April 20 2023 | 14 Min Read

Making supply chain clarity happen

Posted By
Wendy Mackenzie
Making supply chain clarity happen
Why clarity is important and where to look for inspiration

Picture this: Your customer service team sends up a distress beacon. A key client needs their order onsite stat. Where is it? Turns out it’s been ready to go in the warehouse for three days.

No one knew it was a priority.

Now ponder another happy little moment: That crucial make-or-break shipment left your warehouse 24 hours ago. It’s expected for delivery tomorrow first thing, but the carrier is experiencing delays. Will you have a satisfied customer or an irate one by tomorrow close of business?

You’ll just have to hope for the best.

And then wrap your mind around this scenario: A competitor sets up shop with a shiny new distribution facility in the same city as a key client. The pressure is on to ship both more reliably and at a greatly reduced cost. Will you lose a critical chunk of business?

Only time will tell.

Each of these all-too-familiar scenarios makes one fact crystal clear…

Clarity is important.

You need to hear what's happening on the ground. You've got to see what's going on. You need all the moving parts of your supply chain talking openly with each other in a language everyone can understand. Only with clarity can you and your supply chain sidestep those "no one knew", "hope for the best," and “only time will tell” moments.

The real question, of course, is how do you make that level of clarity happen?

The art of supply chain clarity

As someone responsible for making a supply chain run, you probably know this already, but let’s start with the bad news. Clarity doesn’t come naturally when it comes to supply chain management. Your typical freight operation is filled with opportunities for oversights and misunderstandings. And there’s no shortcut solution that magically produces a perfectly optimized supply chain. There is no book, course, conference, software, or cutting-edge AI in existence that’ll make every supply chain management decision easy and straightforward.

The art of supply chain clarity begins with identifying your challenges, strong leadership, and solid partnerships with the right people. Let’s take a look at the three main supply chain clarity challenges you’re likely to face, the kinds of leadership decisions you can make to resolve them, and how a partnership with IL2000 can help.

Challenge 1: Poor internal communications

Man on laptop inside cardboard boxThe first and most obvious challenge to supply chain clarity is your company’s internal communication. As a shipment order wends its way through your company, it’ll likely pass across several desks. Of course, the more obvious communication hiccups surrounding an order are somewhat easier to identify and mitigate. But less tangible details surrounding an order are harder to impart. Critical delivery, prioritization, and order fulfillment requests can easily fall through the cracks – especially if you and your freight team are trapped in a cardboard box of corporate isolation. As a supply chain manager looking at the overall flow of inbound and outbound freight, it can be remarkably frustrating to find yourself lost in the weeds yet again as you struggle to figure out where critical contextual data is “leaking” from the order to cash process.

Internal team communication challenges lead to missed opportunities, less satisfied customers, and, ultimately, to reduced profitability.

How to fix that?

What you can do about it

Meeting overload is a thing. But having worked with scores of companies on communication issues, we can confirm that a failure to touch base is one of the most common causes of avoidable supply chain miscommunication.

So, the first piece of advice we can offer you as someone directing the flow of logistics across your company is this: Talk. Talk about what you do, where your shipments are going, how your freight operation works, and why all of the above is difficult. Talk a lot. And most importantly, if an important shipment is happening right now in your company, don’t leave that process to chance. Make sure the right people know, well in advance, what needs to go out and how they can help make that happen smoothly. 

Whatever you do, avoid assuming that everyone around you knows this stuff by osmosis.

Another important step is to reduce the confusing logistics swirl through a solid approach to standardization. So, so often — too often! — we find that different sections and/or locations of a company use different tools and terminologies to handle shipments. If scraps of spreadsheets and disparate freight organization methodologies are scattered across your company like old biros in your kitchen's miscellaneous drawer, it's time to bring all of that together into one standardized and reliably consistent approach.

And if someone throws that Emerson quote at you that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, riposte with a reminder that inconsistency is the great big hairy troll of supply chain management.

Our TMS speaks for you

And, of course, you aren’t all on your ownsome in this crusade for better internal communication. We can help.

First up, we’ll help with your cross-team communication and support you in finding productive supply chain synergies. We’ve done this before — a lot. Our expert supply chain advisers are skilled in making sure that the people in your company all speak the same supply chain language. And that leads to your supply chain serving a shared purpose. And from there? The sky’s the limit.

But the real grunt of how we can help you comes from our unique transportation management system (TMS). If you’ve worked with a bog-standard 3PL in the past, they may have thrown a generic TMS in your direction and promised the world.

That’s not what we’re talking about. We’ve designed our TMS for complete customization. Our TMS has the structure behind it to integrate with the most complex ERP or EMS systems. This means that we can introduce a standardized approach to supply chain management that meets your unique supply chain requirements — and that emphasis on integration improves compliance across your whole company.

Learn more about our consulting services here.

Learn more about the TMS that launched a thousand smart decisions here.

Challenge 2: External communication difficulties

In a perfect world, you, your carriers, and your customers would all occupy a space of shared trust and win-win scenarios. In this entirely theoretical freight operation utopia, if a failure to communicate presented itself, you’d simply pick up the phone or fire off an email and — hey presto — the problem would go away. There’d probably be a taco truck full of low-cal lunch options out the front too.

But the road to getting your product from your warehouse to your customer’s loading bay is paved with treacherous cobblestones of self-interest and unreasonable expectations. Put bluntly — and apologies if you’re a newer human and this bursts an idealistic bubble somewhere — profits and niceness don’t always go hand in hand. And all too easily, that leads to supply chain communication breakdown.

There’s no fix for less-than-cool aspects of human commerce, but how do you at least make sure your company isn’t left holding the wrong end of the stick?

What you can do about it

Of course, there’s all the obvious stuff. Use ironclad contracts, get everything in writing, work with reputable carriers and encase your customer experience in a thick luxurious blanket of plush, stain-resistant customer service.

But a critical extra step you can take — you personally as a logistics decision-maker and gatekeeper of corporate practice — is to foster a data-driven culture of communication within your company. Spread your message far and wide, and not just to those accountants and freight handlers whose job is already predicated on spreadsheets, data points, and statistics. Drum this home to anyone in your company whose job it is to listen: Most people drastically under-use data.

In a recent management survey, a full 60% of managers confessed to basing over half their daily business decisions (including negotiation and conflict resolution) on gut instinct and memory. Decisions made this way lead to murky consensus, egregious wiggle room, and poor outcomes. A crucial step you can take is to foster a mindset and workflows where supply chain decisions are built on solid data foundations. Read our data white paper for some juicy ammunition.

IL2000 freight auditing delivers true and lasting clarity

How’s your company’s (or, for that matter, your current 3PL’s) freight audit game? Are you casting a cursory eyeball over your freight invoices to see if it “looks right?” Are you operating on a match-pay freight audit system, where you’ll sign off on a payment if it falls within a “reasonable tolerance threshold” of your expectation? The vast majority of companies and 3PLs adopt the near-enough-is-good-enough approach to freight auditing because, for one thing, scrutinizing each and every invoice is inordinately time-consuming if you aren’t set up to do it. And for another, so much of a shipment rate is shrouded in complexity.

Gross charges, discounts, terms, fuel surcharge, accessorial fees — these and a plethora of adjunct variables all tangle the payment terms making it extraordinarily hard for an untrained eye to calculate exactly how much a shipment should have cost.

We’ll carefully audit every last supply chain payment that comes to you. Any discrepancies found in any of the above categories will be flagged for manual review. There is no way for an invoice to make it into your payment system without first going through about sixty different audit checks.

The end result for you is typically a ton saved on freight, sure. But it’s also unimpeachable clarity — a firm and objective playing field that’ll improve your customer experience with your carriers and your customers’ end experience with you.

Trust your neighbors but brand all your cattle. Learn more about our freight audit and payment service here.

Challenge 3: A lack of forward-looking vision in your company

Business walking towards a door of opportunityWe’ve talked a lot in this here blog about clarity through better communication — because it’s important. That’s not enough on its own, though. For crystal clear decision-making, you also need sharp, forward-looking vision. Without that honed and beady eye, you may miss that dark shadow forming on your supply chain’s horizon. Or even worse, you may miss that insidious systemic problem slowly draining your freight operation of its lifeblood efficiency.

And general garden-variety vigilance is not enough. Because supply chains are deeply rooted in practicalities, you and your team can all too easily end up fixated on the foreground, lacking the ability to both predict problems and identify opportunities.

There are so many data points to track and so many daily practical distractions to deal with in the here and now. How do you encourage your company to cast its supply chain gaze forward?

What you can do about it

Well, this is where it gets a bit tricky. No mere mortal (not even one of the hardcore logistics geeks in our employ) has a completely comprehensive and accurate bead on the trajectory of the global supply chain in all its byzantine weirdness. You’re unlikely to have time or sanity to spare to singlehandedly scope out the ones and zeroes that’ll prognosticate how your freight operation will evolve weeks, months, and years from now.

While analyzing the future is tough, extremely recent analysis is nearly as good and readily available. IL2000’s monthly market updates are a good place to start.

Advanced BI brings the future into focus

We can enhance your freight operation with a customized BI dashboard that’ll help you gain an accurate, bird’s eye view over your whole supply chain.

You’ll be equipped with real-time data on your on-time performance, not just so that you can hold your carriers accountable but also so that you’ll be able to identify, accurately and early, when changes in the transportation landscape threaten to disrupt your freight operation. You’ll gain a clear view of how to optimize your distribution with IL2000’s detailed center of gravity analysis capability. You’ll be able to see your rate versus your assessorial charges and how that is changing over time. This means you’ll be able to compare your shipment charges, both across carriers and over time. You can only address an emerging issue if you know it’s happening and can quantify its significance.

Most importantly, for any signal you encounter, you’ll be able to run it by our team of supply chain advisors.

We’ll give you access to the kinds of knowledge and experience that transform data into actionable insight.

Learn more about IL2000s BI dashboard capability here.

The future is clear

The role you play in your company as a force for supply chain innovation is a crucial one. IL2000 can help you build the resilient and efficient supply chain your company needs.

Let’s talk.

Topics: Entrepreneurial Spirit, Supply Chain Management, Freight Costs, Business Intelligence

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