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With heightened consumer expectations for rapid delivery of items such as clothing, technology and food products showing no sign of slowing, companies and their transportation partners are under immense pressure to produce, manage, fulfill and distribute an unprecedented amount of consumer goods.
Across diverse industries, companies that are seeing the most success are the ones that no longer view transportation management and logistics as a backroom function. Instead, they’re bringing it to the forefront by introducing the right mix of technology solutions and strategies to ensure things that matter most to brands, including on-time delivery and avoiding detrimental stock-outs, are accomplished. For transportation operations, this means using resources that enhance productivity, performance and customer service while directly ensuring the safety of drivers.
To help navigate these challenges, companies must consider tools that can improve control over the distribution process and maximize efforts that contribute to the bottom line.
Route Planning Offers Agility
To increase efficiency, the first step for operators is to secure the right route-planning processes for pickups, deliveries and service calls.
Route planning plays a significant role for companies that deliver thousands of items available for immediate shipment daily. In some cases, depending on business objectives, deliveries can be made same-day or the next day — even if customers place orders the night before. The technology helps assist in organizing these big shipments, optimizing both the amount of trucks needed and miles covered that a driver completes, as well as the right number of products that go onto those trucks so that each route is as efficient as possible.
Certain industries such as construction are highly dynamic, have short and ever-changing delivery windows, and deal with a variety of different materials. For those industries, technology-based route planning enables operators to schedule deliveries and appointments, optimize routes, dispatch orders and communicate with drivers quickly and via paperless means. They can reassign deliveries quickly, respond to unexpected customer changes in real time and ultimately set exceptions in advance. This level of agility and nimbleness is even more critical during times such as peak seasons, in which heightened demand can become a serious challenge.
Real-Time Information Through Mobile
Within the past several years, we’ve seen a real willingness from the transportation sector to use smartphone and mobile technology to transform driver functionality and communications.
Mobile is an inherently valuable piece to combine with route planning — enabling drivers to easily receive routes, orders and manifests in real time — wirelessly and electronically. Things such as proof of delivery and the signatures needed to signify the safe arrival of items at their destination are much easier to capture on a mobile device, along with digital pictures to confirm if goods are free of damage or that no items are missing. When this was solely paper-based, it was easy for a simple delivery to turn into an overall claim management nightmare if a customer alleged missing materials, missed windows, or worse, damaged property and goods. Any of those scenarios can be costly and potentially detrimental to a company’s reputation without the proper documentation for defense. Mobile has dramatically minimized the risk of fraudulent claims and made the method of resolving them much more effective.
Since some solutions also integrate different types of payment methods, mobile also speeds up invoicing and billing cycles, accelerates end-of-day reconciliation and returns processing, and allows for better cash flow — all major advantages for every party involved.
Telematics Helps Automate and Report
Telematics has become an important technological tool to help collect, properly log and report data to remain compliant with state and federal regulations, in addition to remaining efficient.
Tracking and telematics systems provide real-time GPS data needed to monitor and manage the productivity and health of vehicles and those that drive them. With a more comprehensive picture of vehicle-related information such as maintenance, engine temperature and hours covered by drivers, along with driver behavior such as speeding, hard-braking, or excessive idling, logistics providers can eliminate blind spots in their supply chain, cut unnecessary costs and ensure the safety of their drivers.
Moving forward, we expect that the transportation industry will continue to transform in parallel with changing consumer behaviors, preferences and demands. While these technologies are not necessarily new to the industry, many providers still are learning the benefits of each and slowly adopting them as part of their strategies. It’s clear that for distribution-intensive companies, routing, mobile and telematics have and will continue to serve as smart solutions to keep pace and promote success in the digitally driven world.
Brian Hodgson is senior vice president of industry strategy at Descartes Systems Group, which provides software for the logistics and transportation industries. He has more than 20 years of sales and business development experience and has worked with hundreds of companies to apply enterprise software and process improvements to drive value and cost savings in their supply chain and logistics functions.