This phenomenon can be attributed in part to rising consumer goods demand. Sparked by economic stimulus and a large- scale shift in preferences from services to goods spending, U.S. retail sales jumped 17.9% annually in 2021. E-commerce sales, which had a record year in 2020, rose 14.2% to $870.8 billion and accounted for 13.2% of retail spending, according to the Census Bureau. As a result, businesses have been tasked with trying to meet demand while navigating through an obstacle course of logistics disruptions. It’s fueling a spate of technologies aimed at building intelligence, smoothing out disruptions, and averting bottlenecks. STIRRING UP INTELLIGENT SUPPLY CHAINS Ask analysts to name the most important development in supply chain technology in 2021, and they will likely say something about visibility. A host of disruptions over the past two years
Control towers, such as Blue Yonder’s Luminate, help resolve disruptions by enabling end- to-end supply chain visibility. The technology provides insights to understand and act on real-time information from the entire digital ecosystem.
proactively. “Understanding your goods in motion and goods at rest, and understanding where you might have potential bottlenecks, both forward- looking and as they happen, is what gives organizations agility,” Brasca says. One technology that’s helping shippers get a closer look at their wares is a supply chain control tower—a data visualization platform that allows shippers to view inventory throughout its entire journey. Control towers can track data from suppliers, factories, and distributors, and can even incorporate information gleaned from weather reports or social media. Blue Yonder, a supply chain solutions software company headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, offers control tower technology that helped medical product company Becton Dickinson reduce complexity after it acquired two other healthcare companies. The technology also helped Becton Dickinson manage skyrocketing demand for their products after the pandemic began, says Chirag Modi, Blue Yonder’s corporate vice president of industry strategy. A PEPPER POT OF PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS One way that shippers can use the large quantities of data being amassed is through predictive analytics. This is done by funneling data into algorithms to
underscored the need for companies to know the status of their shipments in real time. Meanwhile, tracking technologies such as radio frequency identication (RFID), Internet of Things devices, GPS, and electronic logging devices (collectively known as telematics devices) have created a brew of data, giving shippers a high-level view into their entire supply chain. “There’s a convergence of capabilities creating a new phenomenon,” says Fab Brasca, executive vice president of industry and market strategy at FourKites, a supply chain visibility platform based in Chicago. “The availability of cloud computing power and abundance of data, sprinkled with advancements in machine learning and articial intelligence, has generated a cauldron of amazing innovation,” he says. This conuence of factors is paving the way for supply chain intelligence that is predictive, not just reactive, Brasca explains. For example, take an ocean container that’s in transit. Visibility can warn a shipper that the container will arrive three days late. But, by analyzing historical patterns of data, a visibility tool could also help predict when the goods that are being carried will arrive at their nal destination. Taken one step further, visibility can help shippers foresee chokepoints and design a plan to deal with them
FourKites’ Dynamic Ocean platform seamlessly tracks end-to-end ocean cargo shipments in one unified platform. It helps shippers stay on top of delays through ETAs and alerts.
62 Inbound Logistics • April 2022
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