Two weeks ago, Chris Cunnane and I joined the FourKites Visibility 2020 conference from the confines of our home offices. The conference offered a clear message of how FourKites is moving forward during the current pandemic, a vision of what is to come, and a number of customer success stories.
First of all, who is FourKites? FourKites is all about near real-time visibility to shipments. FourKites CEO Matt Elenjickal has pointed out that visibility by itself is not enough. “It is one thing to know where the trucks are, but what am I going to do with that data? Who do I contact if something goes wrong? Customers are looking for visibility across the entire supply chain; they want to know where their products are across the entire network at any time. This could be in a warehouse, on a truck, or in the yard. They even need to know where an item is at the SKU level, and this is not easy to pull off without years and years of research and development. The public perception is that these visibility solutions seem very simple. But they are not. They require density and a network to make it happen. Solutions that do not have the density and a network will not last.”
FourKites Visibility 2020: Product Vision & Roadmap
The company’s product vision was presented by Priya Rajagopalan, Chief Product Officer at FourKites. In this session, Ms. Rajagopalan highlighted the three themes that have driven FourKites’ product development over the last year and will continue to do so in the future: collaboration, multi-modal, and dynamic yard and appointment manager. The instant messenger allows for in-app collaboration. The interesting part is that it doesn’t matter which chat platform you are using – Teams, Skype, etc. – as long as everyone is in in the app, it is seamless.
Ms. Rajagopalan pointed out that multi-modal means true door-to-door visibility. This enhancement has been in the works for a few years but is now live. It provides global end-to-end visibility across road, rail, ocean, air, and yard. Customers receive alerts when a delay within one mode will impact other modes in the transportation chain. This allows FourKites to be proactive in letting customers know about a delay.
Dynamic yard and appointment manager brings together transportation and warehousing. If an incoming truck is late for appointment, the appointment scheduler and yard manager already know it. This capability is enabled by the integration of real-time transportation visibility, appointment management, eDocs gateway, and dynamic yard. In these situations, especially if a truck is going to be more than a few hours late, the customer can try to slot in different appointments in real-time.
From a forward-looking standpoint, the other big piece of the future for FourKites is a big investment in machine learning. Ms. Rajagopalan noted that data science will permeate all aspects of the platform. Two of the more interesting examples she gave were for advanced LTL ETAs and regional trends and disruption. Advanced LTL ETAs enable customers to narrow down the window to as little as four hours for an LTL delivery; often times, the window is 8-12 hours. Regional trends and disruptions relate to delays at border crossings or bridges that will impact a shipment. The customer will automatically receive an alert about the delay and will be able to be proactive in its response.
Global, Multimodal Visibility? Really?
FourKites has been working hard to make its visibility platform something that will provide visibility to shipments on a global basis. Preston Bruessow, a Logistics Manager at Dow Chemical, served as a proof point for this. In the US, the Electronic Logging Device (ELDs) mandates has put visibility in the US at an advantage. The purpose of the ELDs is to make sure drivers do not exceed their hours of service – the amount of time they can safely drive. But a nice side benefit is that ELDs allow for GPS tracking of shipments. Dow has rolled out the FourKites solution in North America, Latin America, and Europe.
Dow’s vision is an Amazon
While Mr. Bruessow of Dow spoke to global visibility, Bryan Kennedy, an International Specialist at Kimberly-Clark
Mr. Kennedy shared an anecdote about how the company was able to gain visibility on critical assets during the Canadian rail blockade. The company was tracking import loads on rails after unloading at the port. It was notified that there were a lot of strikes that were stopping rail cars. Now, instead of reaching out to steamship line and waiting for a response, Kimberly Clark could filter down to Canadian port of discharge traveling into the United States, and further down into 12 containers that had been delayed. Out of the 12 containers, 8 were stuck in port of Montreal for over a week. Kimberly Clark was able to communicate with planners and give real-time updates for when it would leave the port and when it would be delivered.
Dollar Tree Gains Visibility to Store Operations
In his keynote, Mr. Elenjickal shared a video of an interview he conducted with Joshua Jewett, Chief information Officer at Dollar Tree. Mr. Jewett talked about the impact of visibility on store operations. He said that a typical store only has a handful of associates that work each day; the entire labor budget for the week revolves around when a delivery truck will arrive so the shelves can be re-stocked. Before implementing FourKites, Dollar Tree had very little visibility into where the delivery was. Now, in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, knowing when the delivery is coming has been very valuable, especially when the delivery contains cleaning supplies, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. The enhanced visibility enables the company to properly manage store labor for unloading items as well as handling surges in customer volume to stock up on hard-to-find essentials.
3M Leverages Visibility to Respond to COVID
Another customer success story was the session titled “Visibility Amid Crisis,” featuring Kaitlyn DeSpiegler, Global Transportation Specialist at 3M. Ms. DeSpiegler noted that the COVID response caused huge changes for 3M’s supply chain, accelerating the need for real-time visibility. The company was challenged with more than just a simple demand spike. As a result, 3M’s response required five actions.
1. Changes in priority of production due to spikes in essential items and a drop-off in non-critical products.
2. Refitting existing product lines to meet increases in demand.
3. A heightened focus on certain distribution channels.
4. Onboard new carriers, both domestically and globally, as they were not all on the FourKites platform.
5. Increased use of expedited shipping to meet increased customer demand.
With these action items identified, the 3M supply chain team had a plan in place. First and foremost, the company needed reliable, real-time tracking data across modes. The main focus was to get parcel as a mode on the platform. 3M was able to turn this around in under a week to get parcel tracking live. The company also had to prioritize the management of at-risk shipments and specific SKUs. Priority SKUs such as healthcare and personal safety items were tagged and sent to the FourKites team. At this point, 3M worked with the FourKites data science team to pull in those isolated SKUs with the most recent tracking data and put it in to a power BI dashboard to send to all stakeholders. The dashboards helped confirm necessary shipments were delivered to regions in need.
The final piece was improved communication and collaboration up and down the supply chain. The company had lots of requests and asks throughout the supply chain and needed a strong approach to answer questions. Disparate systems become one platform where all stakeholders could get the information they needed, which allowed 3M to be proactive instead of reactive with customer communication.
FourKites CEO – Mr. Elenjickal has talked about COVID-19 as a growth driver for visibility solutions. He said that “supply chain disruption caused by COVID is leading to the need for more transparency. It should have been obvious that real-time visibility to shipments would allow supply chain operations to be more customer centric and agile. It is a shame that a pandemic had to occur to drive more interest in this class of solutions.
The primary author of this article was Chris Cunnane.