Scoring the technological capabilities of your supply chain partner

What to identify in a potential service provider as digital solutions reshape South Africa’s logistics sector

With so many variables in play and supply chain conditions constantly changing, businesses need to be in a position where they can identify risk early and action effective and appropriate responses.

A cargo movement update from the South African Association of Freight Forwarders on November 17 is a vivid illustration of how volatile the sector can be.

In this week prior, port operations were hampered by poor weather and equipment breakdowns and shortages. Backlogs and congestion persisted in Durban, with more than 60 vessels at anchor. At the same time, international air cargo to and from South Africa dipped.

Yet conversely, the longer-term outlook for air freight remains largely positive.

The uncertainty that accompanies logistics and supply is precisely why more businesses are turning to technology to help them navigate this frenetic environment.

Modern software has the ability to analyse data in real time to offer reliable assessments of supply chain conditions so that companies may roll out the appropriate response speedily and with little incident. The result is that clients are kept abreast of the situation and can plan accordingly themselves.

In South Africa, Bidvest International Logistics (BIL) has developed a one-platform system that supports forwarding, customs compliance, warehousing, transport and finance, among others.

Its solutions include live track and trace, visibility via ediWebTracker, performance reports and dashboards that offer customisable selection criteria for customer’s specific requirements, order tracking information and online proof of delivery documents.

“We tend to look for solutions that create simplicity in a complex environment”, says BIL operations director Marcus Ellappan.

“Clients generally do not want another system to log into so prefer a ‘push’ effect of data flowing to them rather than them having to go to a system to generate their own reports and dashboards. They also want a single version of the truth that is easy to interpret. There are hundreds of dashboards that create more concern than intelligence.”

Ellappan’s colleague, BIL supply chain solutions engineer Khomotjo Mabotja, says there is a general trend where companies are starting to view the data they generate as an asset. Where they fall short, however, is transforming the data into business intelligence for informed decision-making.

This is where supply chain partners come in. “When looking at the tech capabilities of a partner, companies should consider aspects like intelligence and business continuity,” Mabotja says.

“They should ask how long the business offering the service has been using the technology, or whether it does the development and first line support itself. They should also request that business cases be shared to assess what solutions have worked for others.”

Ellappan breaks it down even further, saying that the service provider should be able to tick every one of the client’s boxes, offer strong support and, perhaps most importantly, additional value.

They also need to establish how the supply chain partner can help them grow in the future.

What is clear is that this future is getting closer by the day. Artificial intelligence and robotics are on everyone’s lips, including those in the logistics space.

While Ellappan points out that these may not be practical in every case, they do present many opportunities. Optical Character Recognition, for example, reduces the need for manual data capturing.

“We have found, however, that there is a need for data to be more structured.”

BIL boasts its own team of developers and solutions architects to ensure technology solutions are customised to clients’ needs, are scalable and integrate with partners’ ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems.