Transportation and logistics companies face a number of challenges as the industry becomes more competitive. Regulatory requirements have increased, as have pressures to reduce costs and to provide more shipment visibility.
Technology will play a large role in meeting these challenges. Here are three key logistics management technology trends to watch for in the coming months:
Mobility and Wireless Communication: Saddling drivers with piles of paperwork is swiftly becoming a thing of the past. Mobile computers that provide a wireless connection between the driver, the dispatcher, and in some cases, the customer, are becoming more common.
Depending on the industry, drivers may be armed with a rugged tablet computer, a vehicle-mounted device, a handheld computer, or even a smartphone in a rugged case. They can use these devices to receive instructions from the dispatcher, update delivery status, manage their routes, and take advantage of hands-free communication capabilities that improve driver safety.
The continued expansion of faster 3G and 4G wireless networks have made it easier for drivers to stay in constant electronic communication, eliminating the need for phone calls and faxes from the road. These advances help improve efficiency.
Logistics companies are also leveraging their mobile solutions for additional applications. These companies already use mobile computers for dispatch, location data, accessing directions, and reporting delivery status. Increasingly, companies are using these same devices for pre-trip inspections, electronic driver logs, hours of service reporting, fuel tax reporting, electronic time cards, and other applications.
Expanding the number of applications on the mobile device significantly increases the ROI of the solution.
A Drive Toward the Cloud: Hosted, software-as-as-service (SaaS) or cloud-based software solutions are becoming more common in the supply chain. For large logistics organizations, a hosted solution can streamline deployment by making it easier to launch a new application across multiple territories simultaneously, without an army of IT support staff at each location.
For smaller companies, cloud solutions provide a way to cost effectively implement a solution without investing in servers or additional staff to maintain the hardware and software. These solutions can level the playing field between larger and small-to-medium-sized companies.
Because the software is hosted in the cloud, some companies are even able to grant limited, secure access to data (such as location or status) for their customers. That way, the parties shipping and receiving the goods can easily check shipment status without time consuming phone calls.
Telematics: Logistics companies have long used telematics solutions for fleet tracking and safety applications. Now, more advanced telematics systems are being combined with automated dispatch/scheduling and transportation management systems to provide new levels of functionality.
Advanced telematics systems can provide valuable data on driver behaviors (such as speeding or harsh braking) that can be used for improving safety. In-vehicle mobile computers can be looped in to provide real-time alerts and warnings to drivers that are operating outside of established thresholds.
Location data can be leveraged to feed fuel tax reporting or hours of service applications, and accurate driving history can be used to schedule regular maintenance of the vehicles. Telematics solutions can also alert driers and supervisors about potential vehicle maintenance problems.
Telematics data can be used to improve dispatch and scheduling operations, reduce fuel consumption, and optimize fleet utilization. When combined with mobile computing and transportation management solutions, telematics can help logistics companies better manage their fleet and provide value-added services to customers.
Technology will continue to play a critical role in logistics management in the coming year. Investing in leading-edge solutions will help transportation companies stay competitive and profitable.