While the integral Suez Canal supply channel is no longer blocked, other supply chain issues remain. In fact, according to a recent report, 24 container ships – with a combined maximum carrying capacity nearly 10 times that of the Suez Canal ship – were recently anchored off the coast of Los Angeles and Long Beach holding up millions of dollars worth of cargo.1 While both instances of bottlenecks took place within days of each other, these traffic snarls are not the primary culprit of clogged supply chains.
While shipping and data today are an important part of building successful logistics operations, these areas alone cannot solve real-time supply chain issues. If logistics operators and organizations don’t have the proper visibility into their warehouse data and operations, they are unable to make quick changes in response to supply chain snarls and backlogs. The lack of complete end-to-end visibility was also a reason so many manufacturers and suppliers suffered during the pandemic.2 Unfortunately for many organizations, this real-time visibility gap starts in the warehouse.
Bridging the Gap Starts in the Warehouse
Various factors are being blamed for the recent supply chain disruptions – the size of ships and containers, congestion at the ports, and how narrow the canal channels remain. In fact, the Port of Los Angeles in North America is one of the busiest channels, but can’t regularly receive 20,000-container vessels due to the lack of infrastructure.3 Even so, fixing any one of these factors will not truly solve the primary causes of supply chain backlogs.
Enhanced visibility technology into the warehouse, yard management and labor resources is yielding both time and cost savings for companies dealing with supply chain backlogs. For example, real-time access to data to determine which trucks have been sitting and for how long has become key to prioritizing and assigning tasks within the distribution center to improve customer fulfillment, minimize risks, and avoid costly and unnecessary fees. But without real-time visibility into the yard, appointments can get de-prioritized, delayed or missed. The warehouse is the heart of the supply chain, yet very few end-to-end tools are solving the problems of warehouse visibility and labor management.
Shifting Supply Chain Strategies
While the warehouse is already the most technologically advanced area of the supply chain, it’s the transportation network within the supply chain that usually incorporates real-time data tools, leaving a massive gap in end-to-end supply chain visibility. Most operations find that there are simply too many data points and too much information to process to create real-time views that don’t time out and that are actionable when distribution teams need to make point-in-time decisions. Warehouse data without science is just noise, and analytics without actionable insights is just a spreadsheet. Shifting the strategy to fill the gap includes a series of industry-standard KPIs, live operations views, productivity metrics, inventory visibility, and labor management that’s actually helpful to enhance Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) already in place.
As evidenced with the recent blockages, the impact of this lack of real-time warehouse visibility on the global supply chain is still in critical condition. What’s more is that even without substantial issues like canal blockages or a global pandemic, the supply chain regularly suffers from thousands of “mini disruptions” that both distribution operations and customers end up suffering from as a result.4 Without supply chain visibility tools for the warehouse, manufacturers, and suppliers suffer the same consequences from that of a channel backlog or global pandemic, but on an ongoing and daily basis.
Supply chain executives must incorporate real-time warehouse visibility in their end-to-end supply chain optimization strategies to increase overall distribution efficiencies and reduce risks associated with problems from within the warehouse that arise not only from blocked canals, but from unseen blockage within their own four walls.
Alex Wakefield is the CEO of Longbow Advantage with over 20 years of experience in supply chain technology and implementations including leadership roles at IBM and Blue Yonder (formerly JDA/Red Prairie). His focus is on enabling distribution teams to better manage, leverage and action their data across the supply chain through the use of Rebus, the only real-time warehouse visibility and labor platform purpose-built for the supply chain.