As I talk to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, it consistently comes up that visibility is a powerful technology tool to help companies during these stressful times. Whether it’s dealing with business disruptions or having to vastly scale services, visibility to shipments, purchase orders and assets becomes critical. Visibility is a broad term and has many meanings and solutions for logistics and supply chain professionals. Here are three examples of how visibility can help distribution-oriented companies mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
While many retailers and distributors immediately curtailed their store operations, it didn’t mean that their inbound supply chains also stopped that quickly. Most retailers and distributors have extended supply chains and purchase order to dock-door cycles that cover weeks if not months. Shipment and purchase order visibility solutions allow retailers to see the up-to-date status of a purchase order and shipment to quickly determine whether they can cancel them, postpone their shipment or divert it to an alternate location. Making these kinds of rapid decisions helps retailers preserve cash to ride out the coronavirus.
For those companies that have been deemed essential services, the opposite is the case. They cannot get goods into their distribution networks fast enough and need to prioritize deliveries of critical items. Being able to react to wildly shifting changes in demand and supply means that retailers and distributors need to be able to make decisions about which goods need to be accelerated into their distribution centers and which goods need to be postponed making room for the high demand items that are needed today. Real-time truck visibility is essential to be able to make these kinds of decisions as travel times are shorter due to less traffic, but dwell-times for pick-ups are extended due to manufacturing plant and distribution center congestion. With accurate ETAs, transportation teams can work more collaboratively with their end customers on critical deliveries, accommodating new delivery and handling processes that may be in place.
Demand for home delivery services has also exploded because of COVID-19, making delivery visibility more important for several reasons. First, delivery organizations need to maximize their productivity and having the real-time status of delivery vehicles helps dispatchers and planners best understand how to direct drivers to get the most work completed. Second, road speeds have dramatically increased in traditionally congested areas and times. Fleet managers need visibility to that impact on their delivery performance, so they can adjust route planning and TMS solutions to take advantage of the increased speeds. Finally, to help with social distancing, delivery organizations are moving to contactless deliveries where customers do not provide proof-of-delivery signatures. Visibility is important to help document that the delivery has been made and, through a notifications process, let the customer know their goods have arrived.
One thing is certain with COVID-19—it has turned traditional logistics and supply chain operations upside down. Those companies with robust visibility processes and solutions are clearly seeing the value of their efforts as they swiftly pivot to address the changes that COVID-19 has imposed on their business. As one customer with a strong visibility program said, “I don’t know how those companies without it could have responded so quickly and precisely.” How is your company using visibility solutions to address COVID-19? Let me know.