Many people use the terms visibility and transparency interchangeably; however, it’s important for shipping professionals to understand that there’s a difference between these two popular terms.
While it may seem like we’re splitting hairs, making a clear distinction can go a long way towards a common understanding of what each provides while enabling logistics service providers and shippers to gain the benefits.
Anecdotally speaking, visibility seems to be the slightly more popular of the two terms right now. In the context of shipping, visibility specifically refers to the process of tracking actual shipments and the associated supply data from end to end. To think about it another way, a simplistic example of visibility is knowing container #1 is located HERE, and it contains SKU #2 from Purchase Order #3.
Visibility focuses most on the B2B data and information part of the supply chain with the main goal of increasing operating efficiency. It also optimizes logistics functions like purchase orders, inventory, and transportation management.
It’s then through visibility that transparency is enabled.
Transparency, on the other hand, typically refers to the process of communicating or making available all the visible information to trading partners, customers, stakeholders, and other industry agencies. All of these relevant parties stand to gain from understanding how the sausage is made, so to speak.
Another way to better distinguish between visibility and transparency involves looking at visibility as the basic facts of the situation. It’s the data that helps explain how your supply chain functions from sourcing to delivery and all the movements in between. Transparency, however, is your company’s commitment to sharing that data openly with parties inside and outside of the supply chain.
The two feed off one another (hence the confusion surrounding their meanings) because if your supply chain operations aren’t even visible within your shipping operation, then transparency anywhere outside of it is impossible.
Advantages of Visibility and Transparency
Whatever you call what’s going on, it’s vital that companies have confidence that their materials and products are not only on schedule but live up to organizational standards. This is where transparency particularly comes in handy. It traces supplies from start to finish and proves that logistics partners and suppliers meet lead-time commitments, supply quality products, and comply with regulations.
With the synergies created between visibility and transparency, there are many tangible advantages. First, trust is developed with your customers. By establishing that your supply chain is built to meet its commitments and showing how, customers’ faith in your company’s ability to deliver as promised (and overall relationship) is strengthened.
Every reasonable customer understands that no supply chain is immune from problems, but displaying visibility into what is happening shows your ability to proactively identify and address problems before they snowball into major, costly crises. Increased visibility and transparency minimizes these risks and makes troubleshooting problems much easier.
And lastly, the importance of information accuracy and timeliness can’t be overlooked. These are vital so everyone can use the available real-time information and data to make decisions based on the here-and-now.
Maybe more important than the choice of words, Visibility and Transparency, are the concepts and intent behind them. Both speak to the importance of information being shared freely so that more informed decisions can be made. This distinction as we’ve made it here is just one perspective, tell us if you agree or see things differently!
To learn more about how advanced supply chain technological tools (from Shipment Tracking, to PO Management and Business Intelligence) can enable comprehensive network visibility in addition to eliminating supply chain blind spots, visit Jaguar Freight.
Many freight forwarders classify themselves as “tech-enabled,” but what does this term actually mean? Even though the term’s connotation is clear, the extent a forwarder is using technology can vary wildly – both in terms of its capabilities and effectiveness.
Also clear is the intent of technology regarding the potential benefits to any forwarder’s shipper customer, which typically means gaining more operating efficiency and improving service. But, having technology does not guarantee either of those outcomes.
In other words, the presence of technology and claiming to be “tech-enabled” does not complete the story. Much like a stool, freight forwarding operations require three areas of support to remain balanced, with the second and third legs being execution and customer service in addition to technology. While technology is a major part of the solution, it’s not the end-all, be-all. Shippers evaluating a forwarder’s claims of being tech-enabled need to consider all three things equally.
First Leg – The Technology
A discussion of freight forwarding technology needs to start with an explanation of what the tech can do. Technology is about driving efficiency and accuracy through automation and other forms of digitization. Here are some examples of what shippers should expect from their forwarder’s technology:
On a fundamental level, digital freight forwarders leverage industry-leading software solutions to eliminate time-consuming manual processes, increasing productivity and improving communication.
As a side note, Jaguar Freight CEO Simon Kaye recently spoke on the topic of shippers and technology. The following clip was taken from his discussion with Eric Johnson from JOC as a panelist on the webcast titled The New Frontier in Global Logistics: Linking Customer Expectations to Customer Promise. Se can see his comments here.
Second Leg – The Execution
Even though it’s important, all of the data and information that are associated with the shipping function are worthless if the shipment is not executed as the company needs it to be.
Global shipping requires forwarders with strong carrier relationships and processes to pick-up and delivery the freight while navigating all the customs, paperwork, and regulations along the way. These types of networks are built over years and decades, and not created overnight by building a new website. While technology helps and we all hope the industry gets there someday, there is no such thing as a no-touch international shipment in any sense these days.
Also, from the JOC webcast, Simon shared his thoughts on Execution.
Third Leg – Customer Service
Because shipping is still largely a boots-on-the-ground business in terms of carrier relationships and experience, it means communication and customer service are as important as they ever were.
Problems still happen that require experience and follow-up to get resolved. Making an extra call to get space on a ship or finding a drayman to cover an urgent order going to your warehouse are examples of how forwarders back up their technology with customer service. Faster resolution to billing and paperwork problems and OS&D issues are other ways forwarders provide value that technology may improve but do not eliminate.
All this is not to say that technology is not vital to the global freight business. It definitely is. The point is that shippers need to look past the label of any given forwarder being “tech-enabled” to understand what their technology really offers and if the right support is there for execution and customer service too.
So, when any forwarder mentions their technology, it’s important to identify the ones that are actually providing real incremental value. To learn more about how Jaguar Freight pairs exceptional customer service with powerful, proven technology and a wide range of logistics expertise, visit www.jaguarfreight.com.
P.S. If you liked to access a recording of the JOC webcast, you can find it here.
Jaguar Freight CEO Simon Kaye was recently a panelist on a webcast hosted by JOC.com’s Senior Editor of Technology, Eric Johnson, titled “The New Frontier in Global Logistics Technology: Linking Customer Expectations to Customer Promise.” Also in the discussion was Jim Blaeser, Director at AlixPartners and Brian Morgan, Director of Engineering and Product, International Supply Chain at Wayfair.
The conversation touched on many of the ways logistics technology has become integrated into the supply chain function of shippers and day-to-day operations of service providers like Jaguar. Eric Johnson set the stage at the outset with his observation that the long-term industry trend toward more technology has accelerated during the pandemic.
Another important observation of the industry is that the already heightened emphasis on the customer experience – the ‘Amazon Effect’ as Mr. Blaeser described it – has increased as well, despite the obvious extra hardships on global supply chains the past 12 months.
What Do Customers Expect?
One explanation for this was provided from the shipper perspective by Mr. Morgan. A current emphasis for Wayfair, he noted, is creating more complete, end-to-end visibility within their supply chain. And one specific goal from doing so is to increase their opportunities for load consolidation as a way to get specific products to where they need to be faster. In other words, leveraging technology and having visibility allows Wayfair to have more flexibility for which products are shipped sooner when there is urgency to do so to better meet its customers’ needs.
Simon Kaye linked the two (technology and customer experience) by adding that while supply chain visibility in the sense of knowing freight’s physical location has been reliably accessible for some time, the need now is for technology to enable better visibility into sourcing and freight readiness. What’s needed now is technology that provides logistics departments with a view of what will be ready, and when, is the way shippers can gain the flexibility companies like Wayfair need. This type of PO management and visibility is the next-level application of logistics technology that can be used to improve the customer experience.
Here is a clip with Simon’s comments on the topics of PO Management and Visibility:
The need for better visibility and functionality like PO management has come about because companies have been pressed to stretch their supply chains to find cheaper sources of goods, added Mr. Blaeser. Yet, at the same time, delivery expectations in terms of time and cost have tightened. This created fragile supply chains, many of which have been exposed over the past year, unfortunately.
Being in the industry, we are all aware that the logistics and supply chain functions are where all problems come to roost and their causes are often out of their control. But better PO management is a way to have an impact, and way that shippers can take control and get away from the fire-fighting mentality with more proactive management. The solution to that Mr. Blaesar suggests is for logistics departments to speak up and demand to get forecasts and the technology to gain this upstream visibility. Integration with other systems, both internal and external, is necessary for this to work.
Speaking from a service provider’s perspective, Mr. Kaye, pointed out that the shipping function and getting things delivered requires a mix of the right technologies. No single technology provider can do it all, so improved technology integration is also an important area for companies to emphasize. While there may be multiple technologies doing the work behind the scenes, in the end, customers want a single source of information when they interface with partners.
Even though things in the industry feel vastly different than a year ago, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The two most pressing opportunities in supply chain still revolve around technology and the customer experience. This means it is still up to both shippers and service providers to find and employ the best technology to help them meet their own end customers’ needs.
If you liked to access a full recording of the webcast, you can find it here.