The Role of Location Intelligence in Supply Chain Visibility

The Blume Global Team | April 25, 2019

The modern, global supply chain is incredibly complex, which means there’s plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong. One of the main issues with sprawling, international networks is delays in the sourcing, manufacture, handover and transport of raw materials, parts and finished goods.

For supply chain managers, it’s a delicate balancing act. They need to optimize the supply chain and reduce delays, all while keeping costs down. Navigating an intricate global network of multiple carriers, service providers and physical locations with the constant looming threat of unexpected disruptions makes predicting supply chain outcomes accurately nearly impossible.

The most common points of disruption and significant delay are often at supply chain nodes—physical locations like distribution centers, air and ocean terminals and rail ramps. Predicting and anticipating delays and their impact at these physical locations makes lead-time planning and arrival-time prediction a daunting exercise.

How Location Intelligence Enables Predictive and Accurate Visibility

Implement Location Intelligence Through a Central Platform

There are a few ways to introduce location intelligence into the supply chain, but all of these rely on a common, integrated platform that applies artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to correlate data points and generate accurate predictions.

Below are a few examples of ways organizations try and receive location information:

  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are GPS-enabled—these devices attach to vehicles, storage containers or goods and allow for a constant update of their location
  • Geofencing by using GPS or RFID technology to create a virtual geographic boundary
  • Direct integration with the technology systems of various physical locations like port operating systems
  • Checking in and checking out of supply chain locations like suppliers and manufacturers who record the exact date, time, type of goods and other details
  • Logistics optimization and route planning so you understand exactly how items are likely to move, and can prepare downstream supply chain stakeholders to receive goods

All of this data can be captured, correlated and analyzed. This gives supply chain managers and others “one view of the truth” for understanding exactly where goods are right now, what could impact their schedule and when goods should actually arrive.

Identify Potential Delays and Bottlenecks in the Supply Chain

Most delays in the supply chain don’t occur when goods are in motion, moving between providers and locations. Instead, delays tend to occur at a bottleneck, typically in a handoff between organizations and providers. If you want to improve lead times and enhance performance, you need to identify and resolve the root causes of the delays.

Define Details of the Supply Chain Delay

  • Where does it occur?
  • What organizations are involved?
  • What types of goods are impacted?
  • Does it happen at particular times, dates or seasons?
  • What metrics are there that can show what the problem is?

Investigate the Supply Chain Delay and Find the Root Cause

  • Ask questions to understand the underlying cause of the delay.
  • For example, it could be:
    • Shipments arriving unexpectedly
    • An organization not having enough manpower to receive and process goods
    • An organization not having enough capacity for manufacturing or other processes
    • Poorly trained staff that cause delays due to inefficiency, wasted effort and duplication
  • Set baseline measurements for how the supply chain is working right now, so you know what to improve on.

Make Gradual, Measured Changes and Measure Improvement

  • When you know what the root cause is, come up with a plan of action to make improvements.
  • Introduce each improvement, one at a time, and see how that impacts speed, quality and cost.
  • Continually measure how each change impacts on delays and bottlenecks.

Once You’ve Removed a Bottleneck, Put Controls in Place

  • Stop delays from recurring by setting supply chain targets for cost, quality and speed.
  • Insist on reporting against these factors and get notification if supply chain thresholds are breached.
  • Have a mitigating action plan that you can use to get a handover or other processes back on track if it starts to fail.
  • Continually revise root causes and contingency plans so you can deal with supply chain problems quickly and effectively.

Common Issues That Increase Lead Times and Damage Performance

The process above will help when it comes to troubleshooting specific issues with delays, but every supply chain manager knows there are issues that you see again and again.

Here’s how we suggest resolving these common problems:

Suppliers and Manufacturers Are Not Prepared to Receive or Manufacture Goods

This problem starts with weak contractual arrangements. Renegotiate the agreements that you have with supply chain stakeholders. Document and agree on service levels, quality standards, cost, turnaround times and expected lead times. Get reporting and measurement in place so you can check that targets are being met.

For location intelligence, ensure that you notify suppliers, manufacturers and logistics provides on exactly when they can expect to send, receive and process goods. If location tracking shows any delays, notify stakeholders as soon as possible.

Supply and Demand Planning Are Misaligned

Supply chain managers need early sight of demand changes for new or seasonal products. They can then manage the upstream supply chain organizations to prepare them to send, receive and process goods. Location awareness is essential, particularly when working with new suppliers and manufacturers.

Lack of Good Documentation Creates Delays

Excellent documentation is essential for the efficient handover of goods, especially over international borders. Whether it’s shipping labels, bills of lading or customs forms, supply chain managers should work with logistics providers to create the right documentation at the right time. This documentation can be triggered through location awareness, so as a shipment arrives at its last destination before going to an ocean port, the logistics provider can be prompted to process, print and attach all the necessary customs and shipping paperwork.

Equipment and Vehicles Are Not in the Right Place at the Right Time

Handling different types of products requires a range of tools, equipment and transportation. Logistics providers can leverage predictive visibility to ensure they have the right shipping infrastructure in place to handle shipments when they arrive. For example, you might want specific container chassis available for trucks, or special transport for environmentally sensitive products.

Poor Routing Leads to Delays and Inefficiency

Drivers need good routing to make the most of complex road systems and other transport networks. IoT location monitoring can work with AI and external data sources like traffic congestion and flow maps to create optimized, real-time routes for the most efficient deliveries of goods. This can be especially important for last-mile deliveries.

Leveraging the right technology partner can address many of these supply chain challenges, data gaps and inefficiencies. Today’s supply chains and their players can benefit from the application of AI and other technologies to bring automation and predictive intelligence to their operations. Location intelligence is one key piece of this puzzle.

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Blume Visibility removes dark areas and provides clear visibility across every move, mode and mile by tracking events, predicting ETA, flagging exceptions and facilitating proactive resolution of disruptions. Unparalleled network visibility and intelligent execution help improve supply chain performance, resilience and responsiveness.

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