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Viewpoint: The evolving world of real-time visibility

Data can help increase awareness around supply chain management

It’s important to have access to full end-to-end visibility across all parts of the supply chain. (Photo: FreightWaves/Jim Allen)

By Bart De Muynck

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

After recently returning from a trip to Europe, I realized that visibility continues to be at the forefront of every discussion in the supply chain. 

We talk about visibility when we discuss U.S. imports and exports, domestic deliveries to businesses, consumer e-commerce deliveries, etc. But we also talk about it when we travel for work, as in when an airplane is supposed to arrive inbound, when it’s supposed to leave and the estimated time of arrival at the final location. I can even see on an app how long it will take me to check in and stand in line at security at the airport. 

Our need to continuously control our lives is mirrored in business — although in business, there obviously are clear value-generation opportunities when talking about visibility.

For the last few years, companies have focused on real-time transportation visibility (RTTV) with vendors like project44 leading the way. RTTV mainly focuses on visibility of inventory in motion based on a global network of carriers across transportation modes. 

But more recently, there has been increasing importance for the other side of inventory visibility, which is the inventory at rest, in the warehouses as well as in retail stores. Filling shelves, disappointing consumers and miscalculating demand can have catastrophic effects in this economic climate. The global culture is increasingly one of on-demand, single-day delivery — and all of it for free. This drives the creation of a new category, which is called real-time inventory level visibility (RTILV), with vendors like Mojix leading the way.

RTILV is important in industries like retail. Apparel and beauty retailers need to understand what visibility is available in the warehouse or in the store to optimize inventory accuracy. Item-level tracking — enabled by technologies like radio frequency identification tags, Internet of Things devices and blockchain — provides precise, real-time information on each item as it moves through the supply chain. This granular data is crucial in improving decision-making, optimizing inventory levels and reducing waste. 

Understanding the movement of individual items helps in creating more accurate demand forecasts. It allows organizations to analyze trends on a microscale, considering variables such as location-specific demands, seasonal trends and consumer preferences, which can lead to better production planning and inventory management.

For restaurant and grocery retail, there might be the additional use case around food safety. Traceability ensures easy item identification and authentication. For instance, in case of a product recall, item-level tracking can prove invaluable. By tracking each item, companies can quickly identify and isolate affected products, minimizing the scope of the recall and reducing associated costs and risks. 

With legislation around traceability becoming more stringent, it is important to have access to full end-to-end visibility across all parts of the supply chain, whether the inventory is in motion or at rest. Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency and authenticity. Item-level tracking allows for the seamless sharing of information with consumers regarding the sourcing, production and distribution of products. This not only enhances brand reputation but can also provide an advantage in the market.

Technology has brought lightning-paced transformation to supply chain management. Real-time data capture streams, serialization, smart data carriers, scalable cloud infrastructures and emerging technology further catalyzed seismic changes across all industries and regions. These capabilities have become required in times of disruptions as we have seen the last few years. 

Now is the time to continue the investment in visibility and close the loop to achieve true end-to-end visibility.

About the author

Bart De Muynck is an industry thought leader with over 30 years of supply chain and logistics experience. He has worked for major international companies, including EY, GE Capital, Penske Logistics and PepsiCo, as well as several tech companies. He also spent eight years as a vice president of research at Gartner and, most recently, served as chief industry officer at project44. He is a member of the Forbes Technology Council and CSCMP’s Executive Inner Circle.

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  1. Mark

    George Orwell 1984, absolutely no privacy, opening portals for our adversaries to spy and people with il intentions because SAFETY walls are not totally secure. And ELDs pushed in the name of Safety. Reality “Big Data not safety, really believe it has benefits but is less safe as it is now. It has actually caused more accidents, but real time data is making corporations more profitable. Not sure if all drivers are recognizing a large increase in pay though. Always keep an eye on the real motives for anything being lobbied in the name of Safety.

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Note: FreightWaves occasionally publishes commentary from industry sources with expertise, information and opinion on current transportation topics. The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of FreightWaves. Submissions to FreightWaves are subject to editing.