Gaps in operations are not biased. Whether you are a warehouse manager navigating scheduling oversights or a fleet manager solving the next best approach to reducing costs, gaps in operations within the global logistics arena are inevitable. The real concern is how the modern-day 3PL provider can successfully mitigate risks while minimizing common gaps before they become a critical problem.
Until one can jump to the list of solutions ranging from technology applications to hybrid work models, the most common (and possibly least talked about) gaps must be identified. Taking it a step further, 3PL providers should have a solid understanding of the why behind the what. In other words, they should ask themselves: Why are these gaps present within our operations and can they be resolved? Are these gaps common within the industry or are they unique to my company?
“One of the bigger gaps in the industry is the availability of timely and accurate data back to the shippers and to the community,” states Jason Carl, vice president of 4PL Solutions at BridgeNet Solutions. “3PLs are sitting on a wealth of data and information, and the ability to harness that effectively has always been a gap from my perspective. Delivering standardized timely information and data makes all the difference for a shipper in today’s environment.”
Carl has more than 15 years of experience in the logistics arena, ranging from ocean exports to operations. He originally started his career with Evergreen Line before moving on to BDP International for 13 years, managing operations for several multinational clients. He moved to BridgeNet two years ago to head the 4PL product.
BridgeNet Solutions, a wholly-owned subsidiary of BDP, provides sourcing, outsource sourcing procurement and managed transportation services focusing primarily on data analytics for more effective supply chain management.
BridgeNet’s cloud-based data solution, Xonar, is the company’s analytics and execution platform based on a foundation of accurate data collection combined with a robust analytics layer. Xonar enables BridgeNet to effectively collect and share critical information from shipper ERP systems, 3PL providers and freight payment companies. Carl cites this solution and the above capabilities as a game-changer for the company among competitors.
“Oftentimes what you find is that providers offering these solutions could be largely just software as a service or a technology company,” he explains. “At BridgeNet, we extend both the technology and the execution components to our customers, ensuring they can rely on an excellent integration hub paired with customizable technology based on the customer’s needs. We also offer a network of control tower operations based in Asia, Europe and the Americas to oversee that and to orchestrate the flow of information that’s moving through Xonar on a day-to-day basis.”
To be successful at identifying and eliminating common gaps in processes, the provider must consider the quality of the information coming in and going out. It is critical the provider understands where this information could be compromised–or even worse, completely missed.
“3PLs need to understand the why,” Carl says. “Not just at the strategic level but also down to the desk level. It enables better decision-making on a day-to-day basis that really benefits shippers in ways that are often overlooked. The quality of the data can be a game-changer for planning processes and for decision-making overall. There is an increased recognition of that at least in the conversations I’m having.”
Beyond closing gaps in operations and day-to-day processes, Carl emphasizes the importance of looking at the big picture rather than just the result, citing innovative technology as a distraction for what is really going on layers deep within a data solution.
“If the underlying data is not high quality, not standardized, not tightly controlled, then it’s not going to yield the results that providers want to achieve from that piece of technology. The value of that underlying information cannot be discounted. Before you go on the tech journey, providers should focus on the information that is going to fuel operations. This is where 4PLs can step in.”
As for the role of the 4PL provider, they are part of the bigger picture of where your data is coming from and what it all means. Data translation is equally as important as data collection. If a provider cannot identify the value from the data, the role of analytics becomes a moot point. That’s why Carl emphasizes the need to look and think outside of the box for solutions that are not only more cost-effective but add significant value to client needs.
“4PLs can act as a translator or the intermediary to help provide data-driven insights to shippers by standardizing information from a multitude of 3PLs and then translate shipper’s needs and strategies for actionable change from the 3PL,” he says. “This bridge between the two entities can be a great help but it is not always the right fit for every shipper or for every supply chain. There are many situations where, now more than ever, a 4PL provider can provide a lot of value and support for 3PL operations and processes.”
Whether it is a pandemic or random disruption (think Suez Canal), the conversation of eliminating gaps in operations would be incomplete without addressing how the logistics industry has shifted looking back at the last year and a half. Buzzwords such as “agile” and “adaptable” might very well be accurate, but in what ways are 3PL providers being challenged to maximize their position in a competitive market? Carl points to letting go of the past as many companies still utilize lessons learned to affirm the success of the future.
“Gone are the days where the 3PL can rest on proverbial laurels and be complacent based on past success and relationships,” he warns. “The past 18 months have proven this. The existing network that 3PLs may have been operating for a customer for many years may no longer be sufficient in 2021. The needs are going to change, and it’s important that 3PLs are responding effectively to compete and be good partners for the shipping community.”
Jason Carl is vice president of 4PL Solutions at BridgeNet, a BDP International company, where he oversees the development, performance and operations of the 4PL product and global control tower teams. He has more than 15 years’ experience helping customers improve and optimize complex supply chains through technology and process optimization. Carl holds an undergraduate degree in Economics from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and an MBA in Strategy from Temple University’s Fox School of Business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.