In today’s competitive, tight, and cut-throat business environment, many companies depend on third party logistics (3PL) for their supply chain management in order to reduce costs, improve efficiencies, and ensure smooth operations of their distribution and fulfilment service requirements.
To deliver value and thrive within a difficult market, 3PL providers need to align closely with their parent businesses in terms of mission, vision, and goals. As the relationship is so significant, most big businesses have well-defined 3PL processes, systems, quality standards, performance, criteria, and best practices already in place and regularly keep a close eye on operations.
In fact, most business are keen to look to partner with vendors who will align and integrate with their own processes and practices. Thus, in a totally aligned relationship, the supply chain “shadows” the processes of the parent company and replicates the parent company’s processes, adheres to their standards, mimics their operating models and becomes an “extension” of the parent company. It is even true to say that they may become fully embedded into the parent company and a “well-coordinated arm” of the parent company.
As this relationship requires careful selection many parent companies have strict and stringent supply chain selection criteria, which they use to screen their supply chain partners. In some cases companies may also train supply chain providers in their best practices and operating procedures to ensure that the vendors understand their business priorities and their own way of operating.
Some companies also craft a strategic plan for the alignment and for the relationship, describing the capabilities that they wish their partner supply chain to develop at different stages of the relationship. These capabilities could be operational, technological, or behavioural.
In order to maintain a sound relationship it can help to carefully define the work flows at the parent-supply chain interface as well as specific goals, outcomes, and expectations. It may also be beneficial to define the responsibilities of the parent company and that of the vendor that may include responsibilities for effort, for job, for the entire system, and for business outcomes.
Sharing performance benchmarks and baselines with the supply chain vendor and of clear unambiguous expectations can also help both parties understand what is expected in terms of performance.
Aligning may also entail integration with a company’s web servers, applications and electronic data interchange standards. This allows for seamless information flow and exchange and utilisation of information between the parent’s business and the supply chain.
Such an integration would allow a 3PL partner to use this information to track and trace shipments and direct this information to the parent company’s website; thus, providing customers with the vital information they need as well as helping to improve customer satisfaction.
Of course, there is the obvious check on physical integration, which ensures that the 3PL has the capabilities to manage the business in questions. Here, some internal questions to be answered could include: “What modes of transportation and what services will you [the business or parent company] need?” “What volumes do you plan to ship and where?” “Do you have specific security or visibility requirements?” and “Are your shipments time-sensitive?” Though these are basic questions given the nature of the business they will be able to filter many potential 3PL providers, which may not be suitable.
Also, the 3PL should be capable of matching the specific needs of the business. Many providers have a variety of strengths and weakness and it is imperative that those most closely aligned to the business’s requirements are at the forefront of its strengths. If the business relies on door-to-door deliveries, intra-warehouse, or last-mile, it is important to understand that the 3PL is on par with this and its strength lie in a particular area.
Additionally, it may be necessary to check on the number of modes the 3PL provider actually has and utilises. The four common modes – rail, road, sea, and air – may be a given on paper by a 3PL but it is wise to ensure that the inter modal services being offered have the right size or fleet as well as hands-on experience to be properly handled.
Further, businesses must undertake thorough research about possible 3PLs prior to confirmation. Reputation, reliability, and responsiveness are key, especially in the logistics and supply chain arena. Also, businesses may opt to review use cases or examples within various scenarios to confirm the handling of specific situations by 3PLs. There must also be a cultural fit and the agreed recognition and understanding of the appropriate protocol, procedures, and hierarchy cannot be understated.
Finally, though clearly a given many businesses fail to check a 3PL’s customer service record. Given the scope for disruptions across the supply chain, the crisis management capabilities or the reputation of the company needs to be maintained and carefully managed. To this end it is paramount that the 3PL knows the plan of action, can ensure regular flow of goods or services, and does not lose control during a crisis.
As businesses rely more heavily on 3PLs getting the right fit to align with both business needs and present-day demands is not an easy feat. Many partnerships have failed, especially when a business has recently moved from one party to another. In this regard and given the high demands on the relationship, both parties need to be on the “same page” prior to any business commitments.
With reduced costs and improved customer service being key in the high-contested logistics marketplace, both businesses and 3PLs require a synergy that can be secure, reliable, and potentially long term. There must be clear and concise dialogue prior to and during all negotiations in order to determine the most apt working relationship once a final agreement has been determined as any hurdles or obstacles cannot be easily overcome “on the field”.
It is evident that today’s customers are fickle, brand agnostic, and ruthless, especially with a mobile in hand and social media apps awaiting comments, tweets or posts. Businesses and 3PLs must work together to create a harmonious working environment for each other as well as for their collective customers.