Data-Driven Supply Chains: Unlocking Visibility for International Shipments

Learn more about how data-driven supply chains are unlocking visibility for international shipments in the article below. ...
Data-Driven Supply Chains: Unlocking Visibility for International Shipments
Written by Brian Wallace
  • The global supply chains of today are more complex than ever. Many businesses have a variety of crucial components moving through a multitude of countries and supply chain touchpoints – whether that be producers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, or eventually, the end consumer.

    While this interconnected spider’s web opens up many possibilities, it also creates one significant challenge: limited visibility. When products embark on their long voyages across the seas and continents, all too often companies end up losing sight of their goods. This lost visibility in shipping leads to anxious business owners not knowing exactly where their goods are or what condition they are in, rendering them completely out of control in the process. 

    Of course, in a world where consumer expectations are at an all-time high, thanks to the likes of Amazon and Walmart setting the standard, operating with limited visibility across the supply chain presents a substantial competitive disadvantage that needs to be addressed. 

    The Importance of Visibility Across Borders

    When you boil it down to its roots, the journey of an international shipment can be divided into three key stages:

    Origin and Quality Control

    It becomes increasingly difficult to keep tabs on suppliers overseas and to make sure everything’s moving smoothly. Between production delays and quality control issues, businesses that do not have a clear view into the early supply chain have a much harder time planning out processes.

    Transportation and Customs Clearance 

    Once the goods begin their shipment journey, there’s a lot of important factors to keep in mind. First of all, international transportation involves multiple modes of transport – tracking each of these may require a different solution. Second of all, the customs clearance process is just as important and requires advance planning. This needs to be taken care of properly, as laws are subject to change depending on what you’re transporting and in what countries you’re transporting through. It’s important to have as much visibility as possible during this stage in order to avoid delays, detention charges, and other unexpected costs from storage fees.

    Destination and Delivery Management

    Even if goods do make it to the destination warehouse without a hitch, inventory and delivery management (such as returns) can get hazy without full transparency. From there, it can be difficult to keep customer service and last mile delivery on track, two of the most important elements of business success. 

    Bridging Visibility Gaps with Data

    The good news is that modern technology solutions can help cut through the fog. IoT sensors, AI powered analytics, machine learning – all of these tools can help map global supply chains and shine a light on once opaque processes. They give businesses an all seeing eye to spot issues that are brewing, enabling them to tackle problems before they escalate. 

    Yet even as these tools become more prevalent, most aren’t tapping into these solutions enough. According to Accenture, only four out of 10 supply chain leaders use data prescriptively. In other words, they’re not fully utilizing data to predict potential issues and proactively recommend the best course of action. Of course, this presents a substantial opportunity for improvement.

    Data-Driven Visibility in Action

    Okay, let’s now revisit how driven supply chains can unlock visibility for international shipments across the origin, transportation, and destination stages. 

    Origin and Quality Control

    IoT sensors, for example, can help track the movements of raw materials and finished goods. This gives a real time overview of inventory and order progress across one of the most vital stages. From here, big data analytics tools can help managers guide overseas suppliers by flagging quality risks early on and improving reliability over time.

    Transportation and Customs Clearance 

    Once goods hit the road and seas, real-time location tracking through GPS and IoT devices sensors trace every leg of their trip. With a live map of cargo locations and machine learning to predict delays, supply chain planners can keep logistics on track. Data driven solutions can also help to streamline the customers clearance process by automating document preparation and submission, predicting potential issues based on historical data and current regulations, while facilitating smooth communication with customs officials.

    Destination and Delivery Management

    AI solutions can crunch incoming shipment data to keep destination warehouses perfectly stocked for just-in-time delivery. This helps keep costs under control and boosts efficiency. Items are machine-routed to store shelves or customer doors at optimal pace. Returns also become seamless to process with trackable package flows.

    Reaping the Rewards of Data-Driven Visibility

    As we touched upon, data driven supply chain visibility can help provide a wide range of benefits to businesses that are engaged in international trade. Let’s unpack a few of them main ones:

    • Enhanced Efficiency: By streamlining routes, reducing delays, and improving how we allocate resources, data-driven solutions can significantly smooth out bumps across the entire supply chain. This leads to faster deliveries, shorter lead times, and just makes the whole operation run more efficiently.
    • Cost Reduction: Accurately forecasting demand helps minimize excess inventory costs. Proactively managing shipments helps us avoid fees and charges that add up. Preventing losses from disruptions also saves money that we can re-invest to drive more growth and innovation.
    • Improved Customer Satisfaction: Providing realistic delivery estimates and proactively communicating about potential delays shows customers we respect their time. Being more responsive to their needs also builds trust and loyalty, leading to repeat business, positive reviews, and a stronger brand reputation.
    • Enhanced Risk Management: Identifying potential disruptions early allows us to proactively address issues before they become real problems. This ensures supply chain resilience even when unforeseen challenges arise. Using data insights helps us anticipate and prepare for various risks, from natural disasters to supplier failures to transportation snags.

    Final Word

    If companies want to stay on top of their global supply chains, they need to start using data to their advantage. Today, this means leveraging IoT sensors, AI, machine learning, and other mapping tools that help to build that all important visibility into supply chain logistics. 

    Through the use of this technology, businesses can spot issues early on, predict delays, and optimize their processes. The end result is faster delivery times, lower costs and happier customers – all of which are likely to translate to a significant competitive edge in the market.

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