Commentary | IT Matters

Creating More Intelligent Supply Chains with BI Technology

Tags: Logistics I.T., Supply Chain Management

John Woods, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, ProTrans,317-240-4100

For suppliers in today's business world, having a firm grasp on supply chain and logistics issues is a top concern. As internal operations and external supply-chain activities become more complex, these companies depend on current information to optimize productivity, improve customer service, and minimize expenses. Business intelligence (BI) technology improves supply chain operations by helping companies acquire, analyze, and visualize that information, yielding targeted insight to execute operations more efficiently and to coordinate activities with their supply chain partners. Additionally, an enterprise BI environment delivers timely information for a variety of essential analytic functions, increasing productivity, eliminating delays, improving business alliances, and optimizing customer service.

Creating A Unified Environment

The need for advanced BI tools and a more streamlined reporting environment is a natural byproduct of company growth. As companies grow and expand into more diverse markets, manual reporting processes simply aren't able to handle the increasing volume of data, nor deliver all of the required reports. Long reporting cycles make it difficult to share information with customers and delay the delivery of critical metric data to staff. For international logistics and supply chain companies, updating reporting technology and practices is a critical component to meeting service level agreements (SLAs) and ensuring that customer needs are met as efficiently as possible.

Manual reporting processes also require staff to spend many hours collecting data from a proprietary transportation management system (TMS), as well as from third-party claims and payroll applications. For example, account managers can spend hours every week compiling and distributing weekly cost information to their clients using Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel. Those users who aren't Access-savvy are forced to rely on the IT staff to access the data, prepare it for analysis, and create reports.

Using BI tools to standardize the way a company synthesizes, analyzes, and distributes data both internally and externally is the first step to streamlining that flow of information. It is an investment for the customers and a critical tool for the account management team to provide ongoing customer support.

 

Additional benefits of BI investment include:

  • Performance monitoring for vendors, distributors, service providers, and other partners
  • Improved inventory control to support just-in-time and Lean manufacturing strategies
  • Ability to forecast demand fluctuations and optimize resource allocation
  • Ability to assess critical metrics, such as on-time delivery, reductions in working capital, and cost of goods produced or sold
  • Automated order processing, production, fulfillment, and other critical business processes

Iformation On Demand

When you're dealing with global supply chains that span geographies, technologies, and languages, it is important to have one united BI environment to ensure fast reporting, with results delivered through easy-to-use reports and dashboards.

The unified IT environment synchronizes divergent information about international freight forwarding, domestic shipping, customs clearance, freight consolidation, warehouse management, order fulfillment, and transportation management, and presents it on demand to authorized customers and employees.

A developed BI dashboard combines visual charts, graphs, and reports that highlight critical performance metrics in core areas of the business. For example, account managers, plants, and buyers can access the customer dashboard to keep tabs on the clients they oversee. Sales managers also use the dashboard to monitor high-level sales metrics, such as volume trends and top accounts, or to compare old and new accounts based on tonnage and other criteria.

Accounting personnel can also use the finance dashboard to track expenses, revenues, margins, and billings. With a couple of clicks they can filter the information by carrier, customer, service type, region of origin or destination, and other criteria. Other users depend on the operations dashboard to gain visibility into damages and facility metrics, such as total pieces shipped and cost per piece. One report might display positive and negative trends in on-time deliveries, with graphic formatting to highlight consignees or processing centers that are exceeding or failing to meet targets. Another could provide details about line haul utilization and the percent of each trailer's capacity being used. This information is critical, since wasted trailer space can negatively impact profitability.

Moving from static reports to parameter-driven ones provides extensive new insight that allows companies to manipulate information in countless ways, helping them find exactly what they are looking for. And if a problem is noted for example, that margins have dipped they can drill all the way down to see exactly where the problem lies.

BI tools can also be utilized for exception reporting. When a key event occurs, or a metric falls below a designated threshold, a report is dynamically generated and sent to the appropriate stakeholder. For example, managers can be alerted when delivery dates change or when shipments are past due so that they can investigate further.

Finally, by creating an external-facing BI environment, a company can allow its customers to investigate trends and issues down to the lowest level of detail: individual shipments. Even when there are multiple service providers involved, BI technology can provide one cohesive view of the entire freight management process. This makes it very easy to track and trace goods in transit and to provide real-time status updates as freight moves through a global transportation network.

BI technology eases supply chain logistics management and ensures timely and accurate delivery of goods to all customers, no matter how diverse and complicated their supply chains may be. This advanced technology allows sales, finance, and operations departments, as well as corporate management teams, to rapidly access and analyze vital information, whenever they need it. With BI technology, reports that previously took hours to create take only minutes, allowing business users to be more independent, and easily address their own information needs. This in turn relieves IT of a substantial burden, freeing resources to focus on more strategic projects.

A well-managed supply chain is crucial in today's competitive environment. If you lack supply chain management and insight, you lack the ability to keep your company running efficiently, which results in disgruntled clients and lost business.

Thus, ensuring top-level supply chain and logistics management is imperative. By incorporating BI technology into a supply chain management strategy, companies can obtain fast access to timely, comprehensive information that allows them to operate more efficiently and improve service and support to clients.