Want to See the Real-Time Status of Inbound Deliveries or Receive Alerts When Trucks Will Be Early or Late? Now You Can – and So Can Your Front-Line Workers.

The Zebra Reflexis application
by Jennifer Myers
May 10, 2022

How many times have your workers been left at the receiving dock, waiting (unproductively) for delayed trucks? Probably more than you’d like to admit, right?

I think the lack of visibility into the status of in-transit goods has been one of the biggest thorns in retailers’ sides over the past several years, mainly because it has severely complicated labor planning related to inbound logistics. How can you effectively schedule workers for unloading when the ETA is being derived from a barcode scan at a loading dock hours ago? You can’t. So, workers sit there at the receiving dock, waiting – not working.

That’s why FourKites’ global supply chain visibility platform became popular practically overnight.

It confirms the actual location of millions of shipments around the world every day. Not the last known location, but the current coordinates of in-transit goods and up-to-the-minute arrival times for goods transported by over 300,000 carriers derived from GPS, electronic logging devices (ELD), mobile devices, telematics, artificial intelligence and more. The FourKites platform can tell you with impeccable precision when a truck will pull up at your door and what is in the back. (It’s no wonder that nearly every CPG brand and food and beverage company uses FourKites. Who wouldn’t want to have a well-optimized inbound operation?)

But ever since FourKites became a Zebra Ventures company, we’ve been collaboratively thinking about ways to add even more value to the rich data flowing through the platform – to make it more actionable by front-line teams.

Solving the Age-Old Problem: What to Do When a Shipping ETA Changes (from a Staffing Perspective)

After speaking with customers, we realized that – despite the simplicity that FourKites brings to inbound logistics planning – it can still take some effort to adapt operations to shipping changes. A manager must frequently login to the FourKites platform to check for early or delayed truck arrivals and then adjust labor schedules accordingly. If there’s enough notice for a change, then it may not be a big deal. However, if a truck is arriving earlier in the day than expected, then it may become a scramble to find workers available to unload. If the truck is arriving late, but the notification comes in late, then it may be impossible to cancel shifts and reschedule workers. Managers must then find other tasks for workers while they wait, which can also take time and effort. When the truck does arrive, workers must be alerted so they can return to the dock and be ready to unload when the truck pulls up and the trailer door opens. This can be a very manual and time-consuming process.

That’s why we recently decided to integrate the Zebra Reflexis platform with the FourKites platform. We wanted to make it easy for ETA changes and task reassignments to be automatically communicated to the right people in real time. We also wanted to automate the labor reallocation process as much as possible for managers. I’m happy to report we have accomplished both goals!

How It Works

The FourKites data now flows seamlessly into the Zebra Reflexis platform, which pushes out real-time alerts about shipment ETA and the products that will be arriving on each truck to affected store or warehouse managers. If a truck is arriving earlier or later than originally planned, a notification will be sent instantly to the Reflexis Task Management dashboard they use to manage their tasks and their staff’s tasks.

Each notification is prioritized for intervention based on urgency. If a truck scheduled for this afternoon is now going to be late, that will appear at the top of the list. If a truck scheduled for next month is now expected to be a week earlier, that might be deemed a “low priority” compared to other more time-sensitive tasks that day. If it is ignored for too long, it will eventually become a “high priority” task assignment, as the manager will need to adjust the stocking staff’s schedules accordingly.

  • Once the manager reviews the change alert, they can take action from a staffing perspective. If the alert impacts a same-day shipment, they can use the Reflexis Task Management app to collectively notify impacted employees and individually assign each to an appropriate “fill” task. This keeps the team productive until the truck arrives or their shift ends.
  • If the alert has a longer lead time, the manager can use the Reflexis Workforce Management app to update schedules and notify impacted employees in new shift and task assignments. The nice thing about this integration from a workforce scheduling perspective is that managers can use details from the bill of lading to ensure the right people are staffed for each receiving and stocking event based on skillset and availability.

The Impact of This Integration

Now that FourKites shipment alerts are flowing seamlessly into the Reflexis platform…

  • No one has to waste time calling around to different supply chain managers to determine the location and ETAs of shipments.
  • Managers don’t have to waste time manually assigning – or reassigning – tasks.
  • Workers don’t have to waste time at the loading dock while on the clock. They can stay focused on other customer-centric activities, such as shelf replenishment, inventory counts, and even returns processing. In turn, you won’t be paying for unused labor.
  • You can reduce excessive overtime pay and further reduce labor costs. Staff schedules will be optimized to real-time ETAs. There can be a team capable of managing deliveries on each shift.
  • Employees’ job satisfaction will likely increase because they’ll have a clear purpose. Instead of waiting at the loading dock indefinitely with little-to-no information about what they’re supposed to do, they’ll always know exactly what is expected of them. Their work will be meaningful, even when temporarily reassigned to different roles. And if there isn’t a job for them on a given day, they’ll be notified so they can stay home and do something meaningful to them personally.
  • Trucks can be turned faster, which reduces the risk of detention charges. The right staff will be at the ready to get goods unloaded quickly.
  • Throughput rates are apt to rise because managers will know what inventory is inbound and, ultimately, on hand coming off the truck. Goods can be immediately directed to the right stocking location for e-commerce and in-store shoppers.
  • It will become easier to “save the sale,” as planograms can be managed based on how arrivals are tracking, with real-time stocking changes made to ensure delayed inventory doesn’t result in empty shelves.

As Mark Delaney, Vice President of Global Retail Strategy at FourKites recently commented:

"The ability to monitor shipments in real time via a single pane of glass allows our customers to more effectively allocate and stage scarce and expensive labor resources in these challenging times. It's also important to highlight the importance to retailers' merchandising functions: if your Back Friday ad contains flat screen TVs that are shown to be still anchored off the Port of Los Angeles, that's likely not going to result in a good experience."

In other words, inconsistency doesn’t have to be the only consistency in your inbound logistics or inventory management operations anymore. Your front-line teams will be able to manage changes that are out of their control in a way that doesn’t feel so reactionary because shipment-related communications will be consistent across all channels. FourKites will keep the Reflexis system informed which will, in turn, keep managers informed. Managers can then keep front-line teams in the loop on what’s happening and why. And everyone will be happy, customers included. (Aren’t better stocked shelves and more available associates the ultimate end goal of everything we do in supply chain and retail environments?)

If you’d like to learn more about how the FourKites and Reflexis platforms work together, or you’d like to get them online ASAP in support of your operations, your local Zebra representative can help you out.

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Jennifer Myers
Jennifer Myers has spent her career in retail and supply chain operations working for some of the nation’s largest retailers both in the field and in the corporate office. She joined Zebra in 2021 as a Solution Consultant, and her primary job is to listen to retailers and help them run an even better business by adopting leading-edge technology both in their brick-and-mortar stores and up the value chain to their distribution centers.