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I have for many years now been a very strong advocate of the digital supply chain. I envision the day where a supply chain manager could virtually, in real time, walk up down the supply chains  inside his organisation as well as outside of it – right down to his last supplier and customer.  Unfortunately building that intimacy with your customers and suppliers takes a long time as no one is willing to reveal all his cards – good and bad – from the word go.

This becomes a barrier to that vision. From a technology point of view though, the tools definitely exist to enable this vision – and very ably so by the SAP solutions that are Event Management (EM) and Transportation Management (TM).

As transport service providers, we play an essential role in our customers’ supply chains. Beyond providing a quality transportation service, they look to us to provide them with information that will in turn increase their efficiencies by helping them make the right decisions at the right time.

In this post I will try to give you an example of how these tools (EM & TM) could be used and highlight the benefits that this could bring to all parties involved in a supply chain.

To help me illustrate my point I will adopt the following hypothetical scenario.  Let’s assume that we have the following planned journey. A configuration will leave Perth (most Southern point on the map) and make its way to the North of Western Australia which we will assume to be a customer location. The configuration will also make an intermediate scheduled stop at a cross docking location.

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I should also at this time, point out that we have on top of TM built a custom dashboard (built on webdynpro) that is permanently displayed in a 24/7 operated, purpose built control centre. The dashboard looks as shown below and is updated according to a specified refresh rate. The main purpose of this dashboard is twofold:

  1. To help manage our processes by exception (using a combination of colour codes, icons and flashing items) – our attention is brought to happening events and we are able to react to or investigate any situation,
  2. To help a transport manager or site manager take an instant pulse of his network and see the expected inbound and outbound flow of traffic  as well as the available resources on his site.

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This dashboard is not part of SAP standard. Now, going back to our scenario.

We catch up with our trip at the time where it has arrived at the intermediate cross dock location. The inset window shows how this trip appears in the dashboard. All the information that we see in the dashboard comes from a TM freight order that has been updated by GPS feeds and events posted in EM.  In terms of information we immediately see that the configuration has arrived (down arrow icon) at the intermediate location, and has arrived 1 minute ahead of schedule. So far so good.

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Some time later, wee see that our configuration is once again on the road (in transit truck icon). However, we now see that our configuration has incurred a 45 minutes departure delay and is thus now, behind schedule. The freight order now appears in the dashboard as being ‘at risk’ and this  is further brought to the attention of the planners, by shading the relevant line with a warning yellow: They have the information and tools to assess the situation and make a decision.

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Some time later still and disaster strikes our configuration: It could be bad weather, a break down…in any case we now have a new ETA date and time that clearly informs us that we will not meet the expected delivery window. This information is brought to the attention of the planners by clear icons and shading in red of the relevant lines. As we can see here, it is not only the current stage that is flagged as red but the subsequent one too.

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This is the point where the TM:EM duo come to prove their invaluable value. A critical piece of information is now available : Question is – what can be done with it?

From the customer’s point of view:

For a moment, forget about penalties, KPI’s, SLA’s, DIFOT and whatever a transport service provider is measured against. It could be that the customer is expecting this delivery in order to start a production run. Clearly this is not going to happen but he now has the information and is able to re-arrange his production schedule and maybe bring forward another production run so that his factory does not become idle or failing that bring forward some planned maintenance tasks. It could be that the shelf life of this delivery is affected: he can trigger the sourcing of another batch. This delay could in turn impact his customers – he can pass that information on.

From the transport service provider’s point of view:

Let’s assume that the final destination is a cross dock location. Other outbound shipments there are waiting for your delivery to come in before they are expedited out. That delivery not turning up on time, means that other assets may be blocked at the cross dock location waiting for your configuration to arrive or it could be that they will leave half full. The transport service provider, with that information, is able to re-plan his truck movements and optimise the use of his assets as well as their loads.

This is a very simplistic scenario, but it does highlight how, thanks to EM and TM, you are able to sense the events that happen in your supply chains and be provided with the information that will empower you to make the right decisions – at the right time – and more often than not, react to events before they happen. I have in this case decided to use a dashboard type application as the communication medium, but EM provides out of the box, other messaging means that would achieve the same result.  I’d be interested to know who other companies communicate with their suppliers, customers and service providers in such scenarios – how long before the information is rippled through your supply chains? Please chime in, just leave a message.

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