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Digitalization Is Ushering Visibility Into Supply Chains

The North American trucking industry is extremely fragmented, as over 90 percent of all fleets own six trucks or fewer. This fragmentation, aside from inhibiting technology incursion, has impeded visibility and transparency in freight movement.

The opacity in operations impacts stakeholders across the trucking value chain. Oftentimes, this lack of visibility or transparency within the supply chain is due to outmoded and dated systems of communication.

The opacity in operations impacts stakeholders across the trucking value chain. Oftentimes, this lack of visibility or transparency within the supply chain is due to outmoded and dated systems of communication. Not only do these systems impede efficiency, but they also result in a number of missed opportunities for shippers, brokers, and carriers alike.

The adoption of digitalization within the trucking industry has spiked in recent years. A lot of it has to do with the rise of e-commerce and its associated ‘Amazon effect,’ which has created the need for expedited supply chains, especially the last-mile. This necessitated that trucking operations shed off inefficiencies especially with respect to visibility, which in turn led to a rise in innovations and the digitalization of the industry.

The Data Differentiator to Visibility

Stakeholders within the freight industry, be it fleets or traditional brokerages, suffer from siloed operations that do not interact with other functions within the same organization. This leads to data streams being trapped within workflows, thereby reducing operational efficiency and visibility.

Companies should phase out paper documentation and adopt digitalization in order to usher in visibility, and reduce complexities in gathering and processing documents. Aside from increasing efficiencies, this will also reduce material consumption, helping companies reach their sustainability goals.

With data streams being streamlined, stakeholders can leverage them via data analytics to gain insights into operations.

With data streams being streamlined, stakeholders can leverage them via data analytics to gain insights into operations. For instance, data analytics helps brokerages prime their operations to be more proactive to market volatility as opposed to only remaining reactive to change. This is particularly crucial in the age of e-commerce, where logistics businesses are expected to be malleable to continually evolving consumer expectations. To help meet expectations, leading companies are (or should be) taking advantage of linking their existing ERP systems to a TMS system.

For fleets, digitalization enables them to have visibility over driver behavior and freight movement. Aside from letting fleets provide an accurate estimated time of arrival (ETA), better visibility allows them to come up with flexible delivery models and faster shipping options.

On-demand fulfillment is a significant differentiator in the last-mile delivery segment. For this, businesses must understand customer behavior and buying characteristics – possible only by analyzing previous orders and having cognizance of market demand.

The Efficiency Perspective of the Freight Hauling Equation

Digitalization enables businesses to create greater visibility and increase cumulative efficiency across supply chains. Automation of repetitive manual tasks at the back office helps channelize worker hours in more productive and value-added endeavors. End customers gain access to shipping information, including real-time freight location, which improves overall customer service levels. Data streams are now stored in the cloud, making it easier to recall and share information between stakeholders in the value chain.

With technology like 5G coming up within the industry, high latency issues via the LTE network transmission will also be solved. Latency is the time it takes for data to travel from the place of origin (like a truck cab) to the destination – which is the cloud. High latency is a problem for data analytics, as it results in insights that are not, in essence, real-time. Bad cellular signals, which are commonplace when trucks haul through the country, result in high latency.

With 5G potentially becoming mainstream in a few years, the latency value can be expected to reduce. Stakeholders would then be able to access more ‘real-time’ insights, helping to further improve efficiencies.

Digitalization has helped businesses to eliminate cumbersome manual processes that have been an industry’s staple.

Digitalization has helped businesses to eliminate cumbersome manual processes that have been an industry’s staple. Data levels the playing field for shippers and carriers, whatever be their size of operations. With visibility being ubiquitous across the industry, the overall market can learn to handle volatility better, especially in the context of economic recession or a black swan event like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, adopting new technologies is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, which discourages many companies from adopting newer innovations. This is where digital freight management, specifically third-party logistics providers (3PLs), shine. Partnering with a 3PL allows companies to reap the benefits of these digitized systems without the heavy investment cost of overhauling legacy systems.

Finalizing Your 2021 Transportation Budget – The New Normal

Freight Budgeting for 2021 is going to be very different from the traditional budgeting done in previous years. The effects of the economic shutdowns stemming from the COVID-19 crisis have trickled down to Q4 and have managed to create unforeseen supply chain challenges for business operations across North America. Organizations have addressed and responded to the situation in various ways and the adaptations have been unique to each market and industry served.  With this same principle applied there cannot be one standard transportation budget methodology applied while planning for 2021 The ability to respond to these challenges will determine the future strategies required in 2021 to ensure recovery and possible profitable performance.

The essential goods movement surged in the past months, and different modes were preferred to move these goods.

Freight Budgeting then vs. now

The evident change in consumer behavior and the booming e-commerce marketplace has opened access to new consumer segments relying on faster doorstep deliveries for products that were earlier purchased the traditional way. The essential goods movement surged in the past months, and different modes were preferred to move these goods. The industry saw more parcel shipment related movements and trucking kept the economy afloat. The crisis brought many digitization initiatives to the forefront and accelerated technology innovations. The need for advanced analytics has been stressed time and again to enable businesses to respond better to disruption.

Budgeting for 2021 will need mapping existing resources with strategy and a shift from the traditional inputs and standard approaches.

Amidst all the industry changes and shifts, the crisis has brought in excellent opportunities to learn and implement new strategies for 2021. Budgeting for 2021 will need mapping existing resources with strategy and a shift from the traditional inputs and standard approaches. The need for more incredible speed and cost control spans across all industries, therefore making it a challenging task to achieve a perfect budget for 2021. The traditional approach to budgeting, whether bottom-up or top-down, can face roadblocks with repeated negotiations and may ignore syncing strategy with value creation and resource allocation. Therefore, the 2021 budgeting should be a strategic exercise that considers data insights to unlock value and bring flexibility in resource allocation to ensure desired resilience in the supply chains.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive Analytics regarding supply chains can help provide some actionable insights into the budgeting process. The data insights can help predict customer responses or purchase behavior based on 2020 to suggest better ways to respond to demand in the coming year. Questions like how has the crisis impacted other stakeholders across geographies and what are their implications in freight budgeting for 2021?

Streamlining the freight budget process

Streamlining the freight budget process to be more responsive in disruptive scenarios is essential. The procedure to achieve such streamlined and efficient budgeting may vary from business to business this year. What may work for one company may not drive results for the other.

Operational KPIs

Comparing the recent trends and linking operational KPIs with strategic plans are elemental to drive data regarding the actual impact the business has endured in times of this economic crisis. How has the economic crisis impacted liquidity risks and how the uncertainties in the market impact these operational KPIs must be understood to plan the recovery and the strategy governing the freight budget for 2021.

A careful assessment of all factors that brought about the level of disruption for businesses this year will determine the strategies for 2021. Some may have to focus on sustaining the business while others may focus on restructuring the business to match the demand.

Finalizing Your 2021 Freight Budget Webinar October 21

At BlueGrace, we are addressing the need for a more strategic approach to freight budgeting in 2021 through a webinar. Watch the recorded Webinar now to learn how to steer your budgeting exercises for 2021 to build a more robust and agile supply chain for your business. We will address the burning questions related to planning the freight budget this year and discuss how BlueGrace is helping navigate the uncertainties of post-pandemic normalcy.

Digitalization In Trucking

Digitalization, as an industry trend in the logistics world, has emerged quite late. However, now that digitalization and innovation seem to have caught up the industry’s pace, much transformation can be expected. Digitalization refers to using advanced technologies to integrate physical and digital worlds through a seamless exchange of information occurring at different supply chain nodes. Hence, the process helps improve productivity, use data analytics for informed decisions, automate mundane manual tasks, reduce the scope of error, and induce process excellence throughout the supply chain.

Logistics, as a whole, is experiencing this wave of innovation in automation and digitalization initiatives.

Logistics, as a whole, is experiencing this wave of innovation in automation and digitalization initiatives. When we refer to trucking, digitalization may refer to a comprehensive and automated system where processes are monitored and controlled by technologies that optimize operations while directly contributing to the bottom line. The extensive growth of e-commerce is a driving force behind driving digitalization in trucking. Changing consumer behavior, prolific e-commerce discounts, same-day deliveries are all changing the way products move at different stages of the supply chain. The need for digitalization in the industry is greater now than ever.

Elements of Digitalization in Trucking

Digitalization can be witnessed in broadly four segments of the industry: Goods, Conveyance, Infrastructure, and Business Processes. Therefore, the elements of a digitally enabled trucking system can be an autonomous communication system, remote diagnostics, real-time tracking and tracing capabilities, and seamless exchange of information among integrated systems. The large-scale penetration of mobile connectivity, smartphones, geo-location tracking systems, and sensor technologies like the Internet of Things are all contributing to the logistics industry’s digital revolution. With the growing need for data analytics, the future of trucking will be mostly dependent on critical insights from analytical systems to drive forecasts, meet demand, manage risk, and reduce costs.

With the growing need for data analytics, the future of trucking will be mostly dependent on critical insights from analytical systems to drive forecasts, meet demand, manage risk, and reduce costs.

Goods: Inserting tracking devices such as a tracking bar, QR code stickers, and RFID tags in goods are common. RFID tags are quite useful in providing real-time information about location or GPS and external climate conditions such as temperature and humidity. Having such tracking systems in goods and containers that carry these goods is particularly relevant because tracking them while on transit across geographies is necessary to provide real-time data and shipment status. Sensors, connectivity, and the application are the three elements that comprise the tracking technology for shipping containers. Sensors tell the containers’ location, and through connectivity, the data transmits to the application. APIs are used to extract this data further and put it on the logistics platform to be analyzed.

Conveyance comprises the trucks, delivery vans, and other vehicles equipped with sensors that report their location, speed, engine condition, etc. to the systems.Routing and navigation are integral elements of this aspect as they facilitate improved operations considering constraints such as congestion. Autonomous trucking is finding increasing mentions in enabling digitalization in the industry. PwC, in a 2016 report, predicted that trucking and logistics would soon comprise an ecosystem of autonomous vehicles, combining driverless, cabless trucks and delivery hubs staffed by robots. It further stated that a fully automated end-to-end supply chain would be capable of building a product on a digitized assembly line with digital capabilities that signal and book transport for its delivery when it is close to being completed. The customer’s address that the goods are shipped to will be already coded, and the freight-matching system would match the available capacity on trucks destined for the specific route. While this may seem a bit futuristic at present, autonomous vehicles are invariably gaining momentum, and companies like TuSimple, Aurora, Daimler, and Embark Trucks have aggressively ventured into this avenue. German automaker Daimler AG is also experimenting with ‘Platooning’ to improve efficiency for long-haul transport. Platooning is when a single truck pilots a fleet of trucks that follow the same route and instructions as made by the driver. The trucks in platoons will be controlled centrally to ensure uniformity in speed, fuel consumption, and delivery speed.

The digitalization of infrastructure is also of utmost importance, including the things that support the transportation activities. The road infrastructure is the central element in the planning and management process of road transport. Thus, digitalizing roadways, terminals, distribution centers, logistics parks form an integral part of the initiative. Equipping infrastructure with sensors helps monitor their use and condition that enable effective traffic management systems to optimize capacity. Similarly, smart roads with sensors and data collecting devices that can detect collision points and warn nearby drivers can be of great use in avoiding road accidents.

Business processes are the glue that binds all the different elements of a supply chain. These processes support the transactional functions of freight distribution. Business processes such as inventory management, demand forecasting, assigning load to carriers, managing and allocating warehousing capacity, freight invoicing etc can all be digitized using TMS, WMS, and their integration with ERP. EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) has, for long, governed the integration of information between systems. Lately, APIs have enabled seamless data sharing for easy management of platforms and extraction of relevant data. Another technology that is enabling automation of business processes is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This technology is non-intrusive in nature and leverages the existing IT infrastructure of organizations. The increasing adoption of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) as a replacement for paper logs is also an initiative to move to more digitized systems.

Benefits of Digitalization in Trucking

With the proliferation of e-commerce and the need for trucking growing leaps and bounds, the digitalization of trucking is needed more than ever now. The digitalization of trucking comes with its share of benefits that enable optimum fleet and space utilization, enhanced efficiency, significant cost-cutting, and integrated systems.

1. Optimum utilization

Empty runs of vehicles is a major cost in trucking. Inefficiencies of dispatching systems where trucks travel to pick-up destinations without load contribute to additional costs and wastage. Digital platforms interconnecting systems help in the consolidation of truck capacity are a necessity.

2. Enhanced integration

Digitization facilitates the integration of trucks in sync with the logistics chain through real-time data of locations, estimated shipment arrival times, and information regarding departure times to factories, warehouses, and customers. Such integrations foster timely delivery, better performance, and customer satisfaction, enabling them to track the shipments’ status remotely.

3. Enhanced efficiency

Digitized trucking enhances efficiencies at granular levels as well as in the broader scope of processes. By incorporating cutting-edge materials handling practices into daily operations, better allocation of space, capacity, and resources, enhanced inventory control, and significant cost reductions contribute to enhanced efficiency and productivity.

Digitized trucking will enable faster transfer of goods in and out of distribution centers and to end customers.

Digitized trucking will enable faster transfer of goods in and out of distribution centers and to end customers. Through easy track and trace capabilities and smooth booking processes, customer experience can be improved. Measurement of key performance indicators can further help improve operations. Furthermore, blockchain can enable the complete transparency of the social and environmental footprint of purchases shared with end-users. All in all, the digitalization of trucking as an industry is a win-win scenario for all.

Questions on how digitized trucking and other technology will be changing the logistics landscape for your business? Ask an expert with the form below.