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Supply Chain Tracking Tech Adoption Not Quite There Yet: Survey

Supply chain and logistics executives are spread almost evenly in where they’re deploying advanced tracking methods in an effort to improve supply chain visibility. But there’s still a long way to go, as nearly half of companies still haven’t fully implemented sophisticated tracking tech across the chain.

Forty-seven percent of execs say advanced tracking is fully deployed within truckload transportation, according to a survey from Descartes. Another 45 percent have brought the innovation to its wider delivery fleet, and 44 percent use advanced tracking within smaller couriers.

However, partial deployment appears to stretch beyond ground delivery, with 47 percent of the 1,000 respondents bringing advanced tracking into their air freight operations. Another 46 percent have introduced these capabilities into their rail transportation, while the same amount brought the technology to ocean freight.

The deployment of tracking technologies is even more vital in an era of longer lead times, congested ports and concerns about cargo theft.

The Descartes study examined how technology innovation is changing supply chain and logistics operations and executives’ plans for continued investment. The report found that 59 percent of companies surveyed accelerated the pace of innovation investment and deployment over the last two years. In those cases, 68 percent of senior managers considered these initiatives to be highly important. Companies that didn’t make those investments only saw that attitude among 45 percent of senior managers.

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“The recent past has highlighted that supply chain performance can make or break companies and the need to innovate supply chain and logistics operations has moved to the forefront of many C-suite agendas,” said Chris Jones, executive vice president, industry and services at Descartes. “The study shows that, while efforts in supply chain and logistics innovation are accelerating, many companies are relatively early in their innovation journey in areas such as digitization and especially in the use of advanced computing technologies such as machine learning.”

Almost half (49 percent) of respondents said their company has fully integrated real-time shipment tracking into their customer service solution, while 36 percent have integrated it within their customer portals (36 percent). Shipment tracking has also been embedded with 27 percent of organizations’ transportation management systems (TMS), 23 percent of chain control towers and 23 percent of dock appointment scheduling systems.

Real-time shipment location was the top competitive innovation across the respondents, with 27 percent saying they wished their company leveraged that kind of technology.

Another 23 percent want electric or alternative vehicles for more sustainable delivery, while 22 percent desired a digital customer experience (22 percent). Twenty-one percent of brands sought to develop robotics solutions to improve fulfillment capacity (21 percent). The impact of management importance, financial performance and employee turnover on these findings was negligible.

In total, supply chain visibility was the fourth-most important digitization effort among the respondents, with 43 percent identifying it as a top priority. But despite not breaking the top three, supply chain visibility was right behind the other major priorities—including order fulfillment (47 percent), customer experience (45 percent) and transportation processes (44 percent).

The effectiveness of warehousing technology seems to be a polarizing topic among respondents to the Descartes survey. Over a quarter (28 percent) of executives think their companies are most innovative with their warehouse management system (WMS), while 24 percent cited the tech as the area with the greatest need for innovation. Another 26 percent also say transportation tracking is one of the most innovative areas of their organization, while 22 percent say inventory management is in need a significant innovation overhaul.

While 65 percent of the respondents plan to increase their technology spending over the next two years, 87 percent indicated they still face internal inhibitors to supply chain and logistics innovation.

The greatest inhibitor to supply chain and logistics innovation was cited as an “attitude to risk and reward,” according to 26 percent of executives. Another 17 percent attributed any hurdles to a lack of organizational readiness, while 16 percent said their company simply didn’t have the right resources in place. Falling in line with the worries about risk, 14 percent said the ROI wasn’t clear enough to justify spending on innovative supply chain technologies.

Somehow, 14 percent of respondents say supply chain innovation just isn’t a priority for their firm’s executive team.

At 37 percent of respondents each, lowering costs and improving reliability were the two chief reasons why companies were seeking to enhance their supply chain and logistics operations—but priorities varied depending on the market.

For example, 41 percent of respondents in the U.S. and 40 percent of execs in Germany said improving reliability was the primary reason for bolstering operations across logistics and the supply chain. Those that prioritized lower costs included Canada (56 percent), the U.K. (43 percent) and France (41 percent), while execs in Nordic countries equally desired lower costs, improved reliability and a better customer experience.