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supply chain management

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:

Middle of the Road for the Trucking Industry

Of all the industries that American consumers have come to rely on, perhaps the most underrated, and subsequently complex, is that of the transportation industry. While the laws of supply and demand will affect every form of business it is perhaps the most volatile and fluctuating when applied to the transportation industry. Last year was a great year for trucking companies, demand was high, capacity was low, and it allowed them to more or less pick and choose the jobs they wanted to do.

With so many wild swings in one direction or another, we’re entering a period of “new” balance that no one is quite sure of.

Shippers, for their part, have accepted the higher rates as an understood cost of business, but with so many wild swings in one direction or another, we’re entering a period of “new” balance that no one is quite sure of. Shippers that turned to contracts to escape the high rates are now making a return to the spot market as there’s plenty of available capacity currently on the market.

Aptly put, this “muddy middle” for the trucking department is a rare moment when supply and demand have reached something of an equilibrium, something that hasn’t been seen for years. Spot rates for FTL have dropped upwards of 12 percent from this time last year while contract rates, on the other hand, have climbed up 14 percent in 2018 according to data from DAT Solutions and Truckstop.com. Shippers that turned to contracts to escape the high rates are now making a return to the spot market as there’s plenty of available capacity currently on the market.

Given such a high volume of transference, it might have actually created an overly strong demand on contract rates which would have caused them to increase.

It’s rather reasonable at this point to speculate that the current shift towards the muddy middle was caused by overcompensations. Beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) reacted to the rate spike mid 2017 by shifting over to contract rates. Given such a high volume of transference, it might have actually created an overly strong demand on contract rates which would have caused them to increase.

Going into 2019, carriers and 3PLs were using terms such as “balanced” and “equilibrium” to describe the current state of the market. However, that might not be entirely accurate, or, at least not strong enough of a prediction to hold fast in the days to come.

The transportation industry is precariously balanced amidst two slippery slopes and it could go one way or the other.

“With contract and spot rates currently headed in different directions, it’s unclear exactly how this will all play out. IHS Markit chief economist Nariman Behravesh put the odds of a recession in 2019 at around 30 percent but upped that chance to 50-50 for 2020. A recession would mean lower cargo volumes, which would drive down both contract and spot rates, creating a buyer’s market,” according to an article from the JOC. Hence, the muddy middle. The transportation industry is precariously balanced amidst two slippery slopes and it could go one way or the other.

Hitting Bottom

Given the nature of the industry, balance doesn’t tend to last overly long. Eventually, rates will break either one way or the other to someone’s advantage (or disadvantage depending on your perspective.)

“A lot of shippers who started the process in the third or fourth quarter, they saw the rates [moving] in the right direction for them, so they actually held out on releasing the awards until mid-January or even into February,” said Mark Ford, our very own chief operating officer here at BlueGrace Logistics. “Shippers are trying to figure out where that bottom is, throwing out their routing guides, and going to the spot market depending on the cost differential.”

Shippers aren’t the only one that has a card or two up their sleeve.

Given that time is such a commodity, shippers have the power to drive rates in either direction, depending on what value they attribute to their time. However, shippers aren’t the only one that has a card or two up their sleeve. Given a recent downturn in the trucker pool in addition to more stringent regulations that make it harder to operate, carriers might have a little more say about carrier rates than one might expect.

A Drop In the Trucker Pool

While shippers can garner some power to affect rates, that doesn’t mean that carriers aren’t without an answer. A recent report from the Wall Street Journal states that carriers have cut payrolls by 1,200 jobs last month, owing largely to a softening of demand at the tail of a profit-boosting hot streak all through 2018. The drop in demand for new trucks is also a good indicator of a softening in the trucking sector.

“Orders for Class-8 trucks – the heavy trucks that haul consumer goods, equipment, commodities, and supplies across the US to feed the goods-based economy – plunged 52% in April compared to April last year, to 16,400 orders, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence on Friday. It was the lowest April since 2016 when the industry cycled through its last transportation recession. This comes after orders had already plunged 67% year-over-year in March, 58% in February and January, and 43% in December,” reads a recent article from Wolfstreet.

The flip-side of that particular coin is that warehousing and storage company job positions have been on the rise, up 1,700 in March alone, likely due to the continual increase on online consumer shopping. Same can be said for courier and messenger companies that make last mile deliveries.

In general, the transportation market, which has been ramping up over 2017 and 2018 is beginning to slow down, allowing them to control their overall available capacity and their spot or contract rates as a result.

Utilization seems to be the key to determining which way the rates will go. Shippers should be using this time to consider how they can vastly reduce their load times and what sort of effect that would have on the available capacity in the market. Given that there’s no clear indication of which way the market winds will blow next, focusing on optimization and utilization could be the necessary elements to not only help drive rates down, but to keep them down.

For carriers, the means of reaching a perpetual middle of the road would be to find alternative service offerings as well as increasing their focus on last mile deliveries. Doing so allows them to provide more value to their customers and increase their profit margins as a result.

Navigating Through Industry Changes

BlueGrace helps 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!

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.

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. 

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

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

What more is required?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Intelligent Automation Will Benefit Logistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fairweather Friendship 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating a Vicious Cycle 

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

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

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

The True Value of a 3PL 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connected Logistics is the Future of Global Trade

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

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

Who Are Parts of The Connected Logistics Network?

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

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

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

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

What are the features of a Connected Logistics Network?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Connected

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

How The New Tariffs Could Affect the Supply Chain

With three rounds of attempted trade negotiations come and gone, a trade war between the United States and China, representing the two largest economies in the world has begun. China’s Ministry of Commerce has made a declaration that they will fight back against the Trump administrations imposed retaliatory tariffs on imports to China. China is now joining the ranks of other major players in the global economy, Canada, Mexico, and the EU, who are fighting back against these tariffs.

The $200 billion in import products that are being considered span a wide array of household and consumer goods

The $200 billion in import products that are being considered span a wide array of household and consumer goods including, but not limited to, bicycles, sound systems, refrigerators, pocketbooks, vacuum cleaners, cosmetics, tools, and seafood. With a 10 percent duty markup, the tariff would highlight just how dependent the U.S. consumer economy has become on imports.

“In recent days, Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, who oversees foreign investment, has instructed local governments to gauge how the biggest round of U.S. tariffs to date—25% duties on $34 billion of Chinese goods imposed on Friday—is affecting American businesses operating in China, the officials said. In particular, authorities are looking for signs of U.S. companies potentially moving facilities out of China. That would be a blow to Beijing’s effort to attract foreign capital and keep people employed at a time of gathering economic gloom,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

“The idea behind the imposition of tariffs is to increase the cost of imported goods to the point where American manufacturers can compete more effectively, and punish other countries for unfair trade practices. But the reality is that the global economy is so intertwined that most U.S. manufacturers rely heavily on imported parts to support their own U.S. production,” according to Supply Chain Management Review.

Seeing as how many U.S. based manufacturers rely on parts that come from outside the country, we could see a stymie point in production that could create a heavy impact on manufacturers and shippers in the near future.

So how will this growing trade war affect global supply chains? Seeing as how many U.S. based manufacturers rely on parts that come from outside the country, we could see a stymie point in production that could create a heavy impact on manufacturers and shippers in the near future.

The Backlash from the Automotive Sector 

While the new jobs are a boon to the U.S. economy, it is not without consequence. “BMW said Monday that it would move production for some of its SUVs out of the U.S. as a result of new tariffs placed on the vehicles,”  according to The Post and Courier in South Carolina. “The German-based automobile manufacturer signed an agreement with its Chinese partner, Brilliance Automotive Group Holdings, to increase the number of vehicles produced in the country, according to the Charleston newspaper, with the total reaching 520,000 by 2019.” 

 Volvo might also be pulling jobs out of the United States as a means of offsetting these tariffs.  A necessary step as many of the vehicles the company produces in the U.S. and exports to other countries such as Europe and China. Volvo has recently put its plans to expand production in the United States, which would increase staffing from 1,200 to 4,000 on hold.  

A Slow Build for the U.S. Economy

There will undoubtedly be a good deal of fluctuation as U.S. and Chinese companies alike learn how to negotiate these new tariffs. Partner companies between the two countries are already negotiating terms for splitting the difference to help offset some of the lower point tariffs such as the 10 percent increase on Chinese seafood. However, the more substantial duties, such as the 25 percent markup on exported automobiles have some manufacturers looking to pull away.  

“Over time, tariffs reshape the economy. Newly protected industries draw workers and investment away from exporting industries whose inputs are now more expensive. That effect is compounded when exports are also targeted by foreign retaliatory tariffs. Heavily protected industries, like U.S. sugar farmers, don’t export much because prices abroad are much lower than at home. Protectionist countries like India and Brazil have lower imports and lower exports relative to GDP than open economies like South Korea and Chile,” Douglas A. Irwin, an economist, and trade historian at Dartmouth College notes. 

Exporters are going to have a hard time finding ways to mitigate the additional costs of the tariffs while still making a profit.  

Ultimately, the U.S. economy could see some potential benefit from these changes as it might level the playing field for U.S. manufacturers. In the end, however, those that will suffer the most boil down to the consumers buying the products affected by the tariffs, and the exporters. Exporters are going to have a hard time finding ways to mitigate the additional costs of the tariffs while still making a profit.  

How the Supply Chain Will React 

As the cost of raw materials goes up, many companies will have to reevaluate their opinions and suppliers to determine what the best course of action is.

With any major jostling of exports and imports, there will be a rather substantial effect on the supply chain. As the cost of raw materials goes up, many companies will have to reevaluate their opinions and suppliers to determine what the best course of action is.   As tariffs were introduced on imported washing machines Marc Bitzer, the chief executive of Whirlpool Corp., celebrated his win over South Korean competitors LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics Co. “This is, without any doubt, a positive catalyst for Whirlpool,” he said on an investor conference call. 

Nearly six months later, the company’s share price is down 15%. One factor is a separate set of tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed by the U.S. in March and later expanded, that helped drive up Whirlpool’s raw-materials costs. In the best case scenario, existing suppliers can negotiate with clients to help offset costs. Worst case means disruption and possible standstill for production should components and materials become cost prohibitive for manufacturers. Part of what has helped control the price of consumer goods is the low cost of Chinese labor. Without that, we could see a considerable rise in inflation on U.S. consumer goods at least until the market is able to rebalance itself.   

What Supply Chain Managers Need to Keep in Mind  

Purchasing and Sourcing managers will have their work cut out for them with the new tariffs in place, leaving them to scramble to find new sources where the tariffs don’t apply in order to help keep costs low. However, finding a new supplier is only the first step. There will still be the need for qualifying and completing a risk assessment before a new supplier can be brought on board. Additionally, the supplier must be vetted for product quality, capacity, delivery schedules, and other vital categories to make sure that they will be a reliable partner. Unfortunately, this can be a time-consuming process, but many companies already began sourcing new suppliers when the new tariffs were first announced.

Logistics channels will need to evaluate and contract with foreign trucking companies, freight forwarders, and identify export requirements from other countries before the supply chain can flow smoothly.

Negotiating transportation will be another matter altogether. Logistics channels will need to evaluate and contract with foreign trucking companies, freight forwarders, and identify export requirements from other countries before the supply chain can flow smoothly. This could mean completely altering ocean freight sailings and ports of call, as well as new air freight routes which could cause some delays in the production schedule during the early stages of these changes.  

Supply bases will also be profoundly affected as they take a considerable period of time, approximately 12-18 months, to be reestablished, especially when it involves complex parts such as circuitry. Unfortunately, some of these parts will be unable to be sourced from other countries which means that the base price of components will increase. With manufacturing costs on the rise, many companies will have to make the decision as to how far they can push their customers on the price point before they have to swallow the increase and take a hit to the bottom line.  

Many manufacturers will have to become more flexible in their approach to the supply chain to help offset eventual overages in inventory which will often occur as an attempt to prevent shortages.

Sales and Operations planning will need to make some considerable adjustments in the way they view their supply chain. Supplier schedules will inevitably change which will also change logistics needs. Inventory levels will also have to change as a result which could incur more shipping costs as production runs short on necessary components. This means that many manufacturers will have to become more flexible in their approach to the supply chain to help offset eventual overages in inventory which will often occur as an attempt to prevent shortages.  Of course, there’s also the consideration of what forms the “retaliation” will take as any number of them could result in higher costs and longer shipping times. China has already proposed closer inspections on U.S. imports as well as long delays through customs for more rigorous checks, which can significantly reduce the speed and efficiency of the supply chain.

Your focus should be on developing alternative and flexible supply chains that can be adjusted with speed. It’s time for all hands on deck to fight for your company’s survival.

“Supply chain professionals should take immediate action, if you haven’t already, to secure new suppliers and to do strategic planning using multiple “what-if” supply and cost scenarios.  Your focus should be on developing alternative and flexible supply chains that can be adjusted with speed. It’s time for all hands on deck to fight for your company’s survival,” Supply Chain management suggests.  

In short, this new trade war is going to force changes on many companies, and the supply chain will suffer. Those companies who have the agility to respond quickly will be the best off, but as relations between these global powers remain in limbo, the final result is yet to be determined.  

All Hands on Deck

BlueGrace helps 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!