Industry Leaders Chart Future of Supply Chain Visibility

Shopping has never been easier for the consumer. They can have products delivered within a few hours, the same day, the next day, or in two days. They can shop in person, online, and through marketplaces. They can pick up products in-store or have them delivered to their doorsteps.

All of this is fantastic for consumers, but it puts huge pressure on supply chains to meet those flexible expectations. Not only are supply chain professionals contending with the tall task of personalizing the delivery process, but they're also dealing with rebounding global demand. After the COVID shock decreased global freight volume in 2020, freight shipments for August 2021 were up more than 12% year-over-year, and for July they were up nearly 16%.

With both volume and consumer demands for customization steadily on the rise, it becomes essential for businesses to know what's happening with their supply chains — everywhere, all of the time. At the fifth-annual FourKites Visibility conference, nearly 1,500 company executives, partners, and supply chain leaders in 40 countries met virtually to share stories and strategies about their innovations, plotting the future of supply chain visibility right before our eyes.

FourKites is a real-time visibility platform that services companies around the world. Over the past 12 months alone, the company has tracked over 29 billion miles and more than 17 million COVID-related loads such as vaccine shipments. FourKites' operations also touched more than 7 million facilities, and it saved customers an estimated 150,000 hours with the help of real-time notifications. The company tracks 2 million shipments every day and has a trio of Fortune 500 backers in Qualcomm QCOM, Zebra Technologies ZBRA, and Volvo VLVLY.

"One thing that is very clear to us and to the industry is we have to go beyond what we're doing right now to really solve the problems that we are facing, whether it is disruptions due to the ocean container shortages or labor disruptions or tracking," Matt Elenjickal, FourKites' founder and CEO, told Modern Shipper before the conference. "The real theme is, let's ‘Go Beyond.'"

For Elenjickal, that means more innovation, more automation, and more collaboration. FourKites' offering is evolving from a transportation visibility system into a global, customizable end-to-end supply chain visibility platform, with real-time insights at the port, in the warehouse, in the yard, and everywhere in between. That single-pane view is enabling more of the innovation, automation, and collaboration that Elenjickal seeks for his customers.

"We want to thank you for what you do every single day," Chief Marketing Officer Steve Rotter told them, kicking off Visibility 2021. "You're keeping the supply chain moving."

Sharing Success

Among FourKites' clients are some big names, including Walmart WMT, Coca-Cola KO, Kraft Heinz KHC, and Best Buy BBY, and more than a few of them showed up to speak at this year's conference.

"Visibility is one of the key focus areas in our network, and we've worked with FourKites to unlock that visibility," said Katie Blohm, director of logistics product and design with Cardinal Health CAH.

In conjunction with FourKites, Cardinal Health rolled out a new courier, pallet, and tote tracking system in the spring of 2020 and already the company has saved $5.5 million in detention costs and penalties with new insights from its digital transformation. In the past six months, FourKites reported a more than 40% increase in tracked shipments for pharmaceutical companies, with Bayer BAYRY and 3M MMM also among its clients.

One thing that is very clear to us and to the industry is we have to go beyond what we're doing right now to really solve the problems that we are facing.

Matt Elenjickal, Founder and CEO, FourKites

Later on, Karen Helton, last-mile logistics manager for Ace Hardware, talked about the importance of having a comprehensive user interface (UI).

"With FourKites, we're able to provide visibility for loads coming from three different ways: from our Ace fleet, smaller carriers, and national carriers like FedEx," she said.

Whereas the company's previous UI could only accommodate visibility for one major load at a time, Ace's new FourKites-powered UI can display up to five large loads at once. That enhanced visibility has led to shorter wait times for on-demand and buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) orders at Ace stores, Helton said.

An executive from Kimberly-Clark KMB also shared that the corporation uses visibility from FourKites to share timely communications about exceptions, ensure on-time delivery through tracking and reduce manual tracking tasks. The result? A 90% decrease in email volume for its customers.

"Customers reported a significant reduction in email traffic, specifically as it relates to network visibility," said Transportation Manager Tony Poole.

Steve Luciani, vice president of the logistics division at J.D. Irving/Midland, added, "The worst thing for us is when our customers tell us the truck's not here or it's late. … FourKites allows us to remove the layers of the process of determining where the load is."

According to Luciani, his company has used visibility to boost the number of orders that a single logistics coordinator can process in a year, as well as the percentage of "no-touch" orders in which workers aren't required to manually interfere with the order. 

Read: Unprecedented retail growth windfall for FourKites

Read: Industry success calls for data sharing among competitors

With greater efficiency and less of a need for manual labor, companies have more flexibility with what they can do with that labor. 

"The greatest value in this tool is really for our store teams. Truck day is considered one of the most difficult days in our stores. We don't have a dedicated receiving team or even a receiving manager," Chris Bauman, director of outbound transportation at Dollar Tree DLTR, explained. "So knowing when that truck is going to get there and knowing if that driver is running two hours ahead or two hours behind can make a huge difference in what the manager is able to do when deploying that labor."

Several other speakers shared their experiences with enhancing supply chain visibility, all of them FourKites customers. For CEO Elenjickal, that collaboration among supply chain professionals is what will drive his company and visibility as a whole forward.

"It is all about the customers and the customer stories. That is powerful stuff, right?" he told Modern Shipper. "You can't make that up — you can mock the hell out of everything else, but when it comes to customers and the value that we are delivering and them speaking about it, that is something unique to FourKites."

Going to Market

At Visibility 2021, FourKites executives discussed the new products and feature the company released this year and even gave some details about a few new ones.

"What we want to do is to be able to provide visibility across all nodes and modes and to ingest all kinds of signals," said Chief Product Officer Priya Rajagopalan.

Originally focusing on transportation visibility, FourKites has since expanded into adding real-time insights all across the supply chain. In July, the company unveiled its Dynamic Yard solution for in-yard and in-transit freight, and Rajagopalan announced at the conference that the service will be getting a big upgrade with the addition of a new carrier portal, custom and scheduled reports, and a configurable UI.

In April, FourKites announced the acquisition of Haven Inc. and the introduction of its Dynamic Ocean solution for ocean tracking. Just last month, it added a dynamic ETA solution to the platform that utilizes seven years' worth of global ocean freight data in addition to live scheduling data and live speed and route monitoring. Soon, the platform will get a new performance dashboard with key performance indicators for both live and historical data.

"We realized that international visibility is not only complex, but it's about more than port-to-port visibility," said Rajagopalan.

One of the biggest announcements the company made at Visibility 2021 was providing more details about its new Order Intelligence Hub, a visibility platform for end-to-end order tracking across all nodes and modes of the supply chain. In a product demonstration, the company demonstrated its newest product's many features, including role-based filters and dashboards, stage thresholds, exception notifications and visibility into the ecosystem- and industry-level impacts.

What we want to do is to be able to provide visibility across all nodes and modes and to ingest all kinds of signals.

Priya Rajagopalan, Chief Product Officer, FourKites

"Order Intelligence Hub is really a single pane of glass for all the stakeholders across your supply chain, driven by data from the TMS, OMS, WMS, and the yard," explained Product Manager Chris Podlaski.

One of the more intriguing aspects of FourKites' product development is its involvement with folks who use them. Each year at the conference, attendees literally vote on the products and features they'd like the company to pursue.

"Our product development philosophy is built around customer innovation," explained Rajagopalan.

Last year, customers were clamoring for ETA confidence levels and configurable dashboards, and FourKites delivered. Each load on the platform is now accompanied by a percentage estimate that it will arrive on time, and a dashboard based on customizable roles, widgets, and key performance indicators is in beta testing.

Additionally, of 434 product ideas delivered by customers since last year's conference, Rajagopalan says FourKites has completed 30% of them, with another 22% on the docket in the near term. This year, attendees voted to prioritize multimodal tracking, carrier management, and an improved tracking user experience, but Rajagopalan emphasized that the company will be investing in sustainability as well.

To close out the conference, Elenjickal and the FourKites team enlisted former astronaut, Mount Everest climber, and born-again startup CEO Scott Parazynski for some final remarks. His words suit Visibility 2021's message of "Go Beyond" to a T:

"The limits in life that are the most fraught with peril are the ones that we foolishly impose upon ourselves. If we're willing to think more broadly, willing to be resilient, to work hard … some really wonderful things can and will happen."

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Image Sourced from Pixabay

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