In the modern global supply chain, complete end-to-end visibility is often regarded as the ultimate goal. But what constitutes end-to-end visibility? As tracking technology becomes more advanced, companies feel the pressure to keep everyone informed throughout the entire supply chain.
It’s no longer enough to simply monitor shipment locations — retailers and consumers want more detailed information about their products in real time. Thanks to advances in logistics technology, there are now more opportunities than ever before for companies to expand their supply chain visibility.
Locating cargo in-transit
When shipment tracking numbers were first introduced in the late 1970s, they were mainly for internal use, to monitor and improve efficiency during the shipping process. Once consumers were given access to the tool, however, accessible tracking information soon became an industry standard.
The demand for in-transit tracking information has only grown with the development of new technologies, like satellite GPS monitoring — consumers now expect to be able to easily view their shipment location in real time. To meet this expectation and keep up with the challenges of modernized shipping, companies have to provide more than just arrival and departure information.
Utilizing accurate tracking systems translates to all parties — suppliers, vendors, distributors, and consumers — staying informed about possible delays, and being able to make necessary adjustments in a timely manner when issues arise.
Documenting cargo conditions
In-transit condition monitoring can be beneficial in a variety of industries, but it’s essential for perishable products such as food and pharmaceuticals.
In 2017, medical supply company Baxter International Inc. initiated a voluntary recall of one shipment of Intralipid, an injectable lipid emulsion, because it had been exposed to temperatures outside of its acceptable storage range during transport to a distribution facility. When exposed to subfreezing temperatures, the emulsion droplets in Intralipid forms aggregates that can block pulmonary circulation, potentially leading to life-threatening conditions. The recalled shipment had already been distributed to hospitals.
The Baxter recall is just one example of what can go wrong when shipments are not properly monitored at every level in the supply chain. Food companies also face significant repercussions when perishable products are not properly monitored. The average cost of a food recall is $10 million in direct costs alone, plus additional expenses such as lost revenue, litigation costs, and product retrieval costs.
With technology like remote temperature and humidity sensors, sensitive cargo can be monitored while in transit, reducing costs by catching condition issues in real time — before they create disastrous, system-wide issues — and reducing the likelihood of a consumer-level recall.
One key goal of end-to-end supply chain visibility is for information to be readily available to all shareholders; that’s why proponents of blockchain technology believe it could be the basis of a strategic solution.
With blockchain, transaction data is encrypted and stored on thousands of computers on networks around the world, eliminating the need for third-party processors. Transactions can be instantaneously verified and recorded in real time, and are visible to any authorized party, so suppliers, merchants, and buyers have access to the same information at the same time, all over the world.
While some argue that blockchain has the potential to increase transaction speed, mitigate risk, and revolutionize the supply chain, not everyone is convinced. Concerns about blockchain include regulatory challenges, security pitfalls, and environmental cost.
In the shipping industry, blockchain’s biggest obstacle is establishing one consistent, universal system. Blockchain becomes more optimized as more data is recorded, so the more participants, the more stable the system becomes — blockchain would be difficult to maintain without industry-wide participation.
Sustainability and ethics
Modern consumers care about buying from companies with strong values that echo their own. When asked what factors aside from price and quality attract them to a particular brand, 66% of consumers said they consider transparency about ethical issues such as material sourcing and fair treatment of employees, according to a 2018 Accenture report. Environmental responsibility was also an attractive brand quality, with 62% of consumers citing it as a factor in their purchasing choices.
In order to attract these consumers, businesses have to be transparent about their practices and communicative about their values. The shipping industry is taking steps toward a more sustainable future, in part by gathering information about the environmental practices of partners and suppliers. In order to stay competitive in the marketplace, suppliers are incentivized to reduce their carbon footprint, decreasing the overall environmental impact of the whole supply chain.
Every company is an expert on its own products, but that expertise doesn’t necessarily translate to warehousing and distribution. Logistics experts can evaluate your distribution process and work with you to create a specialized plan for success.
Maintaining a visible supply chain requires experience (and, more importantly, considerable investment). For many companies, working with an experienced partner can introduce better visibility without going over budget or completely reconfiguring workflows.
At GlobeCon, we have the knowledge and experience to transform your supply chain. We’ll use our pre-established relationships with carriers to create an atmosphere of trust (a critical component of supply chain visibility), and get your products where they need to go.