"Was it another storm in the Midwest? Did the driver take a different route?" might be some questions you ask when yet another shipment isn't at a Walmart DC in time for its appointment. Chances are, it's neither of these things. If it's not weather or the GPS leading them astray, what keeps these trailers from showing up on time? Companies are investing huge amounts in state-of-the-art planning solutions, visibility platforms, and transportation management solutions (TMS), but shipments are still late for some reason. Companies are also paying remarkable amounts as freight rates skyrocket to ensure they meet demand, but somehow there is still a gap.
As it turns out, 90% of trailers are late to customer sites because they didn't leave their departure distribution center on time. The issue is significantly less often associated with weather or road conditions than with a warehousing problem. Unfortunately, understanding why a shipment was late leaving the distribution center is where matters get more complex.
To understand why shipments are late leaving distribution centers, you need visibility into every inch of the operation. It's not enough to know that the shipment had an appointment time of 10:35. You need to know all the other factors that might influence the departure time. You need to know what is in the yard, the facility's workload (both inbounds and outbounds), what inventory is available, where it is, your labor execution rate, and if there are any productivity risks at the site causing issues.
Unfortunately, you can't get that information from your planning software, real-time transportation visibility platform, or TMS. You might have decided to invest in Yard Management, but that still doesn't tell you why a trailer was late – just that it didn't leave a door when it was supposed to. There's a gap in your data. Your distribution centers, which have always been the "little engines that could" possibly be run by your 3PL partners, are a data black hole. Now, you need that data to make ends meet with all of the other disruptions. You need real-time network visibility, down to which case is in which rack at every warehouse.
Good News – Know the future of your distribution network
The good news is that you can get this data in real-time. Unfortunately, it is rarely going to be from your existing Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) – which are designed for execution and not ease of visibility. A new type of software has emerged over the last five years known as Data Replica technology, with the goal of identifying in real-time every single activity inside of your distribution centers and presenting that data in a consumable way across your entire network. Some vendors have created data lakes that can reconcile data from hundreds of sites across dozens of warehouse management systems in real-time and highlight precisely what issues you are running into at each and every site.
If you have a warehouse struggling to release trailers on time, a Data Replica can flag that as soon as the first trailer is late. If sites are cutting a large amount of inventory, you know that you have complete visibility into what is loaded on every trailer. Before your customer must call you to tell you about an issue, you can get ahead of it and notify them, change orders, or schedule additional shipments.
In fact, this Data Replica technology, paired with Prescriptive Digital Twin technology will give you even more visibility into the future state of your network. Instead of just knowing that a distribution center has fallen behind on its workload, a Prescriptive Digital Twin will also tell you when each trailer will ship, where you are going to be paying Detention, and how to best get out of the logjam and maximize fill rates while minimizing penalty costs (i.e., OTIF chargebacks and more). A prescriptive digital twin will give you the foresight to change appointment times to avoid some of these penalty fees you might otherwise pay.
While both Data Replica and Prescriptive Digital Twin technologies are readily available, they are still very new for market adoption. Supply chain leaders like Procter & Gamble, Pepsi, General Mills, and Unilever are pioneering the use of these technologies across their complex networks. Leaders in the space have recognized that having transportation visibility is no longer enough. A clear picture of your whole network, including distribution centers, is required to run a successful supply chain end-to-end.