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© Meinzahn Dreamstime.com

North American shippers and truckers are struggling to get a grip on performance.

While most of them view key performance indicators (KPIs) as an essential part of supply chain management, the majority are having trouble getting useful data to turn into actionable insights.

These findings emerged from a study by Coyote Logistics in March and April, which surveyed nearly 1,000 shippers and close to 700 carriers across North America.

Nearly half the shippers (43%) have revenues between $200m and $799m, 17% turnsover $800m+ and 39% below $199m; of the carriers, most have fleets of between four and 50 trucks, while 27% have three trucks or fewer.

The disruptions of the past two years have upended historical supply chain strategies and priorities, and related metrics. Among the shippers, 81% believe their KPIs are in line with their business strategy.

However, only 36% of shippers and 26% of carriers consider themselves experts in acting on their own supply chain metrics, and 55% of shippers rate themselves intermediate in terms of KPI tracking competence. More than half (55%) use internal teams to manage KPIs, while 42% rely on carriers or 3PLs.

Three of the four biggest challenges companies identified to manage supply chain KPIs are related to data. Getting accurate data emerged as the top challenge (for 50% of respondents), while getting consistent data and changing strategy based on KPI results were the second-biggest challenges, named by 41% each.

Only 27% of shippers expressed confidence in the accuracy of their data, and fewer than one-third of them think they have achieved true end-to-end visibility.

While shippers favour having all their data in one place, only 15% use ‘control tower’ technology. Ben Steffes, VP of managed services at Coyote, pointed to two obstacles that hamper data integration and management.

One is fragmentation, as most shippers work with multiple service providers, with 49% using a mix of carriers and 3PLs. The second problem is that the industry – both shippers and carriers – is in transition from a pen-and-paper culture to a digital-first ecosystem. Even among large shippers, only 19% use control towers.

“Most businesses today are still cobbling together solutions across multiple carriers, systems and business units,” the study’s authors wrote.

Spreadsheets and low-tech tools dominate KPI management, with 56% of respondents using free, manual or low-tech solutions to manage performance metrics. The majority of businesses, including large firms, still use spreadsheets. In companies with revenue under $199m, Excel and e-mail are the main tools used.

On the carrier side, 66% rely on manual processes. This is most pronounced in the segment of 1-3 trucks (78% using manual tools), while 59% with 4-50 trucks do so. Half the truckers struggle to gather metrics in a standard way, 54% are having a hard time measuring data against previous performance and 57% find it hard to use data to drive actionable change.

There is optimism among respondents that technology will change the picture. Of the shippers, 82% believe technology will make KPI management much easier in the next two years.

However, an absence of standards is adding to current problems. According to the study, 78% of shippers and 74% of carriers think there should be set industry standards for logistics KPIs.

To move the needle, Mr Steffes said, companies have to establish what KPIs are important to their business, assess the accuracy of their data and if their tools are capable of managing this.

“When you know where you’re at, you can start investigating whether you need to invest in tech tools, add headcount to manage it or need to outsource,” he said.

“Technology is key. You need to be able to quickly and easily have everyone access your KPIs, and they need to be communicated in a way that is super clear and easy to integrate to decisions – otherwise it’s just a huge data pile that doesn’t mean anything to anyone. A good tool with an insightful dashboard can cover a lot of ground,” he added.

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