Carriers and 3PLs are increasingly turning to collaborative technology to eliminate blind spots that exist today in the movement, delivery and return of containers to and from the last mile - the final customer destination. So says a new report, Intermodal Optimization - Enhancing Last Mile Visibility and Execution, just published by the Aberdeen Group.
Commissioned by cloud transportation technology provider IAS, the report surveys 58 intermodal freight users out of 123 North American business capacity owners (BCOs), 3PLs and carriers first interviewed for Aberdeen's August 2011 study Integrated Transportation in a Capacity Constrained Global Market. The aim was to analyze how challenges faced by intermodal users differed from their single-mode counterparts, how they were coping with current global intermodal requirements, and what technology strategies were being adopted in response.
Compared to the others, intermodal users - companies moving containers to and from ocean ports and rail ramps, mainly as part of international shipments - face more complex requirements. These include not only coordinating equipment and container movements from port, rail, truck and inland customer delivery locations, but also the tracking and return of the containers to the port designated by the container owner. The challenge is being magnified by the lengthening of global container supply chains, says the report.
"Across a broad spectrum of partners, the synchronized movement and return of international intermodal shipments and containers requires far more levels of status and visibility than single mode domestic transport," says report author Bob Heaney, senior analyst in supply chain management at Aberdeen. "Our research found that both single-mode and intermodal users are highly focused on improving supply chain visibility to reduce transportation cost and improve on-time and complete shipments. However, intermodal users are more aware and prepared to address the weakest link in the chain - last mile visibility and optimization."
Intermodal users are three times more likely to have automated the exchange of information, 2.9 times more likely to scorecard transportation activities and 1.6 times more likely to have visibility tools to support backhauling against empty miles, according to the report. Yet, "although they can be characterized as 'early adopters' of automated data exchange compared with single mode users, still only 57 percent of the intermodal users in the study had visibility and optimization tools in place to manage last mile execution," Heaney adds.
The report highlights the particular challenges of improving visibility in North American operations due to the many parties controlling first and last mile deliveries to shipper/3PL distribution centers, including a large pool of independent motor carriers. Based on its research findings, Aberdeen recommends the use of existing collaborative cloud-based platforms as the swiftest and most flexible route to bring all the relevant partners on board and achieve the required levels of visibility.
With registration, the full report is available here.
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