Necessities begin as luxuries. From indoor plumbing to high-speed internet, we can’t imagine living without either personally or professionally. So, too, has real-time visibility with predictive analytics crossed the threshold from nice-to-have to need-to-have.
Thanks to the Amazon effect, B2B customers crave the insights predictive analytics offers as much as end-consumers expecting a shipment do. But as Gartner’s Supply Chain Visibility Market Guide shows, the gulf in real-time visibility features between vendors is substantial.
Supply chain leaders worldwide struggle to verify that a visibility vendor can achieve predictive analytics. To help you separate the wheat from the chaff, include the following feature requirements in your vendor evaluation process. These visibility core competencies mean the difference between insights and blind spots.
1. Real-Time Shipment Tracking
The vendor should retrieve shipment data from carriers via ELD, telematics, app-less, or smartphone applications. Real-time data means information from carriers should be updated in your system at least every 15 minutes.
Ideally, the update frequency should be as soon as every second. And this frequency should increase dramatically as the shipment nears an identified stop. Whether it’s a port, DC, or any other point on the map makes no difference to a robust real-time visibility solution.
Which Tracking Questions to Raise
When reviewing platforms, dive into the details of what tracking means. This seems like a clear-cut term, but it offers vendors an “opportunity to obfuscate.” Insist on direct answers to:
- When does tracking begin?
- How is data captured from carriers?
- What level of detail is available?
- How is tracking data shared with your team and the customer?
Real-time updates, regardless of mode, are crucial. For example, if your carrier equipment supports temperature tracking, the visibility platform should handle refrigerated freight tracking with temperature information and alerts.
Double check that the vendor does not rely on email, phone, fax, or web scraping to obtain carrier information. Even if this data is accurate, it won’t be timely.
Waiting for tracking information will add manual processes, like calling carriers, to your workflow. Missing the “real-time” of real-time visibility provides little business value and makes predictive analytics a non-starter.
2. Dynamic Delivery Times, ETAs, and Status Updates
If the vendor meets real-time shipment tracking criteria, predictive delivery times should be standard functionality. To be meaningful to your business, ETAs and status updates need to change dynamically with every data point.
What External Data Must be Included
To achieve this functionality, real-time tracking data must be married with information outside your carrier’s network. This enriched data makes predictive analytics for arrival, pickup, location, and ETA exponentially more accurate.
Explore what third-party information is integrated. Accurate ETAs will require integration of:
- traffic patterns
- social events, such as protests, police activity, etc.
- road and/or port conditions
- maximum height or weight of a vehicle
- driver hours of service
A vendor without this enriched data may argue tracking alone will enable better delivery time estimates. They may even position this as predictive analytics. In reality, there’s nothing predictive about it.
This method requires some skilled human intervention and, worse, varying degrees of guessing. Essentially, they’re offering new technology with no solution to the same, albeit slightly mitigated, problem. (The very problem you turned to a real-time visibility solution to solve.)
3. Managing Events With Configurable Alerts And Notifications
Disruptions to your supply chain are inevitable. Sadly, no technology controls the weather or prevents flat tires. Yet your visibility vendor isn’t powerless to improve exception handling.
Real-time visibility with predictive analytics provides insight into those disruptions far sooner than communication methods of the past. Access to configurable email, SMS, and push notifications will ensure internal and external teams can manage exceptions proactively.
Which Events Require Alerts
To reduce fines and improve event management, a real-time visibility platform should include custom notifications based on specific events that matter in your supply chain. Ensure your team can receive alerts on:
- shipment, container, truck, vessel, rail car, etc. running late
- departure from stop
- excessive dwell time
- temperature out of range
Ask about the ability to create notifications based on a custom geofenced threshold. This provides much greater flexibility than an arbitrary circle around a shipment’s location.
Customizable alerts must be configurable alerts. The functionality should be simple enough for your power users to modify.
4. Business System Integration with Easy, Flexible Implementation
A real-time visibility solution elevates operational excellence when the platform is deeply embedded in your digital supply chain. As data from your technology partners and systems converges with carriers and third parties, predictive analytics reaches new heights. Look for a real-time visibility solution that integrates with your technology stack to unlock better business outcomes.
Of course, integrations can be time-consuming and costly. The vendor should offer customer-centric and expedient implementation, ensuring a faster ROI. Finding a provider with mature integration capabilities and a well-oiled implementation machine can be challenging.
Which Integration and Implementation Capabilities to Investigate
Request detailed information—possibly submitting an RFI or RFP—covering the:
- integration options with your TMS, ERP, and other key tech providers
- implementation cost (both in dollars and demand placed on your team)
- timeline from kick-off to go-live tailored to your needs
- dedicated support coordinators and consultants, and their availability
- ability for colleagues across your company to access data in a portal
Regardless of systems, mode, or geography, your data should be easy to access and stored in a single source of truth.
When a vendor claims integrations are their strength but you’ll need to access several systems, they’re not offering an integration. They’re presenting a patchwork approach to visibility, a telling sign of how little they’ve invested in implementation and customer success teams.
5. Local, Personalized Customer Support
New technology requires a learning curve. You’ll need a vendor that considers your success after they’ve closed the deal. Your visibility vendor should help along every step of the way with technical assistance and business process insights.
What Support Offerings Foster Success
Dive into the details of their customer support model. Go beyond standard hours of support and available channels (phone, email, and chat) and request:
- the location of customer service agents
- access to online and self-service materials like tutorials
- resources available for developers such as code samples, SDKs, and API documentation
Find a vendor that demonstrates their success is measured by your success. One that comes in at a lower price with limited access to support always costs more in the end.
Real-Time Visibility Metrics Produced by Predictive Analytics
The real value of data comes when it’s put to good use. Predictive analytics enables you to leverage your data to its full potential. Once your real-time visibility solution is live, you should receive insights into:
- delivery on-time percentage
- late percentage
- dwell time
- tracking success metrics
- and much more
All metrics should also be broken down by location, lane, customer, supplier, and/or carrier. Most importantly, metrics should be configurable so you can focus on the KPIs that matter most to your business.
Predictive analytics should identify patterns and represent them in dashboards. This visualization enables you to spot opportunities for reducing transit time and cost while promoting efficiency across your entire logistics network.
Include these questions in the evaluation phase for every potential vendor. While real-time visibility providers’ marketing claims appear to address these points, there is no substitute for due diligence. Work through the ambiguity now to ensure true predictive analytics in the near future.