Author: [Guest] Mark Solomon, Senior Editor at DC Velocity

There’s an old saying that the information about a shipment is more important than the shipment itself. Taken literally, that’s not true: No one goes to the supermarket to buy a gallon of information. Yet without the data to glean visibility into the order as it moves through the supply chain, the product may not be there when the customer arrives. So in the real world, the maxim is accurate.

Not surprisingly, visibility across the supply chain is key, and technology that fuses the worlds of warehouse and transportation management will unlock the door.

In the past decade or so, new technologies have enabled significant gains in warehouse and transportation management. The Great Recession accelerated the development of those initiatives as companies were forced to drive down costs while remaining agile and flexible. Many firms today focus on maximizing the performance of each discipline; the next great push will be integrating them. That will come when warehouse and transportation managers have simultaneous visibility to demand from the time an order is placed to the moment the shipment is delivered.Increase Supply Chain Visibility Solutions at Ground Level

What should happen today at ground level? Ideally, some experts say, a distribution center should follow the lead of the load planners because transportation, being a network function, sees the entire field. It is inefficient for a DC to prepare an order only to have it sit on a loading dock because it had no visibility into the truck’s arrival. As a result, transportation planners need to have real-time visibility into the warehouse design to optimize a warehouse’s productivity.

Conversely, robust visibility solutions ensure warehouse planners know what’s coming, and can collaborate more effectively with transportation planners. Just as important, a robust visibility solution identifies areas where transportation and warehousing functions are restricted, thus enabling planners to base their decisions precisely on what the networks can, and cannot, do.

Change in supply chain I.T. is happening swiftly. Work is already underway to allow transportation and warehouse planners to simultaneously receive and share data about demand and the supply in place. So-called control towers are being developed to manage the flow of product between supplier, shipper, intermediary and carrier.

As the technology becomes more functional, the silos between shipping and warehousing and distribution will dissolve. In its place will be integrated entities with unprecedented visibility into every order that’s placed. For industries like retail, for example, that would mean an improvement in in-stock rates by reducing the frequency of shipment exceptions.

The growth of Internet cloud-based technologies that puts more stakeholders on the network at low costs that are only going lower, will spur additional visibility efforts. Many firms have just begun to scratch the surface of what end-to-end visibility can accomplish. Over the next three to five years, there may be no greater bang for the buck in supply chain hardware and software investments.