A simple question with a not-so-simple answer. Part of the issue is the fact that every company seems to have a different idea of what visibility is or should be. In a recent survey, Tive went ahead to answer just that, interacting with hundreds of stakeholders with differing perspectives in the hopes of unifying the definition across all industries.

For years, supply chain stakeholders and logisticians have been barraged with “real-time visibility.” Indeed, no sooner was it conceptualized within the supply chain than it was everywhere. Every blog and webinar, service announcement, and advertisement has espoused the virtues of supply chain real-time visibility. It routes out inefficiencies, improves operations, controls costs, differentiates the competition, and ultimately improves customer service.

Yet, in spite of it being mentioned everywhere, real-time visibility doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing for every business. Even companies within the same industry have a different idea of what real-time visibility means and, more importantly, what it should be able to do.

In that regard, the waters of visibility service providers have become murky with so many choices, every platform offering something just a little different and promising, by and large, a different outcome for every customer. In fact, the only thing that remains constant from provider to provider is that “real-time visibility is important and your business needs it.”

The problem is that the theory of real-time visibility is relatively simple and straightforward. The practice, however, quickly becomes cumbersome and unwieldy, often owing to the vast amount of data that needs to be sifted and processed into what is important and what isn’t.

Is Near-Time the Same as Real-Time?

Assuming that all companies want to be able to answer the most commonly asked question in shipping ‘Where’s my freight?’ it brings up another issue. How long does it take to find out? While the global supply chain does just that, spanning the globe, that doesn’t mean that the technology is on par everywhere the freight goes. Different areas operate on different carrier networks, and with the emergence of 5E and 4G LTE being the most prevalent, it would be expected that communication is near-instantaneous, thus creating real-time feedback and visibility.

Expectations seldom hold up to the weight of reality. Some service providers are still relying on 3G technology, which is creating a growing issue with latency, turning real-time into near-time. Not only does this drop the reliability of the information being received, but it also puts companies at risk for blind spots in their supply chains as 3G services are being phased out by communication providers.

How many companies actually receive real-time notifications about their freight?

Standing Apart from the Competition

It almost seems ridiculous to think about, but there was a time before Amazon promised two-day shipping, and it wasn’t all that long ago. However, the moment that Amazon flexed its logistics muscle is important, because it had a profound change in customer expectations. Consumers and even businesses have gotten used to and spoiled by nearly instant delivery. We’ve come to expect it.

Visibility is no different. Customers, both on a B2C and a B2B level, are expecting visibility. They want a portal where they can simply log in, and see exactly where their package is and when it will arrive.

Before it, a company offering visibility was a bonus, but not necessary for the sake of doing business. Now, with the market as packed as it is with competitors, it’s not a “good-to-have” offering, it is one of the few things that can set a company apart from the competition.

However, even with the growing expectations, the actual practice of real-time visibility falls short in real-world applications.

How important are real-time capabilities when choosing a service provider or supplier?

Unspoken Damages

When a customer receives a damaged package, it can be an annoyance. When a business receives a damaged delivery, it can be ruinous. Cargo damage happens frequently, yet it’s seldom reported to the back office while cargo is en route. Typically, it’s only ever discovered after the freight has been delivered.

This is an inherently flawed system as it increases the risk of delays and strained relationships with the shipper’s customers as someone has to answer for the damages.

How often do shippers receive notifications about damages during transit? How important are those notifications for shippers?

Learn More About the State of the Market

The answers to all of the above questions and more are covered in Tive’s latest “State of the Market” report. To learn more about how the industry is seeing and receiving real-time visibility download the latest report today.