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Using Shipping Data to Make Logistics Decisions

Posted by Erica Brigance on January 20, 2022 - 1:06 PM
Woman using hand-held device to review shipping data

Get insight into what works — and what doesn’t — in your supply chain

Whether you’re saving costs through mode shifting or improving speed to market with a new warehousing strategy, the adjustments made to your supply chain have a big impact on the future of your business. Well informed decisions can result in growth, while choices made without good information can hinder advancement. That’s why it’s important to base supply chain decisions on reliable, relevant data that’s analyzed and applied well.

How to leverage supply chain data for better business decisions

Collecting the right information and interpreting it correctly can help your business:

  • Illustrate patterns or changes in your supply chain 
  • Explain the “why” behind those changes/patterns 
  • Determine the probability of something happening in the future 
  • Make positive adjustments

But what data is tracked, how much information is stored and how the data is analyzed depends on the complexity of your specific objectives.

Decide what data to track

Knowing fundamental information such as overall shipping costs, shipment volumes, inventory turnover, average transit times and warehouse utilization enables you to assess simple trends and make basic business improvements. For example, solid insight into shipping spend means you can more accurately budget freight costs and illustrate possible savings opportunities.

Alternately, meeting complex objectives requires additional or more detailed information. A goal of optimizing warehouse operations may mean tracking how long it takes to prepare orders for shipping — including the time it takes to locate and package orders inside the warehouse. Talking with your business stakeholders and logistics provider aids in identifying exactly what metrics should be measured to help meet your specific business goals.

Determine how much information you need

12 months of shipping data is the standard — but the more information, the better. A full year allows you to evaluate seasonality, trends, changes and challenges and leads to more well-rounded conclusions about managing your supply chain.

Although complex operations like forecasting outcomes or making adjustments will always require larger datasets to be reliable, you can get started describing patterns or changes with even just a few months of data. While the goal will always be to gain comprehensive insights, starting small assists in identifying big opportunities for improvement.

Choose your analytics tools

Good analytics programs enable you to record and organize data and assess the findings. And what tools are best depends on where you are in your data tracking journey. Basic business software can get you started but expect to invest in more specialized tools as your needs mature. If you have small datasets and want simple descriptive or diagnostic insights, manual data entry, graphing and charting in Microsoft Excel will be enough to start. Larger datasets geared toward more sophisticated insights — like predicting or creating outcomes — will require programs that can handle large quantities of complex information.

Transportation management systems (TMSes) or enterprise resource planning tools (ERPs) are additional resources for data collection and analyses. These programs typically have built-in insights and analytics tools so you can start evaluating without immediately purchasing additional software. Tapping into existing data channels is one of the most efficient ways to start analyzing information.

Assign analysts

Whatever your analytics goals, someone needs to interpret the information you collect. If you’re working with smaller datasets and aim to gain simple insights, a current member of your supply chain team could get the job done.

For larger datasets that require complex conclusions or specialized programs, you might need to hire a full-time data analyst (or several). Whether hiring from outside or staying in-house, an analyst should have the skillset to operate analytics programs, identify and interpret trends and investigate any anomalies that might come up. Having a strong analyst can ensure the data is clear, relevant and valuable to your business.

Outsourcing data analytics for expert insights

The same way it is beneficial to work with specialized analysts to assist with data interpretation, it is also constructive to invite industry experts into your data collection and decision-making process. Your logistics providers are likely already tracking data points like average transit time and transportation spend, and many will grant access to these insights through their TMS software. If you have a longstanding partnership with a carrier, these records often hold a wealth of information to help manage your supply chain.

You can analyze insights from a carrier yourself or use managed logistics services to help make business decisions. A benefit of utilizing managed logistics services is that you are connected to trained analysts, industry expertise and proprietary technology that give you the insights needed to optimize your supply chain. They also assist in determining which data exchange system is best for your business.

Discover your data’s full potential with ArcBest managed transportation

Choosing the right logistics partner is one of the most important decisions you can make for your supply chain’s success now and in the future. That’s why ArcBest’s managed logistics solution works as an extension of your team to help navigate all your transportation needs — including helping manage data and make decisions. From route planning, onboarding new carriers and determining the best shipment modes, we’ll leverage our technology and nearly 100 years of industry expertise to give you the data-driven insights needed for sound and savvy decision-making. Explore ArcBest managed logistics solutions.

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