How to Prepare for Successful Real-Time Visibility

  arial view of shipping yard at port

The results are in: Real-time visibility solutions have crossed the threshold from nice-to-have to need-to-have. The Gartner Real-Time Visibility Market Guide noted that finding a visibility solution ranked as the top tech priority for supply chain leaders in 2018. But as shippers source the right visibility platform, they can overlook real-time visibility implementation needs.

A visibility platform can transform your customer experience and operations. And such transformative technology will affect your technology, processes, and people (the golden triangle”). As you and your team evaluate visibility vendors, devote equal attention to assessing your organization for implementation readiness.

It’s never too early to consider how you’ll implement and adapt to a new real-time visibility solution. Following these guidelines will help reduce the time to a successful launch — and provide quicker ROI.

Assemble the Right Teams for the Right Streams

Your visibility vendor should have experts on hand to lead the implementation process. Provide them with your best people, a combination of strategic thinkers and tactical veterans. In most scenarios, you’ll want to identify team members who can assist with the main streams. Be upfront that they may work across multiple streams.

Stream 1: Operational. This typically begins with a current vs. future state analysis. Team members supporting this stream should be strong in operational change management planning and execution.

Stream 2: Technical. Executing the technical changes required to establish the connection between the visibility vendor and your systems varies from shipper to shipper. This stream requires staff possessing historical systems knowledge along with technical acumen.

Stream 3: Carrier Onboarding. The visibility vendor will request a comprehensive list of your carriers to analyze which are in their network. Ensure someone on your team with intimate knowledge of carriers oversees the list to ensure your report didn’t miss any data incorrectly stored in your ERP or TMS.

Stream 4: Project Management. A well-connected, detail-oriented member of your team should serve as the project point person. They’ll attend weekly calls to discuss status, timeline, issues/​risks, and actions. Someone familiar with industry standard project management methodologies is a plus.

Members of this delivery team are essential to a smooth implementation. At the same time, keeping the vision of your real-time visibility project on track warrants the same attention. As the executive leader, you should also form a cross-functional steering committee.

The steering committee provides an opportunity to align fellow leaders on the benefits of real-time visibility while offering a team approach to:

  • sponsorship and direction
  • alignment with concurrent initiatives
  • funding approval
  • scope change control
  • resource allocation

Embrace the Inevitable Change Management Now

Your organization isn’t investing in new technology to maintain the status quo. Providing a better customer experience and eliminating operational inefficiencies will mean changing processes and certain people’s roles. It’s inevitable. And it’s better for the customer, for your company, and for the career advancement of your team members.

Expect some technical and operational workflow changes to realize the full value of accurate and timely data. Real-time visibility isn’t just a tech fix” or an elaborate copy and paste from EDI to API. Be clear with your team this is not new to the business — this is a new way of doing business. 

We’ve seen clients require a number of processes tweaks and code changes to accommodate latent or missing data from EDI. If your logistics network isn’t built on API yet, changes are likely needed. During the early stages of discovery, ask your prospective visibility vendors how their platforms ingest API and/​or EDI data.

Show Carriers the Value and New Approach

Every successful real-time visibility implementation requires carrier data and cooperation. Unfortunately, not all carriers support the same APIs. For example, a carrier may have a rating API but can’t accommodate vLTL tracking. Conducting due diligence with your carrier network now will help eliminate carrier onboarding surprises when you’re in implementation mode.

Set the expectation that you need carrier shipping data to run your business and supply your customers with status updates. Your visibility vendor will echo this message when carrier onboarding begins, but as the shipper, you carry more clout. And you have the longstanding commercial relationship.

Once carriers see this data — particularly for truckload — helps you compete, they’ll recognize your revenue is their revenue. Bear in mind, though, the carrier network is complex. Your carriers may need time to adjust, potentially both in terms of technology and driver operations.The global shipping network is an intricate, interconnected web. This visualization represents the relationship between shippers, carriers, and subcontractors in the project44 network.

Seek Standardization, not Customization

A leading real-time visibility vendor harnesses and standardizes disparate data from many sources. This standardized data is the basis for tracking across carriers and modes, predictive analytics, and much more. Accomplishing this normalization requires a visibility platform, not a customized integration layer.

Remember that good data must flow into your visibility solution. The solution cannot make data good.” A visibility platform serves as a conduit to connect carrier data. Custom solutions to somehow modify data will not provide the real-time tracking and insights you desire.

Prepare All Functions for Access to the Data

Real-time visibility democratizes shipment tracking and predictive analytics. Teams outside the supply chain function can unlock value in ways your organization hasn’t considered yet. Let colleagues across departments access the visibility portal independently to find what they need. 

Bring them in now to explain, going forward, they can access tracking data and reports 247 without manual intervention. They’re empowered, you’re transparent with the project and new technology, and your team will appreciate relief from these day-to-day tasks.

Every real-time visibility implementation, like every project, differs to some degree. Instill a sense of flexibility with your team and peers while appreciating the amount of change everyone will soon encounter. The more predictable you can make the implementation, the more optimism your colleagues and carriers will share for the live state.

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