As technology and software marches forward, innovations in mobility are rapidly gathering pace. For logistics providers, these advances are set to streamline and speed up transport operations into a more productive and more profitable process, says Darren Matthews, Business Development Analyst, WiseTech Global.
Irrespective of the economic or competitive issues that currently threaten profitability, transport companies have a single business driver: to pick and release cargo fast. To do this, your systems and communications have to be accurate; you have to have people and trucks in the right place at the right time; and you need complete visibility into every activity—in real time.
As you bring growing hub-and-spoke networks into play, it’s vital to know where every piece of freight is. Many distribution networks reach a growth tipping point and are then hampered by the disparate systems and devices being used in the various divisions of the business.
Transport companies need to have the freedom to make the right decisions, grow, branch out and reallocate staff without being tied by ageing, inflexible systems.
Mobile, visible, integrated and scalable
Not too long ago, everyone had to decipher scrappy pieces of paper with oily fingerprints all over them to process the supply chain.
In the last couple of years, logistics software has developed to the point where it underpins the seamless management of every job—whether it’s a pick-up and delivery, refrigerated, point to point, local, or bulk or line haul consignment. But these systems were often beyond the reach of smaller or cash-strapped operations.
Then, Software as a Service (SaaS) absolutely revolutionised the adoption and affordability of enterprise-grade software for transport companies of all sizes and business requirements.
The hallmarks of the new generation of problem-solving logistics solutions are that they’re fully integrated to provide a real-time view across the business. They are completely scalable, allowing you to switch functionality and user licenses on and off as required. And, crucial to responsiveness and accuracy, the software leverages the power of the smart barcode scanners used to receive and release cargo into and out of a warehouse and ruggedized in-cab POD, GPS and mobility devices.
These single-platform solutions, that put productivity at the center of the supply chain, are making the world of difference to transport companies.
The bundling revolution
Now we have the next logical progression: Logistics Devices-as-a-Service (LDaaS). Every piece of technology required to capture the supply chain—from mobile devices to the servers and desktops running your logistics application—can potentially be wrapped into an LDaaS subscription.
Rather than having to purchase your hardware outright, it makes sense to be able to bundle these with your software solution in a simple monthly fee – similar to a smartphone plan but without any lock-in contracts. You don’t have to put fantastic new cloud software on to groaning old PCs. All you need is an internet connection to take advantage of the productivity and operational benefits of integrated mobility.
These no CapEx, low OpEx deals are creating a predictable and affordable cost base for bottom-line driven transport companies.
I see LDaaS as a standout for the transport and warehousing industry—particularly those small- to-medium-sized players who have struggled to keep up with the technological developments due to cost and complexity issues. It is effectively opening up the marketplace to all contenders.
Operating with the latest and greatest
One of the clear advantages of operating from cloud-based software on monthly subscriptions is that you are always on the latest version and thus avoid the nightmare of upgrades. And the extra benefit of having no contractual lock-ins is that you have control over a scalable system; can switch software functionality on and off as required and add or subtract user licenses as your business evolves.
If you widen that to LDaaS, when you take on a new driver, the devices he needs are added to the monthly rental – and handed back, with no more to pay, if no longer needed.
By using the latest technologies, you’ll be viewed as an advanced company when presenting to potential new customers, and will be a far more responsive business in your efforts to keep them.
Planning in the dark
We’re now well beyond the time when planning can be done using gut feel or past experience— we’re seeing too many new elements coming into the mix, particularly from customer service expectations. It takes the automated planning and calculation capabilities of the latest software to take the subjectivity out of the exercise.
Leave the software to analyse information from across the business; to map out, manage and schedule your operations and track the success of any changes. You can see the status of your vehicle fleet and allocated jobs. Booked, current, future and incomplete jobs can be tracked and you can allocate consignments to specific drivers and vehicles when they become available.
International and domestic consignments can be easily managed as they seamlessly transition through each stage of the supply chain. Land transport integrates with forwarding, customs, container freight station and transit and contract warehousing capabilities.
If you have your entire business operating on a single-platform system, then your depot and drivers, your trucks, trailer and rail assets are all on the same page to give you full visibility throughout your operations. And your sales activities and customer relationships are also working with the true picture. With the streamlined flow of pick-and-deliver, you can focus on fixing trouble spots and exceptions with real-time insight.
Picking the right cargo and picking the right people
One of the issues facing the industry at the moment is staffing. Because most trucking companies are operating on a shoestring, it’s absolutely vital to have staff in the right places, doing the right things, at the right time. Technology can ease some of this by taking the guesswork out of the tricky areas like scheduling, picking, quoting and invoicing.
If you have to make a phone call to pass instructions to a driver, that’s unproductive use of both the driver’s and depot staff’s time. With information automatically sent to the driver’s in-cab POD as soon as it’s entered into the system—whether by staff or the customer—you’ve gained speed and accuracy.
Your drivers have the key to more than the truck
Drivers are often the direct point of contact for your customer and are the pivot point of every transport operation. Today’s truck telematics and hand-held mobility devices are essential to providing them with real time information and support to do their job better and more safely—which reflects on improved customer service.
With greater management control, you can set and measure planned depot departure and return times for each driver and set driver performance standards to achieve your targets.
Rather than waiting in the depot for the return of torn or lost con notes you can see driver behavior and item location, as well as vehicle performance, at the click of a tab on your PC’s dashboard.
Truck fleets: asset or liability?
As governments around the world crack down on unsafe, overloaded, polluting truck fleets, maintenance is not only a huge cost factor but is increasingly a compliance issue—where failures have the capacity to shut down the business.
With the latest handheld mobility devices plus integrated truck telematics, maintenance costs can be minimized and rule breaking stopped. Whether containerized cargo or bulk, multiple or mixed consignments, direct or via hubs, liquid or refrigerated, multi-leg or container, you can now get the most from your fleet’s delivery schedules.
At any minute of every 24 hours you have access to on-the-road job data streams, truck-to-base and base-to-truck status updates and be able to track drivers, equipment and consignments. This valuable data lets you easily identify profitable and unprofitable vehicles, routes and customers so you can understand what works—and what doesn’t.
Stopping the leaks
With pressure on the bottom line and tight profit margins as a constant, stopping revenue leakage is critical to business longevity.
Using integrated scan, weight and measure equipment will go a long way to drawing a line under that leakage. Short and long items and consignment errors can be found, accounted for and managed back to the problem location. When consignments are auto-rated and invoices issued immediately on completion of the job, you maximize your returns.
This primes your cash flow and vastly reduces administration. It also has a positive impact on the reduction of costly customer inquiries, claims and complaints.
Keeping track of business
Integrated GPS and mapping capabilities are incredibly powerful. Having your tracking data integrated with customer, job, driver and trip information in a single-platform system translates to complete visibility.
You can process operational tasks, trigger alerts and activities in real time. And responding to ad hoc queries, such as finding the closest vehicle with a particular consignment capacity, is dead easy. Again, there’s the double benefit of streamlining the business and providing superior customer service.
Maintaining competitive pricing
Spiralling fuel, fleet and driver costs spell disaster for freighters. Traditional plan-once-and-execute systems don’t allow you to adjust for competitive pricing and to retain profit margins.
Route optimization – that takes into account current events such as detention, traffic, booking and route changes – is essential for flexibility and productivity.
If you run operations with a high-density customer base or high-volume, low-value retail that requires a large number of drops per truck, you need a system that lets you manage and optimize your delivery/pickup cycle. You need to be able to plan your deliveries on the fastest or shortest route and schedule your vehicles to minimize time, effort, cost and delivery commitments to maximize fleet efficiency.
By reducing distances travelled, you’ll cut fuel and maintenance bills, the number of vehicles on the road and driver overtime.
Customer service and customer expectations
Customers are demanding ever higher levels of visibility into where their freight is within a network; they want answers as to whether cargo has been left behind and where. With the right technology in place, you can give the client what they want and you have business clarity too.
By perfecting route scheduling you can reduce the lead-time between the receipt of a customer’s order and delivery – they can rely on a service where vehicle, time and consignment are right, and you can manage tighter delivery windows at no added cost.
With a customer friendly website that’s integrated with your logistics system, they can review the status of their orders, view the POD, and print the consignment note and invoice. You can even get a bit flashy and switch on live GPS location of the vehicle carrying their freight.
There’s no business like repeat business. Customer satisfaction, referrals to new business and audited service level ratings give you easier new business wins.
Pricing model is the game changer
As huge, upfront technology investments are now a constraint of the past, all land transport businesses can now drive their bottom line with the same efficiency tools as the multi-nationals. The ‘as-a-Service’ concept has truly levelled the much clichéd playing field.
LDaaS puts the latest devices in every vehicle and puts everyone on a far more professional footing.
While scanning hardware and POD devices are in the LDaaS crosshairs at the moment, the future is looking even more exciting with its predicted expansion into other in-cab technologies such as those monitoring driver safety, fuel use and maintenance.
By pairing an affordable bundle of market leading software with the latest logistics mobility devices, there’s nothing holding you back. You’ll know what’s happening in your business—as it happens. Now you just have to worry about those things that are out of your control—the economy and your competitors—but at least you’re equipped to be super responsive at any hint of trouble.
Darren Matthews is Business Development Analyst for WiseTech Global®
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