Commentary | IT Matters

Mobile TMS Applications Improve Supply Chain Visibility

Tags: Logistics I.T.

Mike Skinner, President, VistaLogix Global, 215-461-3802

Online applications for mobile devices are emerging in ways that can finally close or reduce many of the information gaps in the supply chain between transportation planning, the shipping/receiving dock, customers, and even accounts payable. These mobile applications are enabling shippers to interface directly and more effectively with logistic partners; access logistics information in non-traditional business settings; and enhance communications where access to a computer is not readily available.

Transportation Management System (TMS) Carrier Mobile Applications, already available for the Apple iPhone and iPad, are giving carriers the ability to communicate directly with a shipper's TMS, even from the cab of their truck, to respond to shipment tender requests and to report shipment status in real-time.

This remote interface capability is especially important to shippers needing to communicate with smaller carriers who do not have EDI systems, including for those owner/operators whose dispatch offices ride in the passenger seats of their tractors. Once trained on the iPhone application, shippers can contact carriers online who can immediately respond to tender requests.

Once booked on a load, carriers can interface through the TMS application to provide pickup and delivery status updates. Tying this information to their own networks, shippers can feed real-time data directly into their TMS systems.

In addition to finding out immediately if carriers can accept their loads, shippers gain greater visibility to in-transit inventory status from pickup to delivery. It's a win-win situation, as carriers are able to respond to tender requests in real time, and shippers can provide enhanced communications to customers for improved service—resulting in fewer calls from customers asking where shipments are.

Mobile Applications at the Plant/Warehouse

The iPad and other emerging tablet devices create additional opportunities to quickly and easily bring transportation information to its point of greatest impact. TMS mobile applications currently in development will enable sales reps to retrieve real-time reports and updates on shipment delivery performance. Rather than rely on last month's performance reports, sales reps will be able to access the latest data on delivery stats for loads while on their way into a client meeting. A week-old performance report showing 99-percent on-time delivery means nothing to the client if three shipments in the past two days were late or missed. Nothing ruins a sales call faster than bad surprises.

At the plant, on the loading dock, at the guard shack, or in the cab of the truck moving trailers to the dock for loading, iPad and tablet applications provide real-time information, and process worker feedback about shipping and receiving appointments, trailer assignments, and in-gate/out-gate dates and times.

When it comes down to it, supply chain and transportation optimization and management systems are only as good as the timeliness and accuracy of information delivered to the right place at the right time. Mobile apps for phones and tablet PC's now available and in development offer supply chain management the next opportunity to leap forward.