Business and consumer innovations often go hand-in-hand, and when it comes to shipping solutions, they're definitely on the same evolutionary page. If you aren't receiving or sending goods with the ease of an end-consumer looking for a new pair of khakis, you're treading on a fault line that's ready to open up beneath you. The litmus test is, thankfully, fairly easy. If you aren't sure that your shipping partners' supply chain technologies are up to the task, ask the following questions:
How Wide Is The Gap Between Your Shipping Partner and Stars of the Industry?
Regardless of your industry, chances are that there's a front runner in fulfillment who you aren't dealing directly with — at least not yet. It may be due to budgetary concerns, your volume might not match with their current suite of clients or a thousand other reasons, but that doesn't mean their practices can't be held up as a standard for your current trading partner.
Rather than focus on an apples-to-apples match of technology — RFID inventory tracking or a specific real time geo-tracking program for trucks — ask yourself if the concepts align. If a shipment went missing or came up short, would your partner's current technology get you an answer quickly and easily, or would it become a lengthy mess of internal audits and fact-checking? Questions like this will help you determine if your current partner is lagging behind the trends, ensuring you aren't caught by surprise.
How Cautious Is Their Forward Movement?
Not wholly unlike the finance industry, fast, reactionary moves aren't looked upon favorably as an ongoing approach in fulfillment.
The ideal pace of change is moderate and steady, taking small, conservative leaps forward as opposed to budget-draining bounds like revamping an entire WMS during the weeks before a busy period. Risks are a natural part of business, and the people who are handling your shipping solutions should be aware of that, but they also shouldn't be putting your neck on the line — and it ultimately is your neck — with unnecessary gambles.
Does your shipping partner make a habit of discussing the implementation and planning of new technology with you? Do they ask for your input and offer projections on potential disruptions in your supply chain flow, or do they believe, as the saying goes, that it is easier to beg forgiveness after than ask permission? Transparency is indisputably the core motto of the modern supply chain, and that needs to extend to your B2B suppliers as well. As their business partner, you have a right to be looped in on big changes like new supply chain technologies. You should be invited to that table, not forced to insinuate yourself.
How Tuned-In Are They to Omni-Channel?
An argument could be made against the need for a strictly B2B supplier to know what's happening in the B2C market, at least beyond a basic understanding. Yes, it's true that knowledge base doesn't need to go that far beyond daily operations, but when has a successful business ever been about the bare minimum?
Businesses need to focus on closing the channel gap to give their customers a smooth, even experience as they hop from channel to channel — a goal that's essentially impossible with the wrong shipping partner. The supply chain professionals you choose to work with need to understand the big picture, which right now is decidedly omni-channel. As CIO's Brooks Bentz points out, there is also a lot to be learned from this trend on the suppliers' end too: If they aren't already beginning to explore omni-channel capabilities, how likely is it that they're front-runners in embracing emerging supply chain technologies like cloud-based networking and data sharing?
In the supply chain, you're only as strong as your weakest link. If that's shaping up to be your shipping solutions, it's time to do some welding. Repair the links or replace them entirely; no matter which approach you choose, the end result will be a stronger, more dependable workflow from raw material to finished product — a benefit naturally observed in your eventual profits.