Technology and Trucking
Third-party logistics (3PL) providers are being buffeted by industry-wide changes and other factors that present both challenges and opportunities. Supply chains are growing in complexity and in scope. Enterprises large and small are dealing with new factors that increase the complexity of doing business. All sorts of businesses that were once dominant are going under or struggling as the forces of technological change, shifting consumer preferences and tastes, and global economic volatility converge. These factors provide a strong incentive to leaders of businesses, including 3PL providers, to continually adapt, commit to innovation and adopt new tools to strengthen their core competencies while also proving willing to expand their range of services.
Some of these challenges include the worsening labor shortage in many developed nations, a general drop in global demand and more legal regulations, such as the recently imposed mandate requiring all trucks to have electronic logs. But perhaps the most salient challenges facing shipping companies and 3PL providers are in overcoming barriers to effectively utilizing big data and the implementation of a wide range of emerging automated systems.
Automation and big data are the future of business today; their adoption by shipping fleet companies and 3PL providers will help to align their businesses with an emerging trend in consumer expectations. As the saying goes, the customer is always right, and many consumers are expecting more and more that their shopping experience will be as seamless as possible. Whether browsing for products — both physical and, increasingly, digital — on their PC, smartphone or in a brick and mortar location, the expectation is that they will find and get into their hands exactly what they want, as easily and quickly as possible.
For logistics companies, to meet this demand they will have to innovate. All the stakeholders in the global supply chain- from 3PL providers to fleet owners to retailers- will benefit if they gather and share information from all of the new sources of data that have emerged. The sources and inputs of this data are growing at a high rate. Streams of information about capital and materials are pouring in from global supply chains. Inputs from telematics and Global Positioning Systems in trucks are data sets that are just asking to be mined for actionable insights. 3PL providers and carriers that integrate and share their data with other organizations through interoperable and interconnected data systems, in effect breaking down "information silos", will see an increase in the amount of comprehensive, real-time visibility. One benefit of visibility in the supply chain is that it allows organizations to respond quickly to change, including supply and demand fluctuations.
When it comes to the trucking industry, there are many examples of how automation and big data can fundamentally alter the dynamics at work. Telematics, which comprises the collection of data via numerous sensors and cameras, and the sending and storing of that information, is one of the biggest changes that trucking companies and 3PL providers are dealing with. Alongside these technologies, carriers are integrating increasingly automated programs such as Warehouse Management Systems and Dispatch Management Software to optimize the utilization transportation assets. Simultaneously, Electronic Data Interchange software allows for constant updates to all the stakeholders in the supply chain, including the truck driver behind the wheel.
The use of such automated fleet tracking technology can foster safer driving habits, better and faster routing, and pre-emptive maintenance that avoids more costly breakdowns. Although a not insignificant investment is needed to implement these systems, they can provide a significant ROI. Carriers and 3PL providers that take advantage of big data will see better utilization of road assets, more visibility in the supply chain and a big decrease in inefficiencies and their attendant costs.
Looking closer to home, the Port of Savannah has returned to a healthy and impressive rate of growth after having felt the economic pain of the recent global recession. One can perhaps permit a feeling of optimism for these industries and the national and global economy as a whole, both locally at the Port of Savannah and looking towards the future of automated systems and the effective use of big data.