Information Symmetry: The Key to Supply Chain Efficiency

January 19, 2018

Technological advancement in the Transportation and Logistics space is being driven by the customer experience. In order to provide customers with things they’ve grown to expect—fast and accurate delivery times, inexpensive shipping, reliable product availability, and up-to-date delivery information to name a few—shippers, carriers, 3PLs, and anyone else who has a stake in the supply chain must be able to collect, leverage, and share high-quality data. When this occurs, you have what is called information symmetry.

Information Symmetry Defined

Supply chain data is most useful when it meets several important criteria—it must be accurate, updated and normalized in real-time, and it must be simultaneously shared among all relevant supply chain partners. When everyone has the same data at the same time, or information symmetry, they’re better equipped to handle exception management.

Let’s Look at some Examples

Even as I write this article there are several major weather-related events affecting the supply chain. Parts of the American South are currently experiencing extremely rare sub-freezing temperatures, causing major highways to either shut down or experience massive delays. There are snowstorms in the Northeast also causing major delays as well. Parts of the West Coast are experiencing mudslides, shutting down access to major roads. Each one of these weather events can impact thousands of supply chain events in a single day.

Let’s say half of one carrier’s capacity is on one side of a mudslide, and there’s a dispatch request for a pickup on the other side. Half of that carrier’s capacity is unable to cross and respond to that request, so the company has to reallocate available capacity, and make adjustments up and down their fleet. This adjustment, however, affects their customers, as shippers need to reprioritize shipments in response to the updated availability in capacity. All the way down to the last mile, where there is a customer expecting a package, the information needs to be relayed and acted upon as fast as it becomes available. That is impossible to do effectively if you have to rely on stale information provided by old technology.

The Technology Behind Information Symmetry

Updating information in real-time and ensuring that it’s shared with multiple parties requires a modern technology infrastructure. The legacy technology that the industry has used to operate for so long only updates sporadically—sometimes every few hours, sometimes only twice a day, it varies—which doesn’t provide enough time or consistency to respond effectively to the demands of the modern supply chain. Replacing that technology with APIs eliminates this issue.

APIs are capable of real-time updates, and when the technology is done correctly, they are also able to take data from different sources, normalize it, and send that normalized version out to everyone who needs it. In the case of logistics, that means shippers, carriers, 3PLs, and anyone else integrated via APIs receive the same information at the same time. This allows them to work together, notifying one another of disruptions so they can respond and notify their customers as quickly as possible.

The more data that APIs are able to collect and process, the more we expand the possibilities of what that data can do. Once we have a healthy amount of data, we can do a better job of automating processes in response to certain conditions, like mudslides, blizzards, road accidents, etc. It also opens up the doors to predictive and prescriptive analytics.

Essentially, the potential behind logistics data is incredible, but unlocking that potential requires modern technology. Without information symmetry, the impact that data has on the supply chain becomes lopsided. Stale, inaccurate data bottlenecks efficiency. Information symmetry should be one of your main priorities as you leverage technology partners to work with in 2018.

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