As I’ve mentioned a few times here, COVID-19 has changed the nature of my job. Two weeks ago, instead of traveling to an in-person event, I joined the FourKites Visibility 2020 conference from the confines of my home office. The conference was an excellent event, with a clear message of how the company is moving forward during the current pandemic, a vision of what is to come, and a number of customer success stories.
FourKites is all about visibility. And at FoutKites Visibility 2020, it showed the importance of end-to-end visibility across the entire supply chain. Just a few short months ago I interviewed FourKites CEO Matt Elenjickal 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 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.”
At FourKites Vision 2020, Mr. Elenjickal kicked off the event by highlighting that 2020 was a year unlike any we’ve ever seen before. In a span of six months, global supply chains faced disruptions from COVID-19, social unrest, extreme weather, and a driver shortage. In the face of these disruptions, he shared his vision for the future of supply chain visibility. The quote above was echoed in his remarks as he described building what he called an “adaptive, global, interconnected” supply chain of the future. He broke down each of these – adaptive, global, and interconnected – into three main components.
Adaptive Supply Chain
- Intuitive tools: the key was to make them easy to consume by various stakeholders. This was necessary to make sure excessive training was not required. Additionally, the tools can be customized based on an employee’s role.
- Data exactly when you need it: time was not wasted providing a glut of data. Instead, the platform only provides the data customers need when they need it.
- Actionable insights: if the customer cannot act on the data, it is of no use to them.
Global Supply Chain
- A “single pane of glass” for door-to-door visibility: this is an end-to-end view of an order from the origin door to destination. It brings in the company’s latest Purchase Order integration tool.
- ETAs: in order to give accurate ETAs, the platform needs to stitch together multiple modes in a seamless and real-time manner.
- Double international team: FourKites is actively expanding its global team to new regions, with a focus on Europe and Latin America.
Interconnected Supply Chain
- Dynamic yard management acquisition: this brings together transportation and warehousing to improve the flow of goods at a warehouse.
- New features: the platform is expanding its capabilities, including a new chat feature that connects all relevant stakeholders.
- The network: FourKites is expanding its network to include new partners across a variety of technologies and modes.
According to Mr. Elenjickal, the entire vision for the future of end-to-end visibility relies on the interconnected supply chain. In the next section I will touch upon some of these advances in more detail.
FourKites Visibility 2020: Product Vision & Roadmap
A second presentation that I found interesting at the FourKites Visibility 2020 conference was the product vision and roadmap session 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. FourKites is pushing for more collaboration with teammates, suppliers, partners, and carriers. This collaboration spans the entire network to ensure more accurate ETAs and better communication from the top down. One of the big features that FourKites has released is its instant messenger which resides in the platform. 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.
FourKites Visibility 2020: Customer Success Stories
My favorite part of attending industry conferences is hearing the customer success stories. FourKites Visibility 2020 had plenty of opportunities for customers to share how enhanced visibility has helped their company. 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.
Another customer success story was the session 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.
- Changes in priority of production due to spikes in essential items and a drop-off in non-critical products.
- Refitting existing product lines to meet increases in demand.
- A heightened focus on certain distribution channels.
- Onboard new carriers, both domestically and globally, as they were not all on the FourKites platform.
- 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.
The final customer success story I want to highlight is from the session Achieving End-to-End Visibility Across Air, Ocean, and Rail, which featured Bryan Kennedy, International Specialist at Kimberly-Clark. Mr. Kennedy said that Kimberly-Clark has a very large export volume and knew one of the greatest struggles was end-to-end visibility. The company had eyesight on when pick-ups occurred but once they left, they lost sight of the shipment and were dependent on steamship lines and freight forwarders for updates. This meant they did not know about port delays or other disruptions. With the FourKites visibility platform, Kimberly-Clark was able to connect the dots with visibility. The company had live visibility to interruptions, such as port congestion, closures, bad weather, among others. Kimberly-Clark could also monitor idle time at hand-off points. In these instances, if there is a significant delay to the time to departure, they can try to get the shipment on a different vessel leaving earlier. Mr. Kennedy also noted that Kimberly-Clark is able to anticipate port delays and congestion that causes additional delays. They can now alert customers and affiliates that they might experience delays.
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.