Upstream Focus is Sourcing Journal’s series of conversations with suppliers, associations and sourcing professionals to get their insights on the state of sourcing, innovations in manufacturing and how to improve operations. In this Q&A, Glenn Jones, global vice president of product strategy and marketing at supply chain operating platform Blume Global, discusses how artificial intelligence can help create more agile logistics and why companies should take a mode-agnostic approach to transportation.
Name: Glenn Jones
Title: global vice president of product strategy and marketing
Company: Blume Global
What’s the number one question you get from your clients now that was never really a consideration before?
Retailers and brands are laser focused on end-to-end visibility throughout the entire shipment lifecycle. Track and trace is, of course, nothing new, but retailers and brands are now seeing their customers demand real-time visibility with accurate ETAs for all shipments, including international shipments.
Shipment visibility is still somewhat of a moving target. True end-to-end visibility can give retailers and brands a better view of the supply chain, also providing transparency into the first and last mile. The right solutions, in concert with visibility, can answer the right questions, no matter the mode: Before my freight starts moving, can I predict how long that will take to arrive at its destination? When the shipment is en route, can my technology provide recommendations, or even automate actions, to get my shipment back on track when it is late?
What is the main thing brands and retailers could do (or stop doing) right now that would immediately improve logistics?
Retailers and brands, where possible, should embrace transportation route and mode agnosticism, looking to a transportation strategy that is truly multimodal in scope. This will not only protect against delays—for instance, importing through marine terminals in the port of Los Angeles, where there is currently up to a 15-day delay—but will ensure that retailers and brand owners optimize their transportation spend. To do this, you need a supply chain technology provider with a long history of supporting rail, road, ocean and air transportation.
Shippers should embrace a holistic supply chain platform that seamlessly operates across modes and routes. The most pliant of these solutions are cloud-based and global in scope. The best integrated transportation platforms can handle any transportation need at any time by not just providing shipment and order visibility but seamlessly offering actions to overcome temporary supply chain chokepoints. Shippers that benefit from shared master data like locations, routes, schedules and lead times can learn from the past and current experiences of other shippers, LSPs [logistics service providers] and carriers in the supply chain ecosystem.
Given the rollercoaster of demand and shipment volumes during the pandemic, how are you helping your customers to better prepare for and react to uncertainty?
As demand fluctuates, so must the supply to ensure the supply can meet the demand with as little safety stock as possible. Blume provides agility during supply chain execution for offshore manufacturing starting with the order. Once an order is sent to a manufacturer, Blume enables the brands and retailer to change the order up until the last minute, so they can respond to any unforeseen supply chain circumstances. Once products are shipped, Blume supports changing modes and routes at terminals, CFS’s [container freight stations] and distribution centers throughout the logistics supply chain.
Which piece of technology or innovation have you found most useful during this time?
Machine learning and artificial intelligence processes, while still in the relative early days, have proven incredibly helpful. While it’s important to keep the supply chain moving, the coronavirus crisis has also given us an opportunity to really explore and improve upon the next great innovations in the industry.
Digitization, data cleaning to ensure data accuracy, automated exception prioritization and handling, and real-time visibility with dynamic and accurate ETAs can enable supply chain agility and efficiency while keeping costs in check. When machine learning enters the picture, a shipper’s digitized processes can become truly autonomous, learning from historical data and causal effects the best option in each disruptive scenario. With that information, shippers and 3PLs [third-party logistics] can work with carriers to create new plans to react to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
Retailers can benefit from these innovative technologies by partnering with a supply chain technology provider. This partner should have a dedication to innovation and a belief in the difference an R&D-driven organization can make in the industry. There are providers in the market that mainly grow through acquisitions. They add disparate software solutions that are then configured, sometimes with no functionality improvements, to work with current systems. Adding solutions organically through a trusted, planned-out R&D process ensures that all new solutions contribute to and improve the provider’s existing platform.
Resiliency has become a buzzword since the disruption caused by the pandemic. What could brands and retailers do right now to immediately start preparing for the next unforeseen event?
If they have not already done so, move to a digital infrastructure that can create a digital twin of their upstream and downstream supply chains from supplier factories to end users. They should also complement their ERP [enterprise resource planning], e-commerce and retail solutions with end-to-end visibility, supply chain execution solutions and logistics service providers that can provide the agility needed to quickly adapt to changing demand and supply. Brands and retailers should pick providers that can provide high value within a few weeks of signing the contract.
What should be brands’ and retailers’ top lesson from Covid? How can they address this in their operations?
The top lesson for brands and retailers from Covid is that agility trumps efficiency. Efficiency is still important, but companies must quickly adapt to the continuously changing environment by moving available supply to the demand with the highest business value. Sometimes this requires expediting when freight reaches the next node in the supply chain. Sometimes this requires quickly moving or repurposing factories and distribution centers to supply demand in-region or close to region.
What keeps you up at night?
We all know the supply chain is a major source of carbon emissions, and while there has been an increasing focus on supply chain sustainability from all corners of the logistics industry, I’d like to see more of a commitment to sustainability practices. We’re working with companies in the rail, ocean, air and over-the-road industries to eliminate $1 trillion of waste from the supply chain, vastly reducing transportation’s carbon footprint by making our customers more efficient.
What makes you most optimistic?
Digitization has always been something that supply chain companies know is important and will get around to eventually, but now, shippers and other stakeholders are realizing the necessity of real-time shipment visibility and execution. I’m also encouraged because these technologies are now in the reach of even the smallest users.