Unpacking Freight Visibility

There are two solutions to freight visibility: "Location Visibility" and "Milestone Visibility". Both are useful in answering different questions

unpacking freight visibility text on blue sky with shipping containers stacked in foreground.

Some of the biggest investments in supply chain technology over the last decade have been in the "Freight Visibility" category. Technology companies across the category including providers like Fourkites, Project44, Terminal49, and Vizion API have raised over a billion dollars from venture capitalists while existing TMS providers and carriers have spent untold millions on internal solutions to address the issue.

A big question that you as the consumer of all of this data needs to answer, is how you use it to actually improve your business outcomes. This can be challenging because there are really two distinct solutions within Freight Visibility that support unique business problems and expected outcomes. Choosing the wrong one leaves you with a square peg and a round hole, wasted investment, and often less visibility than when you started.

The two solutions are "Location Visibility" and "Milestone Visibility". Both are useful in answering different questions.

Location Visibility

Location visibility solution answers the simple question, "Where's my freight?"

When you think about the classic dot on a map, you're thinking of a location visibility solution. Most physical devices you attach to your containers or trailers assist in solving the location visibility problem. So do vessel and flight tracking solutions.

Of course, location visibility solutions can be much more robust than just a dot on a map. Using AI, they can help answer the question of "When will the dot on the map be at my warehouse?" They can incorporate weather, traffic, port congestion, and billions of other data points to continuously refine the answer to this important question.

When you share your data about when you expect that dot to be at its destination, they can use exception management techniques to help you dynamically manage problem dots and reroute them or get them back on course.

Milestone Visibility

Milestone visibility solutions solve a higher order question, "Where is my product in the shipping process?"

Milestone visibility incorporates non-physical business information to provide additional context which is key to figuring out if you're on track to meeting your objective of getting your product to your customer on time. This additional data includes things that happen before the product moves like production status, and bookings.

It also includes compliance events like clearing customs and physical freight screening. Milestone visibility is often visualized as a list of discrete events like Booking Confirmed, Departed, Cleared Customs, and Arrived. Milestone visibility solutions often leverage the data from location visibility solutions and augment it with more contextual data.

Location vs. Milestone

The difference between these solutions is captured by a simple example. A location solution can tell you that your container is 2 miles from the Port of Long Beach and that it will arrive today. If it's robust, it can also tell you that it'll likely take 4 days to get it out of the port and another 3 days to get it delivered to your facility.

On the other hand, a milestone based system can tell you that the container is scheduled to arrive today, but that it hasn't cleared customs and is pending a physical inspection which will likely add another week to your total transit time. That's pretty important information!

Based on that example, it seems like a milestone based solution is vastly superior, but that's not always the case. One advantage to a location based solution is that it's based on real-time data and is often tied to physical devices that *don't lie".

Milestone solutions are notorious for being subject to the garbage-in-garbage-out problem. If they're fed bad data by other systems and service providers, they have a very hard time detecting that they've been deceived and can often paint the wrong picture of your product's journey.

Leverage Your Visibility

In a truly robust enterprise supply chain operation, you're leveraging a combination of both solutions to create checks and balances. You're using location data to augment and alert you to gaps in your milestone data. You're also using that location data to provide transparency and create trust with downstream stakeholders and customers.

Where many companies fail is when they lump all visibility together and engage the newest location based provider to address their core supply chain problems without considering the need to track non-physical milestones.

Conversely, we see companies trying to jam location based data into their milestone based TMS systems and being supremely disappointed when the predictions don't match the business outcomes they experience leading to immaculate forecasts and empty shelves.

We Can Help

At Chain.io our mission is to put the right data in the right place, at the right time. Our Solutions Engineers work with you to unpack the broad category of Visibility to make sure you're integrating a solution that will achieve your business goals efficiently and with minimal risk.

Want to learn more about implementing a Visibility Integration? Book a demo with our team today.

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By Brian Glick
written on July 13, 2022

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