Logistics Q&A: What Technologies are Available?

A new series focusing on plant operations and logistics.

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Q. What kinds of technologies are available to assist my logistics needs?

A. Three key technological facets are vital to assisting a company's logistical needs: a transportation management system (TMS), procurement tools and visibility.

A TMS allows you to ensure you're choosing the right carrier and helps you develop a defined carrier strategy if you don't already have one. What does all of this mean? By using the TMS software, you are able to manage your shipments and save time and money. The software helps you find the right carrier for the right load at the right time, therefore saving you money by allowing you to choose a carrier with a lower rate and then locking in that rate, even while capacity is tightening and fuel costs are rising. You or your logistics manager will no longer need to call Joe, Bob, John and Hank to get their rates and track your loads on a spreadsheet. Plus, a TMS helps you tender loads efficiently. It is important to find a TMS or a TMS provider who offers automated load tendering. This will remove the burden of a day filled with making phone calls to carriers.

Another technology to keep in mind is a procurement tool. Procurement tools assist shippers and help you become a better buyer and better manager of transportation. Procurement tools allow shippers to efficiently access a broad market of carriers and then select from that pool of providers based on individualized criteria that are essential to the shipper (route, price, level of service, special handling, etc.) One point of caution: While procurement technology makes it easy to obtain a lot of quotes from carriers, a shipper or 3PL still needs to perform the requisite due diligence as carriers are sometimes aggressive with respect to the commitments made in a bid.

A final recommended technology is visibility. It may not seem like you need visibility unless you have a private fleet of trucks. However, when you're in the business of food, product safety is of the utmost importance. Who could forget the E. coli spinach scare, salmonella-tainted peanut products or mad cow panic earlier this decade?  When you are shipping product to customers, they want a guarantee that your products are safe. In the midst of a health scare, you need to know where your product came from, where it's going and if it is affected by a recall. If you have the technology, you can see all of those things. Additionally, large customers are increasingly focused on hitting delivery windows. Visibility tools allow shippers to identify and react to issues early.
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