Supply chain visibility is the ability to capture data on goods moving through the supply chain. What was once a newly-emerging trend is now a priority where supply chain partners have their work cut out for them. A recent survey by Interos revealed that 77% of respondents are either currently in the process of implementing supply chain visibility technology or have plans to do so within the next 12 months, and these results reflect the fact that a transformation is currently underway in the industry.

But what is supply chain visibility exactly? And what does it entail? In this article, we’re looking at supply chain visibility in-depth, including the various types, benefits, and challenges that shippers and freight brokers encounter.

What is Supply Chain Visibility?

Supply chain visibility (SCV) is an overall general term that can refer to many different applications, some that take a broad vantage point of the supply chain and others that focus on small but critical subcategories of operations. End-to-end supply chain visibility refers to visibility covering the entire chain from raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, and warehousing to delivery to the destination. As complex as supply chains are, end-to-end visibility must facilitate data shared across the entire chain to ensure complete visibility.

What are the Types of Supply Chain Visibility?

SCV can be categorized into three main types: supply chain activities visibility, transportation visibility, and shipment visibility. End-to-end visibility makes it difficult to completely categorize different supply chain visibility solutions, since many are designed to cross over into other aspects of the supply chain. This is ultimately a good thing. Shippers get maximum benefit from complete collaboration, when information is freely shared from one area of operations to the next, both internally and externally.

Supply Chain Activities Visibility

The first type of supply chain visibility covers the typical supply chain operations on a broad level. Solutions in this category handle visibility across manufacturers, suppliers, sales, purchase orders, inventory, and supply and demand. This brings visibility from one end of the chain to the other while many pieces are dependent on the data from the previous step. Also in this category is maintenance and repair visibility, auditing visibility, and carbon emissions visibility, which may be more behind-the-scenes functions but are nevertheless important.

Transportation Visibility

Transportation is more complex than many other areas of the supply chain, earning its own category of visibility. When the transportation of goods is handled by a third-party company like a freight broker or carrier, some of the moving pieces to the process include rate quotes and freight procurement and documentation like bills of lading and proof of delivery. On top of this, transportation visibility covers the ever-present question, “Where is my freight?” by providing access to location tracking and tracing while goods are in transit. 

Shipment Visibility

Shipment visibility goes one level further into the condition of the shipment during transport and delivery. Through sensors and monitoring, shippers can tell the exact conditions of their goods including temperature, humidity, light exposure, and any shock that occurs, plus tamper detection. With transportation bringing the risk of damages and claims, this level of visibility is essential for many types of shipments including high-value items and higher-risk goods like fresh produce. 

Benefits of Supply Chain Visibility

A highly visible supply chain can benefit companies in more ways than one. Visibility serves everyday operations, but it also allows companies to prepare for disruptions and helps them manage those disruptions when they do occur. According to a survey by Interos, supply chain disruptions impact organizations three times per year on average. Companies must be prepared for those occurrences.

Visibility gives companies the benefits of access to more data from within and outside their operations that they need to make better decisions, know how to handle issues, and stay competitive to grow their business. Here are five benefits of supply chain visibility.

Cost Reduction

With better data and planning come opportunities to reduce costs. Analytics can identify areas of waste or added expense within the supply chain that shippers can avoid. For example, they may strategize their stock levels to reduce expenses that come from having too much or too little stock available or optimize their freight transportation routes to reduce their transportation spend.

Risk Mitigation

Companies can respond faster to delays and disruptions that affect their supply chain with real-time visibility data. This means less time and expense are spent continuing in the direction of the wrong strategy, and instead, the company can take immediate steps to reduce its risk further.

Improved Customer Service

Companies can offer a better customer experience through service that is improved by visibility data. It enables them to respond to changing customer demand, deliver on time in full, and provide end-to-end visibility for their customers.

Resiliency, Agility, and Control

Equipped with data visibility, shippers gain resiliency; they have the data needed to set up their supply chain processes for success and operate in a healthy manner even in the face of challenges. Visibility gives them the agility to react to changing conditions around them, and they have control of their processes to take data-driven action that is best for their business.

Return on Investment 

Many of these benefits, along with others, contribute to a measurable return on investment when utilizing visibility solutions. Companies dealing with fewer and less-severe issues can reduce costs and increase revenue.

Challenges of Supply Chain Visibility

When evaluating a visibility solution, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of the challenges it must solve. Many of these challenges may involve details specific to the individual company, but they can be summarized more broadly. Here are just a few visibility challenges that shippers often encounter before they find the right solution.

Data Silos and Poor Communication

Internally, data silos can hinder communication and reduce the efficiency of teams doing redundant work. Supply chain partners need to establish reliable communication on all operations that affect them. Using a system that breaks down silos and separation, shippers can get a well-informed system end-to-end.

Data Quality Issues

Data quality starts at the source, in the case of transportation and shipment visibility, the visibility providers collecting the data. Data must be complete, accurate, and standardized and therefore reliable for shippers to base their decisions on.

Lack of Real-Time Data

In addition to the quality of data, the speed it is processed is important for responding as quickly as possible to changes. Real-time data allows shippers to catch issues early and reduce the chance that something small will lead to a bigger problem.

Limited Data Analytics

Shippers should have the analytics to get a clearer picture of their supply chain with meaningful insights. This informs processes and reduces the chances of and impacts from operational disruptions.

Supply Chain Visibility for Food Shipments

Food and fresh produce bring risks not present with other shipments, making it essential that these shipments are equipped with complete visibility. Shippers need to manage the planning and logistics of food transported from producers to grocery distribution centers with careful attention to timing and the condition of the goods — in other words, adding transportation visibility and shipment visibility on top of the visibility they have on their supply chain activities.

The cold chain brings added risks to shipping fresh produce, like equipment failure, human error, and gaps in the cold chain, which can have costly consequences for shippers unless they have a system of temperature monitoring. However, to reduce the chances of spoilage and damages, tracking is not enough. They must also have real-time data and alerts to minimize the time it takes to respond to potential problems. Hwy Haul offers this level of transportation and shipment visibility to deliver produce at peak freshness with real-time data available on location, temperature, humidity, and shift. 

Get Food Shipping Visibility with Hwy Haul

From visibility related to various supply chain activities to transportation and shipment condition monitoring, supply chain visibility contributes to reduced risk and reduced costs for shippers. Hwy Haul is a digital freight platform that specializes in fresh produce shipping, where we provide real-time visibility to save some of the $15 billion in food wasted each year. Shippers can track the location and precise condition of their goods and get alerts for temperature excursions or other events, while Hwy Haul supports operations with data insights and reliable capacity.

For more information on the visibility and service Hwy Haul brings to every shipment, reach out to us today.