In the last few years, everything from a massive earthquake in Japan, to hurricanes on the East Coast threatened our supply chain – a supply chain that increasingly knows no international borders.
Whether operations are focused in a small geographic area or span countries and modes, all disruptions have the potential to ripple through our network equally, presenting new problems to solve – sometimes hundreds of miles from their origin. The supply chain will only grow more rigid as technology makes it more efficient, so transportation stakeholders must grow proportionally more agile to stay competitive and keep freight moving, no matter the challenge. Contingency planning, it seems, is no longer just a backup strategy, but an essential part of maintaining day-to-day operations.
It’s vital that transportation companies institute contingency plans to keep freight and operations moving despite any obstacle, big or small. Having several layers of contingency plans helps an organization remain agile during unforeseen challenges. To create those layers, you must proactively evaluate optimal responses and potential outcomes for stakeholders. For a trucking company, having an effective game plan means you can take care of your team and your clients in a way that minimizes the impact of a disruption across all touch points.
Contingency planning starts with communication and information gathering. Cultivating relationships with other supply chain partners and building a solid communications network is a vital first step. Without a solid communications network in place, gaining access to vital information for rapid, accurate decision-making is compromised and depending on the magnitude of the situation, next to impossible. Carriers must develop productive relationships with long-haul transportation and drayage partners. Consider personnel at the rail and port terminals and contacts within the regional trucking sector – because when crisis strikes, those are the people who are holding valuable pieces of information you need to assess the big picture and ensure that you deploy the appropriate strategic response.
In emergency situations, it is critical to remain focused, evaluate timelines, reach out to ocean and rail transportation partners to keep freight moving, and use robust communications technology to provide customers with real-time information for strategic decision-making.
Contingency planning requires having a plan A, B, and C, giving customer access to information in real-time, all the time. If shippers know in advance that a shipment must be rerouted, they can successfully make adjustments within their supply chains.
It’s imperative to understand shippers’ communications preferences, patterns, and processes in the event of a disruption. In today’s business environment, that means allowing customization and 24/7/365 access to ensure vital information is supplied seamlessly to the people within the organization who need it to make decisions. Take preventive measures one step further by providing drivers with customized tablets for instant connectivity and visibility, and implement a web portal to validate shipments and cutoffs.
Larger infrastructure issues, like a transition to a cloud-based infrastructure, should also be considered to protect data and provide constant connectivity. If a transition to the cloud is an unrealistic goal, invest in a natural gas generator and backup services for the internet, server, and telephones to ensure data is protected in the event of a power outage or severe weather.
Choose a path that allows your organization to work within its resources to keep information flowing no matter what happens to your physical infrastructure.
While taking care of your team and customers is always a primary goal, contingency planning extends far beyond the boundaries of your own business and infrastructure. Solving a problem in one corner of the supply chain means transportation partners and customers have one less hurdle to overcome. Ultimately, contingency planning is the best customer service a trucking company can provide, allowing freight to keep moving in today’s supply chain.
By Marcia Faschingbauer