For many years, the holy grail of finished vehicle logistics has been to attain seamless planning, control and visibility across the global, multi-modal, plant-to-dealer distribution network. Many manufacturers and service providers will claim to readily support it. Others will state they are a long way off achieving such a goal. 

Much of the time, both of these views will be expressed concurrently within the same organisation by different departments. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. Those that do claim to have some level of control are typically doing it with internally developed solutions that have evolved over many years. Such legacy solutions are often ageing, disparate and reliant on spreadsheets and workarounds to remain functional. Many focus on either financial or operational needs, but few target both. In the wider solutions market, one fact that also remains is that the availability of commercial off the shelf (COTS) solutions that fully or even partly support this goal remains quite minimal.

Today, such a capability is often generically referred to as a ‘Control Tower capability’, but this too is open to much interpretation. So how has finished vehicle supply chain changed and what does a Control Tower technology for finished vehicle logistics need to address today?IMAGE 1 Scope of ProAct International¹s Finished Vehicle Logistics Suite

Visibility is clearly the ultimate enabler

Without visibility we can neither plan nor control. Worse still, if we cannot plan we cannot have visibility. It creates a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Accrued visibility, i.e. a series of external events simply captured and recorded as a log, is not really visibility. It is at best reporting and may offer little insight into the intended life of a vehicle or VIN. To have visibility you must have an advance baseline, a detailed plan of the life of the vehicle previewing where the vehicle should be, on which date, at what time, with which service provider, at what cost and on/in which carrier conveyance or facility. In addition, the baseline should understand what added value activities must be applied to the vehicle, at what point in its life and at what location. This baseline must exist prior to movement of the vehicle, otherwise true visibility is unobtainable. Reporting is passive, visibility is active. Visibility is a dynamic interpretation of actuals and projections relative to the baseline. 

Predictability is the missing link

As a result, predictability and confidence may well be low throughout the entire supply chain. This contributes to the long-standing capacity debate between manufacturers and carriers. It results in an unreliable promise date to the dealer. It inhibits responsiveness and flexibility and ultimately it makes accurate cost prediction very difficult.

Many solutions in operation today also fail to deal with the following key requirements critical to addressing current and future finished vehicle supply chain challenges:

  • Ability to deal with ever increasing levels of complexity within the supply chain
  • Ability to adapt quickly to changing markets and supply routes
  • Ability to deal with manufacturer, brand, market, model and dealer specific processes
  • Ability to deal with the specific requirements of new technologies (e.g. electric, hybrid, autonomous)
  • Effective collaboration with and coordination of all supply chain partners/providers
  • Integration of multiple yard operations into the overall supply chain
  • Balance of push and pull between manufacturer and dealers
  • Accurate prediction and accrual of cost across the total supply chain
  • Governance and control across the entire supply chain, control tower
  • Ability to better measure KPIs
  • Plant to Dealer visibility, one version of the truth
  • Accurate and reliable promise date

When it comes to collaboration, actions such as yard management, up-fitting, repair, PDI and other value add activities are often lost in the ‘lack hole’ of the global supply chain. While these and other exercises have a direct impact on the ultimate promise date, they are often not well represented or tracked within many current corporate solutions.

So what is a true Control Tower capability?

  • A true Control Tower technology is both holistic and homogeneous. Homogenous in that it represents a seamless common entity (e.g. the vehicle) that is consistent through its entire lifecycle. Holistic in that the information derived and presented by a Control Tower solution is far more extensive than the information gained from individual events, i.e. the whole is far more than merely a sum of its parts.
  • A true Control Tower technology must be global in nature. ‘Global’ implies the ability to support multimodal activities spanning one or more time zones, currencies, units of measure and languages.
  • A true Control Tower technology must be process oriented and enable the planning of all events to an appropriate level of granularity (e.g. model, type, region, dealer, etc). Key to managing any supply chain is understanding, in advance, the ‘criteria for success’ (i.e. the baseline). Simply accruing information without a baseline serves little purpose other than to confirm that something may have happened at some point in the past. Without a detailed and dynamic baseline there is no reference point for the supply chain and therefore no means to determine whether an event has or may cause impending failure.
  • A true Control Tower technology is both predictive and dynamic in nature. The ability to initially project a baseline is fundamental to any Control Tower technology. Once the baseline has been determined, such a technology must then be able to respond dynamically to the confirmation of an event, the absence of confirmation for an expected event or any other changes in the supply change environment. Based on this information it should be able to re-project the supply chain, detect immediate issues and in turn, predict future consequence to downstream events.
  • A true Control Tower technology should proactively drive supply chain execution and enable full governance and control of complex processes across multiple modes and numerous service providers. It must therefore be highly collaborative in nature.
  • A true Control Tower technology should be highly adaptable and re-configurable to meet perpetually changing requirements and as such its processes and decision logic should be easily amendable and never ‘set in stone’ by the technology. Changing the supply chain processes should be a logistics analyst activity and not a technical or programming task. 

So, what is the state of the market?

Assuming we were to accept and agree with the statements above, asking the question once again as to whether a particular organisation has seamless planning, control and visibility of their finished vehicle supply chain might well attract a very different response.

ProAct International Finish Vehicle Logistics Suite

ProAct maintains there is still little or nothing in the market today that really addresses the need for a so-called ‘Control Tower’ technology. ProAct believes its advantage is the fact that it has spent many years developing its solutions technology specifically with the integrated management of entire end-to-end, multimodal supply chains in mind. ProAct’s solutions focus on business objectives, governance, control, flexibility in complex environments that are subject to perpetual change. Whether you call it ‘Control Tower’, 4PL, LLP or anything else, the requirement is for a single, seamless, intelligent point of control and visibility for the entire enterprise.

IMAGE 2 ProAct Enterprise Supply Chain Manager

For many years the market has struggled with its implementation both from a cultural and technology viewpoint. The market is however now more mature, it values the supply chain more highly and is generally better able to embrace the culture and principles. Technology however remains the primary inhibitor and it is technology where ProAct has set out to be the game changer.