October 14, 2021

Fleet Visibility: How Much Do We Really Know?

Fleet

Fleet visibility is shaping up to be an essential product offering; online sellers are increasingly prioritising services that allow their customers greater visibility. But the benefits of fleet visibility go far beyond offering customers reliable delivery data on their purchase, and can help improve overall company operations. It aids in improving resource efficiency, operational standards, decision-making capacity, analytical capabilities, routing, and brings in a whole host of other benefits. In an ideal world, all stages of a supply chain would be equipped with the technology needed to incorporate visibility in their operations, making everyone else’s job easier to do, but despite the need to provide greater visibility into the supply chain,  the question remains: are we there yet?

The logistics industry has been trying to facilitate (close to) real-time information flow for many years now, but what all logistics carriers offer currently is based on outdated and incomplete data generated only when the cargo crosses certain location milestones; the current industry standard provides visibility data on a 15 minute delay. This traditional approach to freight visibility has led to logistics blind spots for shippers as well as their clients, and can often cost them a great deal of money in damages, delays, inefficient resource use, etc. Furthermore, due to this significant delay, all parties involved fail to identify the bottlenecks and inefficiencies in their supply chain. This can lead to challenges that remain unresolved for years, affecting overall company performance.

Without having a complete picture of the location and status of the shipment, both parties are left holding only a few pieces of the puzzle, which limits their ability to optimize operations and break the chain of inefficiency. Access to reliable, accurate, and real-time data on the location and the condition of the cargo will allow shippers and their clients to manage demand better, improve transparency, and optimise operations all along the supply chain.

The Conversation Around Visibility

It is widely acknowledged that greater visibility is the need of the hour, but there are various challenges that prevent us from reaching this goal. In the Indian context, a major roadblock is that fleet owners or managers are not really tech savvy, and are often locked into manual operating systems. A majority (over 85%) of manufacturing plants in the country do not have tracking capabilities on their fleet vehicles that they use to transport their precious cargo. Those of an older generation hesitate to incorporate technology that they don’t understand, or find value in, because their businesses have been run in a certain way. The lack of accessible information on transitioning to digital tracking systems, coupled with this hesitancy leaves a lot of companies behind, because they cannot adapt to new requirements. This is often seen in companies that are run by older managers or owners who are reluctant to upgrade their skills or their workforce because they are convinced that this is the correct way to do things. There are those that might even be reluctant to increase visibility because of the way the company is structured or run, and because some money is being made by taking advantage of supply chain blindspots.  

On the technical side of things, collecting and bringing data onto the cloud still remains a challenge. An integrated platform that collects and disseminates information with minimal time-delay is what is going to make a difference to achieving greater fleet visibility. And, in our opinion, this should be the focus of fleet management companies: figuring out how to bring the data online. Instead of getting carried away with technology trends, like applying AI and blockchain technology to solve visibility challenges, the industry needs to focus on the basics of the challenge and make performance metrics available in real time. Using technology for technology’s sake can be counter-intuitive, and might only address part of the overall challenge. We need to direct our energies towards solving the visibility challenge before we put any bells and whistles on it.

Greater visibility benefits everyone (except those profiting from this inefficiency, of course). To improve adoption of tracking systems, and integration of visibility services into company offerings, government or large-scale programs to incentivise and educate fleet owners would be highly beneficial. In the United States, a government body recently announced the introduction of FedFleet2021, an educational program for federal employees looking to study best fleet management practices. Government backed programs like these could help increase trust in taking a new direction, and spread awareness on how greater fleet visibility can help improve a company’s operations.

The Pandemic Push

The pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns around the world hit supply chain systems hard. Because countries were experiencing difficulties at different periods over the past 18 months, some of our globalised supply chains were unable to deal with the various disruptions. From garments to food, the transport of various items was, and remains to this day, a challenge. In fact, a common disclaimer on e-commerce websites now is “Please expect some delays in shipment because of Covid-19 disruptions.” Just imagine how much easier it would have been to navigate this Covid-19 uncertainty with a greater degree of visibility over our supply chains. It could have helped prevent wastage of resources, increase transparency over orders and their shipment, better allocate personnel during staffing shortages, etc.  

A silver living to this pandemic is that it shocked a lot of systems, logistics included. Once traditional systems were hit hard, and people were forced to go online to work, there has been an increase in the adoption of tracking and automation technology. Because they had to deal with the consequences of not having access to visibility data during a time when it was essential, more companies are now keen on upgrading their (often outdated) operating systems. Despite the changes that the past year and a half have brought however, only 12-15% of Indian fleet vehicles have GPS enabled technology. However, there are positive signs that the tide is turning; Amazon, India’s largest online marketplace does not work with vendors who do not have GPS tracking technology on board their vehicles. As more companies start to demand greater visibility, shippers will have no choice but to comply or be left behind.

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