As the number of complex, multi-enterprise interactions around global deliveries increases, so does the need for genuine visibility. With any number of individual players potentially involved in a single transaction, being able to respond effectively to issues demands a clear overview of everything that’s happening at any one time. Mistakes cost money, and accuracy based on up to date insight has become essential if margins are to be protected.

Standardization the key to making it happen
In order for everyone to be genuinely on the same page within an expanded network, a solid system needs to be in place to ensure everybody identifies, captures and then measures the same information in the same way. Front running businesses now work as part of a network compliant to GS1 data standards, enabling them to retain control at the item or unit level.

Barcode scanning functionality and EDI integrated with their ERP systems makes the collection, management and sharing of accurate, timely information simple. They understand that if any one link within the wider supply chain is unable to share information in this way, the creation of total coverage fails. And even small black spots can lead to trouble.

GS1 not only caters for unique identifiers at company, product, shipping, location and service level, but also takes care of standardized methods for sharing the information between trading partners – whether its master , transactional or event data. It’s that level of insight – genuinely understanding the movements of shipments at every point of the journey – that will enable managers to achieve genuine efficiency in the way they control their resources and enable effective track and trace at all levels.

Keeping up
The logistics industry, much like any other, is constantly evolving. Optimal process visibility plays a key role in ensuring businesses take advantage of the latest improvements and innovations in getting products from A to B.

Cross-docking is one such example. The practice involves unloading product directly from one courier into the next transport in the chain, negating storage requirements in between. It could simply involve a change in transport medium, the separation of a larger shipment into smaller loads for multiple destinations, or indeed the combination of disparate shipments heading to one end point.

Doing this effectively requires trustworthy identification at both the pallet and item level, practically achieved through barcode scanning and electronic information exchange. In order for good ideas like this to work in practice, a universal method of collecting and sharing data through all phases and at all transition points is obviously a must.

ERP vendors now enable this through built in EDI and scanning tools and integration with shipping companies. In this respect, the right technology is an essential component of enabling traders to further trim their costs through smart co-operation and shared services.

In turn, these new approaches accordingly demand new people skills, logistics businesses needing to invest time and energy in finding the right people to manage these increasingly specialist functions. Critical competencies for supply chain professionals now include global orientation, technical expertise, business development and leadership skills. And they’ll also need to have a sharp eye for what is best handled by the business itself, and what is best outsourced to world class third party service providers.

Margins may be shrinking, but for businesses determined to understand their trading ecosystem, embrace standardization, openly share information and then search for new collaborations based upon it, opportunities for profitable growth remain.