Here’s a little dose of honesty for you: Visibility is a good thing. But like so many other positive trends in business, the term has become overused. People are now asking for greater visibility without understanding what it is, why it is helpful, and what it should look like once they have it.
Then again, shippers have always wanted more visibility, both for inbound shipments and for outgoing orders. So what is it, and why do we want it so badly?
Visibility here is simply a blanket term for giving both shippers and vendor partners the ability to know exactly where their products are at any given time, locally and/or globally. It’s easy to understand why businesses would want that ability:
- Consumers have become accustomed not only to fast shipping, but to using tools that let them track their purchases from warehouse to front door. Shippers who cannot provide that information easily face being swamped with customer service calls.
- In fact, greater visibility allows you to proactively communicate with your customers, advising them if there is a delay or problem. That creates a great impression of your company.
- Backorders can be the bane of online retail; having up-to-date inventory and order information can enable just-in-time inventory replenishment, making those backorders less frequent (and less frustrating).
- Visibility can demystify exactly where cost centers are for freight (for example, in categories like FTL, LTL, and so on). Associated costs, such as packing, warehousing, and cold shipping, should be transparent as well.
Visibility is Standard, Thanks to Technology
The main reason standards for visibility are rising is because the technology enabling it has come so far in the past decade. Specifically, cloud technology is allowing greater visibility across 3PL operations, giving their customers more data, better reports, and important updates right when needed. These are used not only for an end-to-end view of logistics and fulfillment operations, but for business intelligence as well.
In fact, visibility is not limited to shipping and supply chain. Although often thought of as a set of tools for tracking freight transportation, visibility can be so much more: Modern logistics and warehouse management software (such as Infoplus, the software we use here at Materialogic) has the ability to integrate with other systems for channel management, accounting, and so on. This means that the financial- and compliance-oriented parts of supply chain management and fulfillment can be handled as well.
...But You Still Need a 3PL Partner
That said, shippers are already drowning themselves in a sea of data. For example, a report by American Shipper found that most (more than two-thirds) of shippers were tracking five or more visibility milestones—but a full 72% said that fewer than five were critical to their operations.
A good 3PL should be able to act as a guide to your own data. This includes giving you access to your data when requested, and important reports and updates when action is needed. But it should also include a dose of experience in dealing with that data, providing proper perspective and context.
Which is why I started this post with a bit of “perspective”: Yes, visibility is a good thing. But we need to understand what it is and what it can do for us. This is the only way to justify the cost of all this added visibility made possible by our technology.
To discuss some of these details in more depth, feel free to reach out:
Bill Young, 314-692-7545, firstname.lastname@example.org.