November 03, 2017

Overcoming Logistics and Supply Chain Challenges with Advanced Technologies


  • Companies face many operational challenges in their logistics and supply chains: delivering quality service and customer satisfaction, managing the disparity of supply chain providers and successfully using data, analytics, and IT to improve supply chain visibility.
  • Application programming interfaces, web-enabled technologies, and digital matching are replacing older EDI systems that are limited, costly, and complicated.
  • Technicolor is actively testing advanced technologies including APIs and more robust GPS to improve the supply chain and third-party logistics services it offers.

The Future Trust sat down with Elaine Singleton, Vice President of Supply Chain at Technicolor, to discuss challenges in logistics and supply chain, how IT is helping overcome them, and what Technicolor is doing to enable visibility and operational intelligence, improve customer service, and facilitate on-time deliveries for its customers.


What are some of the biggest operational challenges in logistics and supply chain operations?

Singleton: I’d boil it down to three things. First, customer satisfaction and service, and a clear understanding of how supply chain communications and electronic feeds of data impact service visibility. Most of Technicolor’s customers are consumer products companies that don’t want to manage the logistics required to bring new products to market. They just want it solved, in the background, without any noise.

Number two is the disparate nature of supply chain providers. Specifically, truckload, LTL, ocean, air, and all the different modes that move products from the point of manufacturing to the destination, the final mile.

Finally, the need for collaborative data, analytics, and advanced IT capabilities that deliver supply chain visibility to customers. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors out there, and there are a lot of companies that say they can do a lot of things, but when you get down to it, it’s relatively difficult. We’re in the business of trying to simplify logistics and provide optimal supply chain solutions for our customers.


How can IT help overcome these challenges?

Singleton: It’s not just IT, but also the associated workflows. IT is constantly changing, and application programming interfaces (APIs), web-calling, and new technologies are replacing the older, clunkier EDI technologies that have been used for years to interface with all suppliers of transportation, distribution, and manufacturing services in a supply chain. As an example, dynamic pricing done in real-time gives third-party logistics (3PLs) and shippers more visibility into real costs. In the transportation industry, there are new federal regulations emerging that require all truckload drivers to use electronic logging devices (ELDs) to automatically record a driver’s hours of service, and ELDs are creating the opportunity for additional data and real-time visibility into the supply chain. Many companies are ramping up so they can use this information at scale and correlate it with supply and demand to better understand capacity across regions. With better insight, companies can create efficiencies by discovering capacities in various regions that may be under-utilized or not used at all. Like the concept of Uber-ization, these technologies will help create industrialized supply chain networks throughout the country.


How is EDI working for companies today, and how is it shifting?

Singleton: EDI, and advanced shipping notices (ASNs), have been around since before the Internet. It is not difficult to set up, but it requires testing and multiple iterations to ensure that the data is correct as it’s being transmitted. Given the many different series of EDI that require maintenance and the sheer number of logistics providers (imagine over 3,000 suppliers in a network) future EDI networks will be cost-prohibitive.

Many shippers and logistics service providers are moving towards digital information-sharing and digital-matching. This is changing the way capacity is procured with the added benefit of reduced overall cost of service. Additionally, total supply chain cost and visibility models will migrate to API data exchange. EDI will still be around in some instances and cannot be eliminated within complex ERP infrastructures that have long established co-dependencies within shipper and logistics service provider (LSP) ecosystems.

Because Technicolor is a multi-modal supply chain solutions company, we have rapidly adopted some new technologies in short order. We’re quickly getting into APIs and partnerships with technology companies that have cracked the nut when it comes to scale and tactical use of these technologies. The next two years will be interesting as LSPs transform to APIs.


How does Technicolor use technology to better serve its customers?

Singleton: Technicolor services about 9,500 retail locations in the U.S. We’ve been providing supply chain services to entertainment media for over 11 years and we continue to evolve in the LSP technology space. Specifically, data collection, real-time visibility, customer service, and continuous performance improvement are the proofs of concept in the digital era. We are currently testing several APIs and digital-matching applications. As an example, we’re using APIs to collect information related to proof of delivery, status of shipments, and delivery exceptions that promote proactive decision-making, particularly for new release product launches.

We work with various suppliers, and hope to have our entire supply chain, from a transportation and logistics point of view, transitioned to digital mapping within the next two years.

In addition, Technicolor is advancing its use of technology in our non-core 3PL business that serves customers within and outside of the traditional entertainment and media industry. Consumer products and consumer packaging companies are looking to Technicolor to provide cost-effective logistics solutions, and that means connecting to the right partners who have already emerged as stellar information technology sources. Our goal is to move to a robust platform that provides us with a comprehensive look at all the capacity available regionally, so we can proactively plan and get ahead of demand. And we’ll be using satellite GPS technology in a more robust way than we do today.


Tell us about the technologies of tomorrow that you think will further elevate logistics and supply chain operations.

Singleton: As new products roll out in this digital matching and visibility space, we’re going to see robust changes in truckload capacity procurement, as an example. Once digital matching expands into mature transportation modes such as ocean/air freight/rail, we will benefit from end-to-end visibility, waste elimination, and robust views of final mile deliveries. Ideally, there will be a control tower that provides real-time visibility across regions and modes.

Technicolors customers benefit as we proactively invoke rescue plans with the ability to quickly identify obstacles to service and course-correct with alternative suppliers to ensure on-time delivery. Issues identified upstream in the supply chain are easier to correct while information matches the physical disposition of products. This early detection creates better routing decisions and customer delivery satisfaction.