Real-time supply chain visibility is essential for delivering on customer expectations and gaining a competitive advantage in today's disrupted global market. Dynamic visibility is no longer a good to have for global supply chains. But how do you ensure that you're choosing the right visibility solution provider?
When drafting a request for proposal (RFP) for a real-time visibility solution, here are 10 key features to look for.
1. Multiplicity of Data Sources
Supply chain data exists in multiple sources spread across ports, shipping carriers, ships, freight forwarders and internal ERP systems. And not to talk about data related to external disruptions and risks which is not easily obtained. A good supply chain visibility solution aggregates this data, brings multiplicity and backup of data sources, and updates this data in near real-time.
2. Near Real-Time Tracking
While the more important question is “when will the cargo arrive”, the information on “where is the cargo right now” is also important, especially when there is uncertainty or confusion around arrival times. In ocean supply chains, “near real-time” tracking is quite sufficient during transit for manufacturers, for example, updated every 12 hours. What may be valuable is to increase this frequency closer to the nodes i.e. as the container arrives at the ports. Of course, if you’re a port terminal, real-time visibility updated every 6-12 min may be critical for you. So, container tracking and vessel tracking technologies should provide the flexibility of the frequency you really care about.
3. Data Validation & Quality Control
Let’s be honest. The data in maritime supply chains is super messy. And when we start aggregating data across carriers and combining that with terminals, satellite sources and disruptions, the various datasets start coming in at different frequencies, formats and nomenclature - adding in both errors and noise. The critical part of a supply chain visibility solution is to own and control the quality of data.
Another source of errors, not surprisingly, is the input data. More often than not, this data is added manually and users may miss digits in the container number or add duplicate data or incorrect Bill of Lading. Solutions that can auto-detect such errors already at the input stage are much more resilient to issues at a later stage.
4. Global Carrier and Port Coverage
It is critical to have the supply chain visibility solution provider cover the container tracking across the full suite of vessels and barges i.e. 6000+ vessels, global ports i.e. 1200+ ports and global carrier coverage i.e. 100+ carriers.
Bonus points for solutions that can cover NVOCCs or freight forwarders datasets or auto-identify the carrier even if the input data is not mentioning the same.
Also, it is important to understand how the solution provider adds any new carriers which may not exist in the coverage currently. An understanding of the timelines and feasibility options, whenever a new carrier request is made, helps define the future scalability of the solution.
5. Predictive visibility
Relying on carrier schedules is insufficient, especially in times of disruptions. If there’s anything we’ve learnt from the last couple of years is that disruptions are here to stay. Whether it’s abnormal weather, port congestion and strikes or geopolitical conflicts, they all have a significant impact on supply chains. Therefore it is imperative for the supply chain visibility solution that extends beyond container track and trace to include dynamic ETA updates which take into account external disruptions intelligently.
Look for explainability of delay as it’s hard to trust a black box technology which claims to be accurate but provides no details of why the delay is predicted. If the delays are intuitive or backed by reason, your logistics teams will be armed with information to deal with situations better.
6. Custom Alerts and Notifications
Ask for exception-based alerts and notifications that can be customized to fit your needs. Alerts are tricky. Too many alerts and notifications can be almost spam. Too few can create blind spots. Allow your teams to decide what type of alerts at what frequency and in what format they really care to receive. And find the solution provider that can enable these.
Some of these container tracking alerts may include, for example:
- Containers at risk of delay (do set a threshold e.g. more than 3 days of delay)
- Rollover alerts
- Pre-arrival notices
- Excessive dwell times
- Departure from origin
- Delay at the transit port
7. Ease of Use
Avoid systems which provide long implementation times. The key to start getting supply chain visibility is to work with technologies that are plug-and-play and ready to get started almost immediately or within 2 weeks with API integrations.
Ask for downloadable data and email alerts to be set up for key stakeholders who prefer to integrate the visibility data into their workflow seamlessly.
Make sure the API documentation is clear, easy to understand and allows testing before getting full integration done. Are there developer toolkits available and onboarding support in case needed? Sometimes internal IT teams don’t have a defined process for new external API integrations and what would really help is the support from the solution provider. So depending on your company’s needs, it’s worth getting an understanding of whether the API integration process is easy for your team.
Finally, make sure there is also a user interface that can be provided to interpret the data easily and possibly shared with stakeholders within and outside the organization.
A visibility solution is only as good as its ability to integrate with other systems in your supply chain, such as ERP, TMS, and WMS. Look for solutions with pre-built integrations and APIs for easy integration. This is critical in order to provide seamless compatibility with your existing systems. Make sure that the technology can be configured to your needs.
The implementation cost and time can be a real headache for some of the well-known visibility platforms. If you want to avoid your teams spending endless amounts of time migrating from spreadsheets to a platform that takes months to get set up and hundreds of thousands of dollars, you can first search for this platform’s reviews or talk to their customers at industry conferences as it may save you much more than you spend on a conference ticket.
The real journey starts after the onboarding and integration of the platform. Ensure that the visibility partner can provide a standardized onboarding process, training for your teams, and will be available for support post-integration.
9. Data Security
Trust a supply chain visibility solution provider who understands compliance, data security and privacy standards. With the increasing risk of cyber attacks and the integration of ERP systems to derive true value from visibility solutions, it is critical to have providers that manage data in a compliant and secure manner. Certifications like ISO 27001 or regular vulnerability assessments by third party auditors are some proof points to look out for.
10. Analytics & Reporting
Ensure that the data coverage provides geolocation, predictive arrival, and container milestones. This enables access to customs data, detention and demurrage risk mitigation, and transport planning for your logistics teams.
Customization is often the key factor between a good and best-fit container visibility technology. With endless disruptions, what would you require is a single source of container visibility and tracking that can enable positive actions within the organization.