Shipment Visibility Is Really About Operational Excellence

It's the Key to Good Customer Service and Managers Being Able to Train Their People on Best Practices
Man with multiple computer screens
Monkey Business Images/Getty Images

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When my colleagues and I were developing our transportation management system, we talked to a number of shippers and brokers to find out how they achieve shipment visibility. I expected to see some unwieldy schemes, but I did not expect what I would see when one broker showed us how he does it.

On his desk he showed us three screens, each with at least 10 tabs open — in addition to several platforms running. Every one of these was a piece of the puzzle of where a given shipment was.

“It’s easy,” he explained to us. “I’ve been doing this forever. I just do this.”

Once our heads stopped spinning, we started calculating how much time this man wastes putting all of this into motion every time he has to track the location of a shipment. Yet in his mind, this is brilliant. And I understand that. It took near-brilliance to design such a system.

So much brilliance, in fact, it would be nearly impossible to train a new person to understand it. Such a scenario is rife with the potential for all kinds of problems, from missed check calls to missing coverage on shipments to flat-out wrong delivery locations or missed deadlines.

Walter Mitchell


Imagine being the poor newbie who’s trying to keep it all straight: “The loadboard is down here. The pricing tools are over there. Once you’ve gone through this process, you can type shipments into the CMS. Granted, there are bits and pieces of data everywhere, but don’t worry. Just keep all these tabs open so you can get to them.”

In its own unwieldy way, this was impressive. But it also showed us very clearly why the industry needs to do better.

Shipment visibility is one of the logistics industry’s main focuses right now. The essential imperative to track and trace shipments is one of the most fundamental requirements for an industry whose mission ultimately comes down to things getting where they’re supposed to be.

But maybe the industry thinks too narrowly about the value of visibility.

Track-and-trace technology was developed primarily to keep track of shipments, helping shippers to avoid calamities ranging from delivery delays, to recalls, to theft. The better the track-and-trace, the more it can save time and money from reduced labor costs and potential liability.

In a broader sense, though, the technology that delivers this kind of visibility can do a great deal more for an organization’s overall operational efficiencies.

When a company is using a very simple track-and-trace platform — one that can display all the information in one easily accessible place — it has the potential to radically change the way people in their organization allocate their time and attention.

The veteran broker we visited, with the three screens and 10 tabs he’s following, has to allocate a stunning amount of time and attention just to setting all this up. And this is before you consider how many things can go wrong when the process contains so many manual elements — like the driver who won’t click the link in the tracking text, or won’t respond with an address, or lets your call go to voicemail and never returns it.

With the innovations available today, we shouldn’t even be talking about phone calls and texts. This isn’t just an issue for shipment visibility. This is an issue for operational viability.

Visibility is the key to the entire operation running on time, to delivering good customer service, and to managers being able to train their people on best practices because they can see everything going on with the team.

Walter Mitchell, Tai Software


Operational efficiency has always been about streamlining businesses and running them more efficiently. When tracking shipments involves as much time and effort as our veteran broker friend above — not to mention the time and effort it takes for others to ask him about it — it’s going to affect a lot more than just the ability to know where items in transit are. It’s sucking up time, attention, money and even bandwidth.

Visibility is the key to the entire operation running on time, to delivering good customer service, and to managers being able to train their people on best practices because they can see everything going on with the team.

The point here is to deliver two crucial benefits:

  • The first is to give the shipper visibility to understand everything about the shipment all in one place. Whether that means understanding the tracking information or knowing what the carriers look like or getting a good read on pricing, it should all be right in front of you with a single click or tap. Easy to access. Easy to understand. Easy to share.
  • The second is to make information easy for the customer to see as well. Customers don’t care if they’re getting updates via email or visiting a website, but they do care that they can find everything they need about the shipment in one place. You might remember that just a few years ago, an Amazon tracking link would take you off the Amazon site and on to the site of carriers such as FedEx or UPS. Amazon upgraded that function, and now you see everything you need without leaving the Amazon site.

It should be that simple for less-than-truckload and full truckload.

My goodness. What could you do for your organization if just five people had 11 hours a week freed up? What could you do if hundreds had that much time freed up?

Walter “Mitch” Mitchell is CEO of Tai Software, a transportation management system for freight brokers to manage quoting, booking and shipment tracking. Mitchell has more than 17 years of experience architecting software applications and leading teams that build business software applications.

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