The Rise of Real-Time Transportation Visibility

5 min read Michelle Steffes on Feb 16, 2024

Traditional supply chain management is a complex web of logistics, inventory management, and transportation coordination. Historically driven by forecasts and estimates, the supply chain has grappled with challenges like delays, bottlenecks, lack of transparency between providers, and inefficiencies since the beginning. However, the advent of real-time visibility marks a significant shift that is redefining how supply chains operate.

Real-time transportation visibility (RTTV) is a technology or tool and a paradigm shift. It represents the ability to see, analyze, and act upon transportation data as it happens, making supply chains more responsive, efficient, and customer-centric

In this guide, we look at the evolution of supply chains, the key benefits of real-time transportation visibility, and how to achieve real-time supply chain visibility.

Supply chains: From localized networks to global systems

Originally, the entire supply chain was predominantly a local affair. Businesses operated in a relatively straightforward environment, heavily reliant on nearby resources and regional markets. This simple workflow reflected the limited scope and scale of their operations. 

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, things began to change. This period expanded supply chain boundaries significantly. Factories started mass-producing goods, necessitating broader logistical coordination and more complex supply and distribution networks.

Post-World War II brought globalization into full swing. Companies began sourcing raw materials and components from various parts of the world, leading to more complicated and extended supply networks. This period began what we recognize today as global supply chains, introducing new coordination, quality control, and efficiency challenges.

The role of technology in the evolution of the supply chain

Technology has played a critical role in shaping modern supply chains. Early technological interventions like barcode scanning revolutionized inventory management, while computerization and easy access to internet connectivity began to streamline various supply chain processes. These initial steps towards digitization laid the groundwork for the sophisticated supply chain technology that we see today.

Challenges in traditional supply chains

Despite these advancements, traditional supply chains have faced persistent challenges. Fragmentation and lack of end-to-end visibility are significant obstacles, often leading to inefficiencies and delays. 

Additionally, challenges that arise due to geopolitical instability, global pandemics, and supply shortages are affecting the bottom line and eroding stakeholder trust.

Today's customer expectations demand quality and speed. Moreover, the competitive landscape requires that supply chains not only deliver but also adapt and predict. Innovation in real-time technology is crucial to meet these modern demands so companies can gain – and keep a competitive edge. A push for more resiliency in supply chains has appeared on company roadmaps worldwide.

Real-time transportation visibility: Definition and components

Real-time transportation visibility refers to tracking and monitoring the movement and status of goods and vehicles in transit in real time. This goes beyond traditional tracking methods by offering an instantaneous, transparent view of logistics operations. RTTV enables businesses to make informed, agile decisions based on current data rather than historical trends or forecasts.

RTTV technologies and components include:

Internet of Things (IoT):  Sensors and trackers attached to vehicles or cargo relay continuous, real-time information about location, condition, and environment.

Global positioning system (GPS): GPS offers precise vehicle location tracking. Its integration with other technologies enhances data accuracy and reliability.

Cloud-based platforms: These serve as the central hub where data from IoT devices and GPS trackers converge. They enable scalability, accessibility, and data integration from various sources, providing a comprehensive view of the transportation network.

Predictive analytics: This offers insights into patterns, predicts potential disruptions, and optimizes routes and operations by using supply chain data generated by IoT and GPS. Teams can use these advanced analytics to make more informed decisions.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI): These technologies learn from data to predict outcomes, optimize routes, and enhance decision-making processes. They can foresee delays, suggest alternative routes, and improve overall supply chain efficiency.

Some real-world applications of RTTV:

Route optimization: For example, a logistics company can use RTTV to monitor real-time traffic conditions and weather patterns, adjusting routes dynamically to avoid delays.

Inventory management: Retailers can track shipments in real time, allowing for more precise inventory planning and reducing the need for excess stock.

Proactive disruption management: A food supply company can monitor the temperature and condition of perishable goods during transit, receiving alerts if conditions deviate from required standards, thereby preventing spoilage and other potential issues.

Real-time e-commerce updates: E-commerce businesses can provide customers with real-time updates about their orders, enhancing transparency and improving customer experience.

Key benefits of real-time transportation visibility

There are many advantages to real-time visibility in the supply chain.

Enhanced shipment visibility

RTTV offers unprecedented shipment transparency. This visibility extends beyond simple location tracking and includes condition monitoring and security. For instance, geofencing capabilities alert operators when shipments deviate from their intended route, enhancing security and accountability. 

A practical example is pharmaceutical logistics, where RTTV ensures that sensitive medications are tracked meticulously for compliance with storage conditions and timely delivery.

Data-driven decision making

Companies can anticipate problems, adjust strategies, and optimize operations by analyzing real-time data dashboards. A relevant case could be international shipping, where RTTV data helps predict and mitigate the impact of port congestions, political events, weather disruptions, and customs delays.

Increased operational efficiency

This includes improved route planning and reductions in transit times and delays. By leveraging real-time data, companies can optimize resource utilization, reduce idle times, and improve overall logistics performance. A notable application is the trucking industry, where RTTV enables companies to optimize routes based on real-time traffic conditions, leading to fuel savings and reduced delivery times.

Increased customer satisfaction

Accurate ETA information, proactive issue resolution, and effective customer communication are just a few aspects that enhance the customer experience. For example, in e-commerce logistics, RTTV allows businesses to provide customers with precise delivery updates, reducing uncertainty and increasing trust.

Other real-world applications and use cases:

Retail: A large retailer can use RTTV to synchronize its supply chain with real-time sales data, adjusting inventory levels dynamically, leading to a smoother movement of goods and reducing overstock scenarios.

Manufacturing: In manufacturing, RTTV enables just-in-time inventory management, ensuring components arrive exactly when needed, reducing storage costs, and increasing production efficiency.

Agriculture: Farmers and distributors can leverage RTTV to monitor the conditions of perishable goods, ensuring they reach markets on time and in optimal condition, thus reducing waste.

RTTV is not merely an upgrade to traditional supply chain processes; it's a fundamental retooling of stakeholder collaboration and how goods are moved and managed globally.

Steering the future of the supply chain with PubNub

The shift to real-time transportation visibility transforms supply chain management, enabling businesses to navigate modern supply chain challenges effectively and making supply chains more responsive and customer-focused. PubNub is central to this transformative journey and works with some of the world’s largest delivery, logistics, and supply chain leaders.

Contact us to learn more about how we can work with you to implement real-time functionality into your visibility solutions. Book a free trial to get started.