Visibility – supply chain technology’s favorite buzzword.

Companies promise a lot on this front. From control towers to real-time tracking and so on. But if you ask 10 different people what ‘visibility’ means, you will get 10 different answers (maybe more). And while promises are great, the truth is the current possibilities are limited.

Let’s talk about visibility as tracking.

If you’ve been shipping anything for any amount of time, you’ve probably experienced issues with tracking. Real-time tracking (like the kind offered by Amazon) is very difficult to come by for most modes of transportation and it all comes down to data. There’s a lot of data that needs to be exchanged in order to provide real-time tracking. And even if your carriers provide that data, you need to be able to interact with it in order to drive meaningful change in your supply chain.

“Until that data finds its way back into the TMS, it’s not going to have much use. Even as you start to engage with some of these bolt-on or fragmented tracking solutions, you have to consider whether your TMS provider can harness that data. Unless your technology is API-first in a way that makes integration, consumption and exchange of data seamless, it’s going to be a challenge.” – Ben Weger, Brand Evangelist at SwanLeap.

Solutions for ocean and full truckload tracking are almost non-existent aside from bolt-on options. Less than truckload (LTL) tracking, while more accurate and available than ocean and FTL, still leave you at the mercy of the EDI updates that you get from carriers. You might be informed of where a shipment last was with no update as to where it is now. Or maybe you’ll see an update like delayed or attempted delivery. Parcel is definitely the front runner when it comes to tracking. The updates come via API so the data is much more current – sometimes even real-time. But that’s still only a thin layer of data. 

But visibility – true visibility – is about more than tracking.

There’s a lot more that you as a shipper need to know about your supply chain to stay ahead of the market. Here are just a few things to consider when defining visibility in your current supply chain.

  • Real-time Rating: When you book shipments are you getting real-time rates or are you relying on static rating solutions? Table based lookups and waterfall tendering are too inflexible to give you true visibility. Real-time rating – being able to connect to carriers via API to get a live rate based on real-time data – that’s visibility. 
  • Mode Shopping: What about mode shopping? Do you have to quote shipments in multiple portals for multiple modes? What if your table-based routing logic defaults to LTL when your shipment could go hundredweight? Or are you able to see – on one screen and on one platform – what mode is ideal for that shipment based on the combination of shipment data and real-time rating? That’s visibility. 
  • Multi-Stop Truckloads: What about multi-stop truckloads? Can you compare scenarios as to how many trucks you might send out on a given day or what products might go on each truck based on the stops that need to be executed? Can you optimize those scenarios using artificial intelligence to recommend the ideal routing and execute your multi-stop shipments? That’s visibility.

So when technology vendors offer you visibility, push beyond tracking. Yes – knowing where your shipments are is important – but visibility is so much more than tracking. Look at things like real-time rating, mode shopping, and load optimization. Consider these components as true drivers of visibility within your supply chain.