Remove those inefficient processes during Q4
Written by Andy Simpson, Supply Chain Director of Warrant Group
For most industry sectors, the fourth quarter considered the busiest time of the year and, as that statement suggests, the supply chain is always under the microscope, particularly when sourcing from overseas. Forecasting and scheduling adjustment place constraints on manufacturing and pressures service providers to flex and react to constant changes in demand.
Technology can help companies drive their own supply chain and minimise unit costs. It allows them to concentrate on their core competency and not be side-tracked by manual file searching, photocopying documentation, accessing systems to audit track data and reacting to a cornucopia of problems due to poor visibility and non-existent upstream disciplines.
In today’s dynamic supply chain environment, working practises at all levels have changed. We are all mobile, working from home, travelling, working unsociable hours and operating in different time zones. Using an effective digital platform brings your own global village together.
The benefits of an intelligent IT platform are incremental but the strategic objective of allowing the digital age to upstream the decision making process is critical. By combining innovative technology and dynamic upstream solutions, we can create a confident downstream market.
Here are a number of the key elements of an intelligent IT platform that can significantly improve supply chains and deliver tangible benefits especially at busy periods such as quarter four.
Auto Push Notifications
Auto push notifications on an IT platform, created according to your specific needs, are a vital element in streamlining processes. No longer do you have to log in and be “chasing” systems for information; instead push notifications can allow you to dip-in and opt-out at your choosing. You may wish to be notified of an order awaiting approval, or shipped on-board or a reminder that a container requires booking in seven days prior to ETA.
On-Line Order Approval Dashboard
Historically shippers’ e-booking data transmits from factory to the local provider’s office only. By creating a consolidated portal with no constraint on sourcing region, e-booking data can flow through for approval or rejection and automates the simple process of ‘permission to ship’, eliminating all phone calls and emails trails.
In Built Traffic Light Functionality
Embedding traffic light status warnings at point of shippers order minimises the potential for downstream headaches! Status warnings such as estimated ETA overriding the due date and cube utilisation below pre-determined levels addresses potential problems prior to container stuffing.
Carrier Links (Event Management)
Carrier links are essential where trading relations are immature or clients are launching new product lines at a sensitive time and there may be a history of corrupted ex-factory dates. Linking to INTTRA provides end-to-end carrier event management visibility eliminating unproductive ‘work in progress’ chasing and undue worry.
First Screen Filtering Design
Often the reason why companies are so reluctant to embrace the digital age in supply chains is the time it takes to access data from a “shoe horned” product that has a multitude of drop down menus and usually involves having to come out of one section to enter another for a complete landscape view.
A first screen filtering design where architecture is built bottom up allows any user to access all data within the same GUI making the process fast and efficient
Systems architecture is key! Automation with the wrong design can be as bad as a manual spread-sheet process and will undermine the entire digital platform.
Documentation upload is a facility that many consider a pre-requisite, which, in reality, happens far too late in the supply chain process and results in unnecessary chasing. Strict timelines should be implemented cross-functionally with technology driving the upload and a push notification for document copy.
To take the whole process a step further the packing list can be mapped through EDI straight into a WMS system creating an automated pre-receipt advice at SKU level.
Automating bespoke reports at pre-determined milestones particularly for super-users within a business who require a landscape overview significantly reduces the unproductive time spent building reporting functionality.
One regular topic of discussion among buyers and merchandises is trying to ascertain what the budgeted logistics costs will be.
For clients on long validity deals, using a digital platform where a database can be constructed behind the calculator can provide an automated response to a rather lengthy process.
Full Purchase Order Management Solution
In the event of your business wishing to completely transfer full purchase order management functionality to your service provider, it is important to ensure they have the platform and systems architecture, and then your business can concentrate on what it does best.
Origin offices have full visibility of order book data down to SKU level and can easily compare data from the vendor booking form to approve or reject shipments accordingly.
Migration responsibility can be assigned, business rules and tolerances set and vendor compliance metrics recorded.
Andy Simpson has worked extensively in the supply chain sector and is responsible for developing Asia to Europe multimodal services on behalf of Warrant Group, and leading strategic technology based solutions. He has guest lecturer status at the University of Manchester on fashion logistics and has spoken at the Lancashire Group Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport on International Retail Logistics.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector