In the name of safety, touchless technology is on the rise everywhere we look. Restaurants and retailers are adopting contactless payment methods. The journey through the airport terminal is trending toward touch-free. The touchless sensing market is expected to reach $15.3 billion in 2025, up from $6.8 billion in 2020. Not to be left out, we’re going to see touch-free supply-chain operations evolve this year as well.
As pandemic-induced safety concerns skyrocketed last year, so did the need for contactless solutions at every step of the supply chain, from shipping to shelves. Coming into 2021, experts don’t think this shift toward touchless delivery and workflows will be slowing any time soon. In fact, trends in automation, from artificial intelligence to machine learning to predictive analytics, are enabling contact-free methods in the supply chain to march forward.
The drive toward supply-chain digitization is underway. For many years, there’s been a strong desire among trucking companies and consignees to go paper-free, whether during pickups, deliveries or anywhere else along the supply chain. Transportation leaders want the ability to handle bills of lading and other vital documentation on mobile devices, because digital transactions are more efficient, accurate and environmentally friendly than manual paper-based processes.
Automated data-acquisition processes are a growing trend, including the ability to auto-generate and auto-populate data. In fact, regulations now require that truck drivers use electronic logging devices (ELDs) rather than paper logbooks. Going from paper-based to digital makes it easier for companies to collect important data and manage supply-chain operations using the broad array of cloud-based supply-chain software available in the market today.
Digitization also enables organizations to apply A.I. to massive amounts of aggregated data, giving way to predictive analytics, demand sensing and demand planning, to identify patterns for improvement that might not be noticeable otherwise. A.I. increases efficiency in many ways, including reducing the time it takes for carriers to move empty “deadhead” loads. It improves predictability by enabling carriers to better estimate arrival times based on historical trends.
Further, A.I. can optimize labor resources and reduce the time involved in determining how best to load a truck, which often requires multiple stops and drops before final destination. A.I. and machine learning enable a company to take historical usage data and plan the loading and unloading of a truck, which manually could take six to eight hours, and reduce that time to mere minutes.
Though touchless was on the minds of many transportation leaders prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 has widely accelerated demand because of its sanitation requirements. Heightened safety needs have prompted even industry laggards to make the move from paper-based freight documentation to digital, removing contact risk with paper-based bills of lading, proofs of delivery, freight invoices and auditing. With the forced removal of the paper barrier, there was finally room in the industry to facilitate widespread adoption of digital logistics solutions.
Even smaller companies, which make up the majority of U.S. freight carriers and are often most resistant to change, are ready to transition to digital methods because of their safety benefits.
Today, the transportation market is more poised than ever to invest in A.I. and machine learning. Many shippers, carriers and brokers are moving toward an all-things-digital environment, as they already use transportation management systems (TMS) to automate operations and aggregate important information.
Whether trucking companies have taken the plunge, dipped their toes in the water or are watching innovation from the shore, none should be intimidated by contactless workflows. What might seem ultra-advanced today is often table stakes tomorrow.
There’s no need to go it alone. Rather, seek out an experienced TMS provider that can help the transition from this last vestige of a paper-based supply chain to a technology-enabled touchless one. These partners have already helped others grease the wheels for the application of A.I. and machine learning to improve logistics management, and can provide companies of all sizes with high-quality data that’s been cleaned, scrubbed and is the “sole source of truth.”
Before anyone had heard of COVID-19, the supply-chain management industry was already headed toward digitization, but as the pandemic wears on, the need to go contactless accelerates. The benefits to transportation companies and their shipper customers are many, including increased safety, enhanced accuracy and productivity, and access to crucial data to drive the business. All signs are pointing to a fully digitized supply chain, and we believe that more transportation leaders than ever will follow them this year.
If you aren’t sure where to start, find a TMS tech partner that has the experience and expertise in the supply-chain and logistics industry to get you headed in the right direction — toward holistic, safe and digitized supply-chain operations.
Paul Beavers is chief technology officer at PCS Software.
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