Digital mobility pervades nearly every aspect of life in both the public and private sectors. By the end of this year, the number of mobile phone users is expected to reach 6.8 billion — up from 3.9 billion just five years ago.
Modern supply chain logistics is no exception when it comes to responding to the increasing reliance upon mobile tech and the role it plays in the lives of consumers and the companies that produce and deliver products to them. Here are a few key forces driving the adoption of mobile technology in the logistics industry.
Logistics is a mobile industry. Perhaps more than any other industry, transportation logistics is, quite literally, an industry in motion. Truckload freight alone accounts for more than 175 billion miles of movement over the road in the U.S. every year. The entire market for transportation management software (TMS) focuses on managing the movement of freight from inbound materials into manufacturing and production facilities, to outbound distribution to points of sale and final mile deliveries.
Aging tracking tech like electronic data interchange (EDI) using in-cab telematics is being rendered obsolete by the omnipresence of mobile phones and wireless technologies. Asset tracking and management, driver and equipment management, scheduling, fuel card management, mapping and mileage calculations, routing and dispatching processes and many other logistics tech solutions are now being delivered via mobile apps on wireless devices.
Logistics users of all persuasions — from supply chain executives to transportation planners/dispatchers and even some truck drivers themselves — have hailed the benefits of having logistics information delivered to and from their handheld devices.
Digitization can’t be realized without a mobile component. The power and promise of data aggregation are compelling organizations of all sizes to focus on digitizing their operational activity. After all, any segment of the supply chain still managed using paper-based systems stands as an obstacle to gaining end-to-end visibility and performing analysis of the upstream and downstream impacts of logistics plans. In short, either the entire end-to-end logistics function is digitized, or the benefit of digitization may not be fully realized.
Digitization is already being realized across the information systems in the back offices of carrier operations and the procurement and sales operations of shippers. Digital integrations between accounting platforms, enterprise resource planning (ERP)/order management systems, TMS, warehouse management systems (WMS), and other enterprise software see to it that data is organized, normalized and passed back and forth between these applications with increasing efficiency. This data accessibility powers increased automation levels and dramatically improved planning and execution. Yet, it is where the literal rubber meets the actual road in supply chain logistics — with drivers moving freight — that mobile tech is making the largest transformative impact.
Critical logistics documentation — like bill of lading (BOL) and proof of delivery (POD) documents — is still largely passed back and forth between drivers and consignees on paper. This not only leaves a significant digital blind spot in the process but also slows it down, requiring the paper data to be manually entered into the information systems when the driver returns. One shipper summed it up perfectly at Ignite during a panel discussion on innovation remarking, “Contactless BOLs close the loop for our digitization initiative. Before this, our entire data flow was digital except the BOLs and PODs which still required manual processing with all the delay and potential for errors that came with it. Now we’re fully digital end-to-end.”
Emerging paperless shipping documentation tech tools are closing this last remaining gap in end-to-end digitization using mobile tech. Using wireless devices, drivers at pickup and delivery locations can log pickups and deliveries digitally and in real-time, completely closing the loop on supply chain data.
The mobile apps being provided to drivers also increase speed and accuracy to the claims process, enabling photos of damaged or missing freight to instantly append claims reports. The same mobile apps provided to drivers accelerate settlement, driver pay, hours of service compliance and a host of other critical concerns. The data captured and shared via the application of mobile technologies accelerates supply chain throughput and increases operational efficiency.
Speed of business is accelerating. The ability of mobile logistics tech to accelerate operations has become a crucial component to competitive advantage. Whether it is manifested in the adoption of must arrive by dates (MABDs), the planning rigors of just in time manufacturing and lean inventory management, the ability of a shipper to boost speed settlement as a means of attracting carrier capacity, or the growing expectation of visibility into shipments in transit, speed in supply chain logistics is paramount.
Mobility tools ensure not only speed, but accuracy, while also helping to capture the ground level data that is essential to deriving predictive capabilities, drive artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) practices and help logistics operations keep pace with the rapidly accelerating markets they serve. We found that many carrier company operators attended Ignite to learn more about how technologies are being developed to help them improve efficiency and avoid time wasted dwelling or in detention.
The new normal is contactless. Spurred on by the public health implications of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations have issued mandates and launched initiatives dedicated to minimizing contact and maximizing distancing protocols. While some shippers and carriers may have been ahead of the curve, instituting mobility tools as part of broader digitization goals, the onset of the pandemic has escalated the priority of deploying mobile apps.
The benefit of contactless document management is now two-fold. Not only does a company gain the benefit of real-time data capture and visibility, but they also help protect their workforce from increased risk of exposure — a posture that also yields dividends in reputation, demonstrating good corporate social responsibility.
There are scores of other examples to illustrate the necessity of mobility tech in support of optimal logistics operations for shippers and carriers alike. Each operation has its own unique challenges and these powerful, flexible digitization tools can be flexed to help achieve a wide range of operational goals.
Paul Beavers is chief technology officer at PCS Software.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.