Buyers and arrangers of goods transport (i.e. shippers and 3PLs/forwarders) are moving towards real-time capture of the shipment milestones that are most important to them—sometimes a time-critical pick-up, but usually a final Proof of Delivery. Who can blame them? Their customers are no-doubt demanding it because all of us (as consumers) are demanding it. We consumers have been spoiled by the likes of UPS and FedEx who operate closed networks with full control of their modes and nodes.
In the industrial or B2B shipping world, that level of end-to-end, highly granular tracking can be challenging to achieve. Of course the “line haul” portion of a move is usually well covered—the ship, the plane and the train are equipped with the devices or are on a schedule that enable precise tracking and ETAs. But the first- and last-miles of the move are often blind spots for 3PLs or forwarders who rely on third parties to execute these legs– third parties that are not wearing brown uniforms driving brown trucks.
So getting back to mobile event capture, where does it fit in? Why is it important? Shipment event capture using mobile devices enables those third parties to operate, in effect, a virtual closed network, as if their drivers were all wearing brown uniforms driving, brown brown trucks. First- and last-mile shipment data closes information gaps; capturing it with mobile device technology gets it closer to real time, but only if integrated.
Smart phones (and the apps on them) are ubiquitous and powerful. Many transportation management systems (TMS) have mobile components—true native applications or perhaps web applications that work on (if not optimized for) smartphones. There many are standalone pick-up and delivery mobile apps too. But if not integrated to the right source and destination of the goods transportation information flow, the critical shipment event data remains in silos, necessitating a break in the workflow to obtain value from it.
The 3PL or forwarder likely has an in-house system that originates the transport order. The third party service provider (motor carrier) likely has a transportation management system, with or without a mobile interface for its drivers, and may use a web portal to report events. Add drivers with powerful apps on smartphones and there is potential… for good or bad. What steers the scenario into positive territory? Integration. No one wants to go “somewhere else” to obtain the information they need.
To derive the visibility and timeliness benefits of mobile event capture, the data must be integrated efficiently to the parties that need it: the motor carrier’s TMS, the 3PL/forwarder’s system and, ultimately, the shipper or receiver—they’re the ones trying to satisfy we consumers’ demands of “I need it now!” The driver’s delivery click, geo-fence breach or sign-on-glass POD must flow seamlessly and instantaneously from the time and place of capture to the screen of the person expecting it.
By Blair Peterson