FourKites hosted its annual Visibility Customer Conference on September 6-7, centered on the theme of 'Connected.' Marking their largest event so far, the conference has become a pivotal yearly gathering for logistics experts. JBF participated to deepen our industry knowledge and grasp the comprehensive benefits of such solutions. Key focus areas are outlined in this article.
Being part of the Strategy Practice at JBF my primary role is to evaluate and recommend TMS solutions for our customers, so my attention was directed to the product strategy roadmap and how FourKites has advanced their offerings in the different supply chain verticals.
Here are the four areas caught our attention.
Area 1 – Overall Theme of 'Connected'
This theme resonated the entire 2 days of the event, both in the visual marketing and also the programs agenda. Many of the speakers and topics were consistent in showing how their products are connected and work together. Their comments on being connected are ‘we think about connecting our customers’ ecosystems with highly granular data and actionable insights so they can make smarter decisions faster.
We think about enabling greater, more seamless collaboration across entire supply chains — bringing together suppliers, carriers and customers into a truly connected, dynamic network’.
FourKites CEO & Founder Matt Elenjickal focused on the three main areas where FourKites is looking to improve connections across supply chains: geos, teams, and ecosystems.
- Connected geos is all about the continuing evolution of the global supply chain. Companies are sourcing materials from all over the world, and need to identify those regions which are most important, and which provide the greatest risk for disruptions. To support a growing customer base, FourKites has expanded its operations to Japan, as it sees the country as an important link in the global supply chain.
- To address the ‘Teams’ component, FourKites has moved from a single product company to a platform company. The company started with shipment visibility and quickly expanded into tendering by integrating to TMS, continuing plans to extend into warehouse visibility, inventory visibility, and dynamic yard management with WMS integration. The result of this platform approach is a real-time decision-based platform which can map out the end-to-end supply chain in a single platform.
- Supply chain ecosystems are made up of customers, partners, suppliers, vendors, and carriers, and none of these can operate in a silo. This means connecting these different stakeholders and facilitating data sharing that will make the entire supply chain run more efficiently. FourKites approach is to give them a single pane of glass view to each company’s supply chain thru their connected visibility.
Physically, the event had a 'connected' vibe. The many product/vendor kiosks were active the entire 2 days. Each product area had their key product developers on hand (many from across the Atlantic) available to show customer/potential customers how their product worked and created value in the FourKites eco-system.
From our view, FourKites appears to be moving from a disparate set of applications to a single, fully integrated platform solution.
"From our view, FourKites appears to be moving from a disparate set of applications to a single, fully integrated platform solution."
Area 2 – Continued Product Development
FourKites discussed their most recent 4 areas of product development during the Product Roadmap session. This is typically the session of most interest, and this year didn’t disappoint.
FourKites’ Chief Product Officer Priya Rajagopalan led an energetic session with live demonstrations. The 4 main areas are described below:
- Connected Visibility – this introduced ‘my workspace’, which is a customizable dashboard that can be personalized. All the products can be accessed from this one source, giving another method of staying connected.
- AI-Powered Insights – this introduced the FIN AI (FourKites Intelligence Network). FIN enables users to use AI-powered insights from their data for faster decision making. The solution combines many areas (network/company/external data to obtain insights, improve optimization, and automate supply chain decision making.
- Cross-Border Visibility – this is where FourKites strengthen their ocean visibility solution to compete in this global area. This appears to be getting stronger in this area.
- Intelligence Automation – one new aspect in this area relates to being able to automate appointment scheduling decisions, based on their real-time visibility results. In a controlled setting, appointment adjustments could be made without any manual intervention. The flexibility to include digital brokers during planning or execution will be key for many shippers, especially if they have many orders to plan. It is important to understand that utilizing this feature during planning will increase the optimization time due to the API calls to the digital brokers.
Area 3 – Roadmap Direction
A unique feature during the roadmap discussion is towards the end of the session, where a list of previously discussed enhancements has the chance to be voted on to be developed and be demonstrated next year. Last year the top vote getter was Order Lifecycle Visibility, which was introduced in this year’s session.
Other improvements will also be completed, but the commitment was that whatever suggestion got the highest vote count, it would be guaranteed to be worked on for next year’s conference.
- From a shipper’s perspective, the yard management reach into the inventory visibility that was mentioned briefly could make a significant improvement in inventory control. Being able to systematically include the yard inventory/dock door inventory into their overall inventory plan will allow for tighter inventory control and overall, reduce the floating inventory expense.
- We were hoping to hear more specifics about their improvements in their yard management solution that went live a few years ago. That space is still very underdeveloped and appears to be an opportunity for significant growth.
"There is a growing overlap between what FourKites offers and what is being offered by the traditional, shipper-focused TMS providers (e.g. Yard Management, Dock Scheduling, Carrier Communications, Control Tower, Event Management)."
Area 4 – Customer Centric
Many times, in annual conferences, the event is larger than the content. Not at this one, it was very clear that the focus was on the customer and the technology that can make companies perform better. The first day was mostly related to getting customer feedback and taking that information forward (all items for voting for next year’s enhancement came from those sessions). Other sessions were related to education, training and product improvement. We also appreciated that FourKite's senior leadership were present, engaged and highly knowledgeable.
In closing, this was an exceptionally good and positive conference. The customer sessions, the partner updates, and the emphasis on product innovation made it clear that FourKites is focused on delivering differentiating value to its customers.
However, it is also apparent that there is a growing overlap between what FourKites offers and what is being offered by the traditional, shipper-focused TMS providers (e.g. Yard Management, Dock Scheduling, Carrier Communications, Control Tower, Event Management).
Given FourKites’ reliance on the TMS providers to facilitate the easy integration of load information to the platform through productized integrations, it will be interesting to watch how the company navigates the tricky terrain of adding client value without alienating their partner eco-system.
Our unforgettable ride on The Barrel Bus, featuring wood staves, steel hoops, and a vertically opening door, added a nod to the 1920s Prohibition era. This one-of-a-kind ride elevated our trip to the evening event.
John Wilson, a Director in JBF's Strategy Practice, has a long and distinguished career, primarily in industry, working at a variety of large shippers including Anheuser-Busch, Sav-A-Lot, SuperValu and Solutia. Most recently he was the Director of Inbound Transportation for Bealls, responsible for operations and strategy. His transportation technology experience is with a wide array of logistics tech, including Blue Yonder, BluJay, Kaleris/Pinc, and at FourKites where he worked with the Appointment Scheduling and Yard Solutions.
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Since 2003, we’ve been helping shippers of all sizes and across many industries select, implement and squeeze as much value as possible out of their logistics systems. We speak your language — not consultant-speak – and we get to know you. Our leadership team has over 100+ years of logistics and TMS implementation experience. Because we operate in a niche — we’re not all things to all people — our team members have a very specialized skill set: logistics operations experience + transportation technology + communication and problem-solving skills + a bunch of other cool stuff.
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