containers. The answer is simple: having uniform data instantly updated across many locations translates into an efficient organization. 

Hybrid Supply Chains

Naturally, some companies making the transition from silo-based tracking to a digital supply chain will find themselves in a mixed state of operations. Some information is digital, some are kept analog, and some remain decentralized in individual silos. However, it is best not to get comfortable here. The number of customers relying on internet transparency is increasing at an exponential rate. The weight of the digital world is enough to have deemed it the “Third Industrial Revolution.” In order to survive in the post-revolutionary landscape, successful shippers will need to become proficient with Digital Supply Chain Networks. 

Benefits Of Embracing Digital Supply Chain Networks 

1. Accurate Projections – An outdated but well-ingrained approach to supply chain management is to look backward at data. A forward-looking vantage point allows companies to remain better oriented to evolving needs.

Information from Blume explains that “AI and machine learning can uncover trends in the data and suggest likely short, medium and long-term demand and capacity — allowing you to get the right assets and resources in place .” Advanced models can help with recruitment, asset procurement, scheduling enough drivers and trucks and generally increase profits by keeping error margins minimal.

2. Data Visualization – Having data that is intuitive for managers to interpret increases efficiency. Data points are essential to ha. Still, unless these see integration into a medium with unambiguous meaning, they may fall short of their potential. The less time a manager spends trying to interpret numbers, the less time they spend repeating supply chain failures. Digitization automates the mundane manual task of creating a visual representation for complex data

3.  Connecting Data Sources – Modern supply chains rely heavily on a concept known as the Internet of Things (IoT).  IoT can improve processes, identify opportunities to move goods and stay ahead on preventative maintenance. However, IoT is only capable if it has many data sets from which to draw. Using QR codes to track goods, sensors for shipping containers and APIs to compile data onto logistics platforms is one example of how IoT shines brightest when prolifically integrated. IoT benefits conveyance when connected to multiple vehicles by improving operations through routing, navigation and avoiding common collision points. Equipping infrastructure with systems to monitor road conditions and congestion allows IoT to optimize capacity through effective traffic management systems. 

The more devices connected to a system, the more complete the data set.

The more devices connected to a system, the more complete the data set. Likewise, IoT can more efficiently bolster a supply chain by facilitating updates on spot-rates, capacity, demand for drayage, driver availability, GPS locations for disabled trucks and last-minute changes to every device and user within the network. Accurate data can significantly increase efficiencies and mitigate risk when shared across a centralized digital platform.

4. Direct Benefits to Supply Chain Management – Some concise benefits to supply chain management that companies can look forward to from digitization are: Increase JIT sourcing, decentralized inventories leading to satisfied delivery time requirements, competitive shipping by converting next-day-deliveries to same-day-deliveries, fewer number of logistics partners needed for transportation and translating LTL into parcel shipments.

The Risk Of Information Overload

When it comes to digitization, an abundance of data can tip the scales in either direction. Of course, having device-level data across an entire operation allows carriers to access essential information from asset utilization to invoicing. It also presents challenges for effective integration. In order for companies to achieve the desired level of granularity to get the most out of their data, expert logistics support is an invaluable step. For help with implementing these changes, contact one of our logistics experts.

Understanding The Need For A Stronger Supply Chain

As much as we’d like to believe that our supply chains are both quick enough to react to major disruption and flexible enough to maneuver around major obstacles, the global pandemic has taught us that often isn’t the case. It is the single major weakness of most supply chains, an inability to react to a sudden and massive large-scale disruption, which can include pandemics (such as Covid-19) massive weather events, and a myriad of other setbacks. This lack of resiliency is most notable in supply chains for life sciences, health care, and food industries in particular.

The Chinese market is massive, for one thing, and most companies can’t afford to withdraw completely, otherwise, they might lose any competitive edge they might have had.

After COVID broke loose around the world, the current administration issued a call for companies that have offshored their production to Asia, (China, in particular) to bring it back stateside. However, for many companies, this proves to be challenging and counterproductive. The Chinese market is massive, for one thing, and most companies can’t afford to withdraw completely, otherwise, they might lose any competitive edge they might have had. Additionally, because the Chinese market is now either the dominant, if not sole source, for thousands of different items, reducing the dependence on those goods will take a significant amount of both time and money.

Reshoring wouldn’t necessarily mean resiliency either. The meat shortage in the United States is a perfect example of this. The industry’s supply chain is entirely domestic. In an attempt to reduce costs, many companies focused on consolidating manufacturing activities, which means a smaller number of slaughter and processing plants are now producing much of the beef and pork products consumed in the United States. This created a vulnerability as shutting down one plant, even for a few weeks, creates a major impact throughout the country. Farmers, who get paid to raise the feedstock, are now stuck with taking a potentially devastating loss on their products while the rest of the country faces months of meat shortages.

Remap instead of Retreat

Instead of retreating outright from the forign market, the best approach to building resilience into the supply chain is by conducting an internal audit. More specifically it’s the process of mapping out the layers of suppliers, manufacturing plants, distributors, and the other various elements of the logistics network and then implementing a stress test to evaluate the ability to recover from the disruption of any of the various links. Understanding where various bottlenecks will occur means being able to create mitigation strategies which can include increasing manufacturing capabilities, adding more suppliers to the roster, or building up buffer stock.

The added advantage to mapping and stress testing the supply chain is that companies using this method can find unexpected weaknesses or high risks throughout the organization. The more complex the produced good is, the higher the risk of utter disruption.

“Work that one of us (David) did with the Ford Motor Company found unexpected high risk associated with small suppliers, including many local suppliers. One part it identified that fell into this category was a low-cost sensor widely used in its vehicles: If the supply of it were disrupted, the carmaker would need to shut down its manufacturing operations. Because the total amount spent on this item was low, Ford’s procurement group had not paid much attention to it,” reads a recent article from HBR.

Stress Testing on a Policy Level

Essential industries, such as pharmaceuticals and health care, need to have a level of government involvement to ensure that supply chains are resilient enough to continue operating, even during the worst-case scenario. Consider the mask and hospital supply shortage when the pandemic first started to hit the United States. While panic buying created part of the problem, the supply chain itself faltered and eventually failed under the crushing demand.

If such a test can be conducted for banks, it can similarly be conducted for all life-critical supply chains.

There is a precedent for such involvement, however. Back in 2008, during the recession, the U.S. government and the European Union conducted a stress test for banks to guarantee that the major financial institutions that prop up the entire financial system, could survive a major crisis. If such a test can be conducted for banks, it can similarly be conducted for all life-critical supply chains.

The Long Road to Resiliency

Creating supply chain resilience for essential products and services here in the United States could very well require domestic manufacturing. But that’s neither an easy nor cheap fix. Take the pharmaceutical industry, for example. Of the drugs sold in Europe, more than 80% of the required chemical components are manufactured in China and India. Because chemical production is a significant environmental hazard, it would require the development of clean technology and manufacturing processes to create a domestic supply chain. This process could take upwards of 10 years and would require a hefty financial investment. Could it be done? Absolutely. But not easy, and not cheap.

However, until companies have a full comprehension of the vulnerabilities throughout their supply chain, these kinds of decisions can’t be made. The pandemic has created an excellent opportunity and, perhaps more importantly, a motive to put in the necessary time, energy, and resources. Only then can they protect their supply chain from a potential devastating disruption that may be lurking on the horizon.

Do you have supply chain questions that you need answered? Do you need help bolstering your current supply chain to handle these new and disruptive global situations? Feel free to contact one of our logistics experts today and lets talk more about it today.

Detention and Dwell Times: The Menaces of Supply Chain Efficiency

Prolonged dwell times have been an age-old inefficiency that the trucking industry has been trying to curb. Longer dwell times affect the drivers, carriers and shippers alike. An estimated detention time or dwell time can cost trucking companies $3 billion per year as per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The total time spent at a facility by a driver is called dwell time while detention is the gap between the allocated time to start loading/unloading and the actual time of loading/unloading. Longer detention at customers’ premises has largely impacted drivers’ available hours-of-service. Ideally, shippers and receivers are allowed a 2-hour window to load or unload a truck. Any time spent outside the allotted time calls for detention charges. Detention is thus used to offset the cost of a truck being detained at a shipper or receiver’s premises.

Dwell time in unprecedented times – A challenge

The month of March saw an unprecedented rise in panic-buying, which resulted in a tremendous spike in demand. The truckers continued to ply on the highways, making essentials available throughout regions. With increased demand, came the perils of heightened dwell times and detention times. The added safety protocols, social distancing, precautionary SOPs to be followed at the shipper and consignee facilities and the shortage of manpower had considerably impacted the driver detention times. On the other hand, transit times may have improved, owing to less traffic congestion during the lockdown period.

Improvement in the check-in process, ensuring social distancing, enhancing driver safety and the use of technology to manage appointments and improve collaboration between all parties have been the key drivers of change.

Improvement in the check-in process, ensuring social distancing, enhancing driver safety and the use of technology to manage appointments and improve collaboration between all parties have been the key drivers of change. While the world adapts to the new normal in supply chains, it is of utmost importance that more sustainable solutions are innovated and implemented.

Detention: Causes and Impact

Inefficiencies at the facility such as the lack of manpower to load and unload consignments, the unwillingness of the shippers or consignors to invest in manpower to accommodate increased freight movement and the inability at the individual level are the main reasons for increased detention durations. Additionally, mismanagement of appointment times such as goods not being ready for dispatch while the vehicle arrives at the premises lead to unwanted delays. Another common reason is the overbooking of appointments – when more trucks are booked than what the loading location can handle. All of the above contribute to increased detention times, which in turn amounts to losses for truck drivers. On average, truck drivers spend two and a half hours waiting at the shipper or receiver premises to load or unload goods. These hours are not considered as working hours, thus, leaving them unpaid.

We need to understand that most of the drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, therefore, every moment lost in delays is a direct loss of income for drivers.

We need to understand that most of the drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, therefore, every moment lost in delays is a direct loss of income for drivers. On the other hand, for LTL carriers, waiting at a certain facility for longer durations can mean skipping the delivery altogether.

As per a  2018 report published by the Department of Transportation Officer of the Inspector General (OIG) that sought to understand the correlation between driver detention times, crash risks and costs incurred, it was found that detention time may impact annual earnings for truck drivers by $1,281 to $1,534 per year in the negative. Shippers of essential goods have experienced longer detention times at facilities lately. For example, the recent crisis of toilet paper around the nation had trucks lining up at facilities for hours before being loaded with goods. Detention fees paid by shippers to carriers can only offset the loss up to an extent but that money fails to cover the driver wages lost by not driving. Primarily, the carrier efficiency and a driver’s payable hours-of-service are at stake, but the effects of longer detention times invariably trickle down to every stakeholder across the supply chain.

Is there a long term solution – that can increase efficiency, while ensuring optimum asset utilization and prioritizing driver safety in times of crisis?

Longer dwell times and increased detention times are not a byproduct of the current economic crisis alone. They have lingered in the industry for quite some time now and only technology can help provide long term solutions to enhance supply chain visibility. In a recent statement by Collins White, the president of Alabama Motor Express, he stated, “It has become progressively worse since 2018. We have bought software that automatically tracks when the truck goes over the allotted two hours of dwell time and automatically bills the customer.” Better technology that tracks the movement of trucks with a precise estimation of time spent at shipper or receiver facilities will help us give a clearer picture of the spots where the detention is taking place. Identifying these spots will further enable a better understanding of bottlenecks, allow correct allocation of resources and change practices to streamline the flow wherever necessary.

On the other hand, the tried and tested drop-trailer business model may have worked for some quite well. In the drop trailer method, a driver leaves a trailer at the facility for a stipulated time period until another vehicle picks it up. This doesn’t time-bound the shippers and they can load trailers at their convenience. Given the current situation of restricted labor availability, this method comes as an interim respite but cannot be considered as an all-round solution to the problem.

Investing in data-enabled technology is necessary to be able to make any supply chain more robust and induce complete visibility.

Investing in data-enabled technology is necessary to be able to make any supply chain more robust and induce complete visibility. Location Intelligence (LI) is set to make location data more accessible to participants in a supply chain. The use of LI is a promising trend as it uses geographical relationships to decipher complex data that can provide fleets with critical insights of accurate detention time calculations. It can provide accurate information such as time of arrival and departure of a truck at a site. They can also monitor a driver’s fuel stop time or break times which can further help enhance asset utilization. Insights into trends pertaining to a particular time of a day or week can translate to better prediction of transit times and estimated time of deliveries. All of these are elemental in aiding data-enabled business decisions through optimized route planning with reduced dwell times that boost overall productivity and enhance supply chain performance.

As the nation grapples with the ongoing economic crisis, a sudden surge in demand followed by flattening of the curve, the unpredictable rise of freight volumes and its correlation with increasing or decreasing dwell and detention times remain a cause of concern. What must not be forgotten is that these problems of detention and dwell times pose the opportunity for a permanent change towards creating a symbiotic relationship between carriers and shippers. There is an immense potential for cost savings and enhanced operational efficiency that will invariably impact the driver community’s way of life on the road.

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!