Commentary | IT Matters

Technology Convergence of Forces Offers Improvements for Logistics Sector

Tags: Logistics I.T., Cloud Computing

Jay Coughlan is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, XRS Corporation, 952-707-5600

A convergence of technology trends is transforming the logistics sector, creating enormous opportunities to operate more safely, efficiently, and competitively. Technology research firm Gartner describes what’s happening in business and our society in general as a nexus of technology and human forces:

  • Social - the technology linkage between people, and the connectivity that enables work and personal sharing
  • Mobile – the technology platform that transports the world away from desks and brings applications of all kinds to the phone and tablet
  • The Cloud – which, whether widely recognized or not, is providing more and more of the infrastructure of everyday business and personal activity online
  • Information (or “big data”) – the ravenous appetite of business and individuals to acquire more, better information to help make smart decisions.

This concept is reinforced by other leading technology organizations. For example, International Data Corporation (IDC) calls its view of convergence the “Third Platform” – an industry transformation to mobile computing, cloud services, social networking and big data analytics. The Aberdeen Group has another name for it, saying “SoMoClo is an over-arching strategy regarding a radical transformation of IT infrastructure where social, mobile, and cloud function as one, creating the opportunity for radical business transformation.”

Three Times Makes a Trend

Three industry powerhouses espousing similar messages means an undeniable sea change is upon us. How do we make these technology trends work to our advantage within the logistics world? I’ll use trucking as an example, where the convergence of forces is happening right now:

  • Social connections are critically important to truckers away from home for extended periods, which is a reason why years ago truckers were social media pioneers with their ubiquitous CB radios.
  • Mobile applications are exploding onto the trucking scene, graduating from GPS to dozens of ways to measure compliance, performance and safety – plus enabling social interaction.
  • The Cloud holds the capacity, reliability, security, flexibility and availability to manage trucking and personal data in the mobile realm.
  • Trucking companies and drivers need access to information like never before. For example, today’s driver needs constant information flow to assure compliance with his or her hours of service to stay in the driver’s seat and deliver the load on time, which is at the very heart of logistics management.

Why it Matters: The Results

The benefits of data analysis and social interaction in the cloud, available via mobile technology, are becoming clear. First and foremost, we’re in a whole new world of regulation, and regulatory non-compliance can grind fleets and trucks to a halt before they know it. Detailed, real-time and mobile monitoring to avoid violations has become an absolute necessity. When driver behaviors and truck status are measurable and safer, the highways are safer. Safety managers are given tools to see what happens on the road. Unsafe practices can be quickly identified and the proper coaching assigned. Drivers can monitor their own safety measures.

In addition, fleet operators know that data analysis can slash costs. Fleet optimization is being accomplished with automated reporting of fleet performance indicators: Fuel consumption, hard braking, shift patterns, idle engine wear, trip reporting, mpg, speeding and much more. With mobile data collection and analysis applications, the expense, complexity of installation and training for out-of-date, hardware-based onboard systems is replaced by a five-minute training video, 10 minutes to plug a proprietary relay device into the truck’s computer, and a quick mobile app download onto the smart device.

Another result is that drivers gain more legal driving time per day by automating what were formerly paperwork tasks. Using an electronic log procedure on average saves 15 minutes per driver per day – more than an extra hour per week with wheels turning.

Mobile applications are creating a new trucking ecosystem: Governmental rule compliance, GPS route optimization, weather alerts, scheduling, fuel tax reporting, proof of delivery, truck performance indicators, and dozens more applications.

It’s clear that the technological convergence of forces in logistics is here, and it’s not about to slow down. The benefits so far include safer operation, reduced fuel consumption; better driver and vehicle utilization; driver and fleet regulatory compliance and driver social connection. And this is just the beginning for the logistics sector – there will be more to come.