Information Access Differentiates Transportation Providers

Q: What are the most important elements of an information technology (IT) strategy for participants in the transportation chain?

A: Strategically, there is only one IT goal: to differentiate your service from your competitors. Tactically, you need to figure out how to deploy mobile computing for customer- and employee-facing iPad and smartphone applications.

Today, information is the only differentiator in transportation. All the carriers are steaming slow—half as fast as in the 1970s—and schedules are fairly reliable. When a shipment moves without error, which carrier you choose doesn’t make much difference. Shipment information visibility, and the ability to fix problems early and inexpensively, are the only differences between carriers.

What makes a carrier stand out is its ability to enhance the customer experience with shipment visibility, much like Amazon does for all its orders. When you order from Amazon with ground shipping, the site notifies you within minutes that the order was logged, and updates you again when the order ships. A single click from the Amazon email takes you to the UPS tracking system. Both Amazon and UPS offer premium, fee-paid service that allows you to further enhance the delivery. We expect this kind of visibility for a $100 purchase. We should demand the same for a $100,000 shipment from our supplier. Amazon’s supply chain acumen should be the benchmark.

Ocean and domestic carriers have traditionally been slow to adapt to new technologies. The recently released Information Week Annual IT Leaders and Innovators lists only 15 logistics and transportation companies among the businesses selected. Besides FedEx and UPS, only five of the companies are domestic—and no ocean carriers or railroads are even listed.

Q: How do you see mobile technology evolving in transportation?

A: In today’s environment, customers have high expectations for on-time delivery, but also want visibility of cargo in transit, and the ability to change or reroute shipments. Many truck drivers now carry smartphones that can locate their exact position and allow shipment recipients to sign for proof of delivery. Also, if an exception occurs in the supply chain, all parties are instantly alerted.

The dashboard information deployed on mobile devices for salespeople is also available on each customer service representative’s desktop while they are communicating with customers. Sales reps can display customers’ entire shipment history and current visibility while they are meeting.

The carriers that provide customers with this kind of shipment information on mobile devices will be the ones that dominate the future.

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