Jul 28, 2022 3 Min READ

A Light in the Dark

3 Min READ
A Light in the Dark


Fall 2022 Supply Chain Scholarship runner up Lance Hackney wrote a very compelling essay about how technology that enables supply chain visibility is the future of logistics. Presenting great anecdotes, this essay shines as one of our runners up!

Our warehouse management system (WMS) customers inspired us to create the Supply Chain Scholarship after sharing how difficult it is seeking suitable employees with talented minds, especially during the ongoing labor shortage. We created the scholarship not only to cultivate new ideas but to find talent as well, and we hope that our scholarship will help the industry grow and thrive by locating and cultivating the brightest young minds studying the supply chain.

Here is a future visionary in logistics and runner up for the Fall 2022 Supply Chain Scholarship Lance Hackney and his essay on supply chain visibility.

The supply chain that our world depends on is a mystery. Despite how critical it is to the world economy, it is opaque and unpredictable. Factories, businesses, and shippers rely on an antiquated network of phone calls, faxes, and paper forms. Everyone crosses their fingers and hopes that their shipment will arrive—never mind arrive on time. The next big advancement in supply chain management will be technology and platforms that provide visibility and predictability to the global supply network.

I learned how dim and impenetrable the supply chain is when I started my own business. I placed a large order with a factory in China to produce the goods I planned to sell. The shipment—two tons of cast iron kettlebells—was produced, painted, boxed, and loaded into a cargo container. It was loaded on a truck, departed to Qingdao Port—and completely disappeared.

No one could give me an accurate date of arrival or tell how long the customs process would take. No one was sure how long the cargo ship might stay at a port along the way, or whether it was going through the fastest ports. When my shipment arrived at the Port of Oakland, nobody knew how long until it went to the warehouse for pickup. There was no online portal or system for me to log into. I waited in the dark, along with my business partners and our customers.

This disjointed and unpredictable system is business as usual for our global supply chain. Under the pressure of COVID, laypeople started to see the symptoms of how fragile our system is: bare shelves, rows of full cargo ships sitting idle, and massive backups in US ports. Confusion in the supply chain has led to shortages, price surges, and a disruption to how we live our lives.

New entrepreneurs and companies are rising up to meet this challenge. Extensiv provides visibility to clients in their warehouse ecosystem. Flexport’s system lets shippers and businesses see what route their shipment is taking, and what ports are likely to be congested. NuvoCargo gives supply chain managers data on where freight is across the USMCA region. These companies are making a major impact, but the market potential is still vast.

The common thread these companies share is that they provide visibility and control to their clients. For the first time, vendors and freight-forwarders can see and direct where their shipments go. They can judge when shipments will arrive and how likely they are to be delayed. They can secure the right amount of warehousing space and identify ‘good’ ports and routes to direct their goods through. This new level of visibility has the potential to revolutionize global trade and supply chain logistics.

Real-time visibility will be a game-changer for supply chain management.

Shippers and businesses will be able to see which sea routes are fastest and how to avoid ‘bad’ ports. Freight companies that deliver on time will be rewarded with more business, and clients will know the likelihood of their shipment getting caught in customs. Ports and companies that are inefficient will have pressure to streamline their operations or lose business to better competitors. Companies will be able to make more accurate plans for their finances and deliveries, which will result in savings and economic gains for the public and the economy at large. Smoother trade networks will bind nations closer together during a time of international fracturing and geopolitical rivalry. All these benefits will be unlocked by greater visibility into the global supply chain.

The supply chain industry has stubbornly resisted change, but change has come nevertheless. The pressure of disruptive geopolitics, COVID, and demand shocks is pushing our trade network to be more adaptive and flexible. But flexibility requires visibility, and visibility requires technology. Entrepreneurs and businesses are building the technology to modernize supply chain management, and I plan to join them.

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