By: Steve Barber, VP of IT & Customer Solutions, Transplace
Growing expectations from consumers and the “Amazon effect” continue to put pressure on today’s supply chains to provide minute-by-minute location updates as goods are delivered directly to the doorstep of a customer within days or even hours. And just like consumers, companies are also demanding real-time visibility – requiring shippers to have an optimal mix of technology and transportation management processes to address these needs.
Fortunately, today’s transportation management platforms have continued to evolve and now provide organizations with greater visibility, intelligence and control over their supply chains than ever before. And the emergence of new and innovative technologies will continue to provide greater capabilities and deliver greater value.
Modern Technologies Impacting Transportation
The technology landscape has evolved from what it was 10 or even five years ago, and innovations such as real-time visibility solutions, machine learning and blockchain have also impacted the transportation space. But how are these emerging technologies impacting transportation today, and what can shippers expect to see in the future?
Real-Time Visibility Solutions and Artificial Intelligence: While GPS technology for trucks has been around for 30+ years, visibility solutions have matured and continue to evolve, and forward-thinking companies are leveraging this technology to deliver real business value. Today’s shippers now have access to a universal managed transportation platform that can locate a shipment in real time – but also, more importantly, make data actionable once the information is received. This further facilitates optimized performance, reduction in costs and the successful navigation of compounding market challenges.
Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are also enabling companies to successfully receive data, track locations and then deploy an algorithm to extract value from the provided analytics. These capabilities are helping to improve customer service as shippers can be more proactive and alert their customers (and the end consumer) if a delivery will be late.
Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics: Machine learning started to infiltrate the transportation industry in 2017 and 2018, and the ability to leverage supply chain data is now at an all-time high – enabling greater use of analytics-based decision-making and behavior modeling. Advanced technology is allowing shippers (and their logistics providers) to use predictive analytics to help create solutions for proactively identifying the impact of adverse weather, infrastructure challenges and social risks that can disrupt a shipment. It can also further enable network optimization through better forecasting of shipment demand, improved capacity planning and the identification of new optimization opportunities for shipment consolidation, mode shifts and continuous moves.
Blockchain: Blockchain has been a hotly-debated topic, and has great potential for enhancing visibility and helping shippers gain a better understanding of when freight changes hands, as well as tracking freight payment data and proof of delivery. But there isn’t a complete ecosystem or standard to support it – and there are too many shippers and carriers for the technology to be implemented successfully at this time. So, while it does have tremendous promise, we’re still a few years away from a level of standardization, successful use cases and the right platform to support the technology for blockchain to become widely adopted within the industry.
Technology Adoption Challenges
While real-time visibility solutions and machine learning are already delivering significant value for many companies, there are still a number of barriers to successfully implementing these technologies across the entire industry. Logistics solutions, such as a transportation management system (TMS), are still not fully adopted within the industry and some organizations still use pen and paper instead of automating processes. In addition, there is a diverse population of carriers across North America, which creates varied, inaccurate or missing data – making truly automating and optimizing certain processes difficult.
The Future Role of Technology in Transportation Management
Technology will continue to evolve and disrupt the transportation industry, impacting many companies in different ways. Those organizations that couldn’t get their business case to succeed will leave the marketplace, while those that have honed the fundamentals of their technology will rise to take their place at the top. Strategic partnerships will also likely play a role in helping emerging technologies deliver real-world value as various platforms and asset providers will partner to expand use cases and deliver on customer expectations.
It’s important to remember that even as new tools and trends will continue to emerge, day-to-day operations teams still need to secure capacity and ship freight, and customers will still need to make purchases and receive goods. So, while shippers should continue to invest in and adopt innovative technologies, there must continue to be a strong focus on exceling at current industry fundamentals, rather than being distracted by what may come down the road. Partnering with a logistics provider will allow forward-thinking shippers to leverage these technologies to improve their operational performance today while laying the foundation for the supply chain of tomorrow.