April 2015 | Commentary | IT Matters

Tracking Isn’t Just Tracking Anymore

Tags: Logistics I.T., Supply Chain Management, Logistics

Christian Allred is Senior Vice President & General Manager, ORBCOMM Enterprise Solutions, 330-285-4141

In the 1990s, carriers, shippers, and third-party logistics providers were always asking: "Where's my truck?" In response, automatic tracking systems grew rapidly as the Global Positioning System (GPS) became available for commercial use, and expanding satellite and cellular networks increased connectivity even in remote areas.

The first generation of tracking systems charted the location, speed, and direction of assets. Shippers could update cargo status within their management systems through standard electronic data interchange with carriers.

Automated asset tracking was revolutionary 20 years ago. Today, it's imperative—at least in terms of meeting the evolving needs of shippers and transportation providers, who both must provide visibility for customers.

Chain of Custody

In general, tracking systems evolved into fleet management platforms with the ability to monitor key status changes and events that may impact a load's integrity and/or security.

Modern tracking and monitoring platforms can pick up contextual information about the status of cargo and its immediate and non-immediate surroundings. For example, temperature variations are important. Temperatures that vary by only a few degrees can result in many cargo types being rejected for delivery.

Door opening and closing events are another example. What is important is not that the door opened, but where it opened, how long it was left open, what happened to the temperature in the trailer, and what that means to the cargo's integrity. This data ensures regulatory compliance with the U.S. Food Safety and Modernization Act, which established mandates for preserving the chain of custody for temperature-sensitive cargo.

Unheard of only a few years ago, functions such as changing temperature settings, or remote trailer unlocking are now expected. Shippers and providers need continuous visibility and control to ensure the cargo's security, integrity, and on-time delivery. More importantly, this data is melded with other key elements in order to drive a more efficient supply chain.

Fleet Data Management

Shipment visibility has evolved to be part of the Internet of Things (IoT), which integrates data far beyond what is captured by a sensor or tracking device. This term describes an integrated network of devices and sensors. Trucks, trailers, containers, and other assets can utilize an IoT network to capture critical, real-time, and multi-dimensional information about shipment status.

A variety of temperature, vibration, fault codes, and other vital information pertaining to equipment and cargo status is sent to an integrated cluster of Web-based servers. In turn, these servers power the back-office applications that shippers and providers use to manage cargo en route, coordinate supply chains, and maximize asset utilization.

The real trick is getting the correct information to the right people in time to enable smart business decisions. Passing along a fault code or temperature excursion is a binary piece of information. But mashing up this information with other data sources through the use of predictive analytics produces better insights into business processes and drives positive change.

The future of the global supply chain demands more. Fleet management platforms must continue to evolve and deliver even more robust, real-time visibility tools to ensure the integrity of shipments while driving operational efficiencies. Otherwise, shippers will miss the opportunity to gain a competitive edge, deliver real value to their customers, and achieve bottom-line benefits.