What Are Tracking Solutions to Improve Supply Chain Business?

by Vector | Nov 23, 2021 1:57:06 PM

Today, we're going to look at tracking solutions that can help improve supply chains. Let's face it—to say the global supply chain can be improved is an understatement.

Supply chain improvement is a poignant topic at any time. Industry insiders know this. Our entire professional focus is to strive for continuous improvement goals. That's because process improvements typically translate directly to our bottom lines.

For instance, a new efficiency improvement might mean you could lower your prices—without cutting into margin. In turn, your improved quoting practice might theoretically earn you more business. That would mean the new improvement also translates to the top line.

Sounds like a win-win, right?!

Sure, but what are these tracking solutions? Let's find the ones that can help improve the supply chain business.

My goal with this article is to help you gain a competitive advantage. But that means you might need to think differently. Ready?

Just the Fax!

Is it an advantage to do things the exact same way as our competitors? Sorta, but no. Doing things in business that everyone else in your industry does is more like meeting a baseline. Some things are a given. That said, these things weren't always a given.

For example, there was a time in the logistics business when a fax machine was cutting-edge technology. This was before the internet. Smartphones? A glimmer in the fax machine's eye. But if you were an early adopter of the fax machine? They gave you a huge advantage over your competition. You were sending paper documents by magic through space. Your competitors? They were still using the Pony Express! Giddyap!

The fax machine meant rapidly increased execution times for early adopters. And it didn't take long for fax machines to become a given. Conducting business by fax was the industry standard for a couple of decades. But eventually email came along. And after that, fax machines were a given for the dumpster.

The Technology Adoption Cycle

The premise I just described is called the technology adoption cycle. When it comes to the technology adoption, there are five categories. Which one are you?

  • Innovators
  • Early adopters
  • Early majority
  • Late majority
  • Laggards

I introduce this model because I think it helps frame a discussion about tech products in general. As such, the tech adoption cycle may help provide a framework for the tracking solutions we're looking at today. I especially like the way the tech adoption model can help a person position themselves in terms of their existing tech, that potential new thing, and their business.

After all, not everyone (or every business) is fit to be the innovator. But no one wants to be a laggard. After the laggard comes the dumpster.

We'd Be Lost Without GPS

In an article about tracking solutions for supply chain business, maybe you've been wondering when we'd get to GPS? In reality, global positioning systems do a huge amount of heavy lifting for the supply chain. Where would we all be without GPS? Lost!

GPS has been around for a long time. It wasn't long after the Soviet Union shot Sputnik into space that GPS appeared. It may be hard to believe, but everyone's GPS relies on a mere 27 satellites circling the globe in medium Earth orbit. And yet, consider the tracking solutions GPS provides the supply chain:

  • Navigation
  • Geofencing
  • Telematics
  • Autonomous vehicles

Within each of those GPS categories, technology has continued to evolve. This is the realm of software developers, who focus on adding capability and precision to the world of GPS products. In other words, GPS is much more than just a digital road atlas.

Navigation, Routing, and Order Tracking

Perhaps you've noticed that GPS routing has improved? When's the last time you heard your GPS say "recalculating"?

Sure, routing features are a core component of GPS. Just ask literally anyone who drives whether they use Google Maps. But GPS software does so much more now. For instance, GPS routing software reflects the way logistics managers track their entire fleet of trucks.

Supply chain software with GPS allows freight brokers to make a living. Tracking solutions like TMS software allow brokers to price lanes and win loads. In turn, GPS software allows a broker to track loads and orders from start to finish. GPS software in IoT devices facilitates real-time tracking of specific sea containers. That helps when you're looking for a container in a sea of containers.

Beyond that, TMS data can then be integrated with other operational software tools like document digitization software, ERP systems, and warehouse management software. With these, you can essentially create a digital twin and the much sought-after supply chain visibility that many desperately seek.

Geofencing

Geofencing software uses GPS to track specific areas, like warehouse yards and seaports. A higher degree of focus can be placed on the fenced-in area.

One example is a warehouse yard with a geofence. When a driver enters the geofence, software can engage a driver's smartphone with an automated series of instructions. Instead of physically exiting their truck to check out, a driver can instead remain in their vehicle. And that saves time and reduces the contact that drivers have with others.

Geofence software can provide drivers with information including dock assignments, queue positions, load readiness, types of paperwork, and a driver's detention clock. Ports use similar tracking solutions. Automating the entire detention and demurrage process to any degree saves valuable time.

As the global supply chain continues to affect the adoption cycle, there's a push for standardization across the industry. GPS will also help accomplish that. After all, GPS facilitates the synchronized time that we all enjoy on our smartphones and connected devices. It's not a big surprise. Standardized time was one of the first solutions that helped the supply chain business back in the early railroad days.

Telematics

Beyond that, telematics software onboard modern supply chain vehicles tracks essentially every move of a vehicle. For example, telematics software monitors driver behavior. This could help a manager coach an inexperienced driver. Also, the Department of Transportation's ELD mandate is covered by GPS-based telematics solutions.

The time a driver previously took to manually log their hours can now be used for something else important. Like taking a walk. Or buying something online. Either way, they'll still encounter innovative tracking solutions.

For example, while working on this article, Nike.com emailed me asking if I wanted to track my order. When I clicked through, it gave me a status of my order and an ETA. But it also brought me to an attractive landing page that showed me more Nike products. I hate to admit, but that tracking notice in turn made me very tempted to add more to Nike's bottom line!

Autonomous Vehicles

Driverless trucks are coming. That's obvious when you combine the driver shortage with the current pace of e-commerce. But the technology that allows software to drive a vehicle on the highway is 100% dependent on GPS tracking solutions.

Fitness Trackers

We've covered a lot of ground. But I can't talk about tracking solutions to improve business without tying in fitness trackers. For me, the logic is simple. You're a link in the supply chain!  If you want to improve the supply chain, a great way to do that is to make sure you and your people feel healthy.

The supply chain and logistics industries tend to be pressure cookers to begin with. When you add in a pandemic or a bottlenecked supply chain, you might feel pretty beat up by the end of some weeks. I know I do!

As such, I encourage everyone to track their physical and mental health. I'm no doctor, but in general, I think it's a good idea to watch what you eat and drink. Try to crack a smile every now and then. And limit the amount of crap you put in your body.  Remember, there are always choices of degree. For example, sure, you're at McDonald's. But they sell a salad. Get enough sleep. Limit your screen time. And go for a walk.

Track Those Steps

I find it hard to sustain a workout regimen on top of long hours and family obligations. For me, the step tracker is a lifesaver. Even the walk to the candy machine for those addictive Life Savers Gummies counts as a workout!

Sure, I admit it was somewhat embarrassing to tell my friends that my new jam is walking. Indeed, we scoffed at the serious power-walkers of our youth. We vowed to never become mall-walkers wearing those all-white New Balances. We laughed at the Jim Carrey-esque gait of the Olympic speed-walker.

But as I've gotten older, my knees started to hurt so bad after a run that I had to wait a week to run again. But I can always walk. Walking is a lower but steadier burn. This makes it easier to maintain. So now, I'm the power-walker. And in my Olympic dream, I wear white New Balances.

Don't be a laggard—track your health. Your best business solution might be to take better care of yourself so you're more productive. In other words, reaching 10,000 steps is the industry standard in my book.

This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.

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