Chief editor Ed Holden spoke with some of the major players within the field of transportation management about current key talking points within this fascinating technology field; including changing demand trends, security and how transportation solutions might continue to develop in the near future.
There are many ongoing developments within the world of transportation management solutions space. Not least of these is the 'Internet of Things' (IOT), a concept that is, and will likely continue to become, increasingly pervasive in a number of industry sectors. In the view of Chris Ayres, ISV programme & development manager EMEA, and vertical marketing manager Transport & Logistics at Zebra Technologies,
IOT is the hottest topic at the moment within the transportation world, and he is convinced it will increasingly have a major impact on transport management and the supply chain in general. "The connection of mobile devices, people, vehicles and other M2M communication allows for end-to-end visibility in the supply chain," he said, pointing out that Zebra offers the technology building blocks that enable the Internet of Things, through barcode, passive and active RFID and its own IoT platform – Zatar (www.zatar.com). "Even our printers taken in isolation have been designed with this in mind, featuring our Link-OS platform which makes them easier to integrate, manage and connect to the Cloud," he explained.
Regarding key drivers for development, Ayres maintains that the problems that companies face and the solutions they seek will arise from one or more of the following: compliance, reducing costs, increasing efficiency, and increased control and visibility. "In order to tackle these issues, companies need to have a starting point, and that starting point is meaningful data," he said. "AIDC and related technology is the starting point of data collection – data that can be used to make smarter and more informed decisions. This access to and enablement of data is a key driver for changes and innovation in the transport management space."
Fabrice Maquignon, managing director of Wolters Kluwer Transport Services, considers that one current trend is that companies are looking for modern, web-based solutions that are easier to scale and integrate. "A transport management system (TMS) in Software as a Service (SaaS) mode is a growing trend for that reason. It allows carriers and shippers not to invest in an IT structure on their side as the software is available on the Internet. It eases the communication between all parties involved and avoids human error in double entry data. Offering connectivity between shippers and a network of logistics service providers has become an important element of a TMS solution."
As a consequence, Maquignon believes that one of the major innovations will be to propose a community-based application that facilitates the communication between all parties, reduces the execution phase (lead time = time between the creation of a transport order and its execution), and optimises the transport plan on a qualitative (better sourcing) and quantitative (optimisation of the means) basis.
Maquignon considers quality management and cost controlling to be the key drivers of those changes; especially in a challenging economic situation where the need for a structured, cost-efficient and end-to-end supply chain is reinforced. "Transportation software enables manufacturing companies to provide greater service to their clients, it is therefore becoming an important element of commercial strategies," he said.
In a new VDC Research report titled 'From the Last Mile to the Last Meter', Richa Gupta, senior analyst at VDC Research, along with Michael Sack, intern with David Krebs, executive vice president of VDC Research, comment that the final-mile delivery presents a unique set of challenges ahead to the rest of the supply chain. "Packages often do not reach their intended recipient on the first delivery attempt, resulting in items been returned to distribution centre hubs," states the report. "This translates to increased costs for delivery service providers and reflects poorly on sellers, resulting in pronounced consumer dissatisfaction.
The last-mile delivery conundrum is not a recent occurrence but has become cost-prohibitive, especially for retailers and their logistics partners with the explosive growth in e-commerce trade." The report goes on to suggest the marketplace needs more proactive information sharing between consumers and delivery personnel, which will alleviate frustrations and also trimmed down operational costs.
According to the report, data capture hardware and software, along with improvements in delivery processes, will play a pivotal role in improving last-mile efficiency. "Further application of existing technology solutions and taking advantage of recent developments/advances can better address many of the inefficiencies apparent in the last mile," it states. VDC expects camera-based images to be at the forefront of these operational enhancements. "These solutions' ability to capture images is a particularly desired feature to determine liabilities associated with damaged packages," says the report, adding: "This is more relevant today than ever because of the explosion in the sheer number of packages that retailers and their logistics service partners ship and transport each day across the globe, with figures running into the billions annually. Therefore, it becomes hard to determine who to indemnify for damages incurred, especially given the many stages in the order fulfilment process before the item gets to its final destination."
David Upton, managing director of DA Systems, points out that the area of speciality that DA systems mainly operates within is same-day delivery; sometimes referred to as the final mile or same-day logistics. He added that the company does also operate in the next-day delivery marketplace on the mobile solutions side within the transportation management space, although same-day delivery is what it mainly concentrates on.
"When you look at most types of transportation management systems available in the market there aren't that many that mainly cater for that final mile piece," he said. "This is probably because it's considered quite a niche industry. However, both in the business-to-business and business-to-consumer space, demand for same-day delivery is one of the key growth areas within transportation today.
If I buy something from a department store, for example, and I want it delivered within the hour, or I send copies of a bound tender document to a particular prospect and it has to be there by 12 noon today, but I only finish writing it at 11am, or if I have some medical devices that need to be transported within the short timeline, an efficient same-day service can be critical."
Upton added that same-day delivery is, of course, very much a premium-rate marketplace, and customers pay for an express same-day service based on distance rather than weight; the latter being the traditional next-day delivery mode of charging. "Nevertheless, there is a real surge of interest in same-day courier/logistics," he said. "This kind of hybrid model of course isn't without its challenges, because you're talking about tighter time windows and less scope for planning than you would have working within a next-day model. With this in mind, we can provide mobile device software that can calculate the best routes that couriers should use for making a same-day delivery."
From a business-to-consumer perspective, Upton believes the move towards the same-day model is largely due to consumers increasingly wanting almost instant gratification. "They know that they can go onto iTunes and download a whole album within less than 60 seconds; so people's digital expectations are starting to spill over into the physical world," he remarked. "Organisations such as Google, Amazon and eBay are heavily testing these kinds of demands in the marketplace. Eventually, I think we will end up with a model we haven't quite imagined yet, and I believe this won't be the traditional same-day courier or traditional next-day type model, but will be something in between; something that can ensure same-day deliveries more efficiently and over a wider geographical area."
Upton also considers that Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) remains an interesting area of debate, although he believes it is a concept that works in certain marketplaces better than others. He commented: "For someone working in an office doing typical white-collar work and engaging in social activities at the weekend, having a smartphone has become an important accessory in that, people are now able to access both social and work-related emails etc., which can both enhance their social and business worlds. There may, of course, be implications regarding security and supportability when using consumer devices for business purposes. For example, it would be advisable to have an activated passcode.
There is also the possibility of the device getting damaged by, for example, being dropped onto a hard surface; potentially compromising the user's ability to go about his or her daily tasks within the work environment. However, with the rugged cases that are now widely available, this can militate against serious damage in many instances. So, although there are some justifiable concerns regarding the use of consumer devices for business purposes, I don't believe they are absolute showstoppers."
Also, in the blue-collar environment such as field service and logistics, Upton observes some industry commentators arguing that BYOD is the future. However, he believes the reality is it's not that simple. "On the one hand, from a customer's point of view, there can be issues concerning professional perception," he said. "For example, if a customer, whether a consumer or business client, receives goods and is asked to sign for them on a small consumer-grade device by running their finger across a screen that has probably been touched by another 20 or 30 or so people that same day, that can certainly leave a bad impression."
Upton adds that there is also the fact that in the field service and transportation businesses, couriers will need to operate their mobile devices in some challenging environments. "Therefore, some consumer-grade devices, regardless of whether they are fitted with a rugged case or not, can prove to be less resilient," he said. On the other hand, if workers are told that their ruggedised business-grade devices are more or less indestructible, Upton believes they are not likely to treat them as carefully as they should. One way to overcome this potential issue, in his view, is to give drivers some form of financial incentive to treat their mobile devices with more care. "For example, if the driver is charged with the first £250 of the repair costs, which could maybe be taken out of a small bond, this can prove to cut down repair outlays considerably," he said.
David Williamson, UK key account manager at Transporeon, has observed that the Internet logistics platform format is becoming increasingly popular in the world of transportation management. "Through better collaboration between the shipper and its network of carriers, optimising individual loads can be achieved more easily," he said. "Companies working within the transportation management space naturally want to reduce transport costs and 'empty miles' etc., and there's only so much they can achieve by taking the physical cost out of the equation.
The key then is to find an IT solution that is best able to optimise the fleets involved. There are functions within Transporeon's Software as a Service (SaaS) based Internet logistics platform that facilitate the better utilisation of fleets and the operations of the people involved. However, it's important to point out that it's not a software planning tool.
There are many software packages for software optimisation and route planning optimisation currently available, but these solutions tend to look at a particular company's own specific requirement – its own vehicles and own routes – as opposed to opening it out to what other companies are doing within the network."
In terms of the drivers for developments such as these, Williamson considers it is certainly the case that cost reduction is one of the key drivers. "I think one of the reason's Internet-based transportation management system usage is growing at such a rapid rate is because as supply chains take on more diverse forms there is an increase of inbound freight coming to the UK from the continent now than we've seen over the past four or five years," he said. "There is also more outbound freight now, so it works both ways.
As shippers set about optimising their supply chains and look at different possible lanes and routes, and hauliers to become part of their transport network, the whole operation process can become very complex, with multiple modes and suppliers. This also brings the visibility issues to the fore and how shippers communicate with these companies, how the hauliers communicate back to the shippers and how they also communicate with the end customers. What they don't want to do is put layers of people, systems, paperwork or spreadsheets into play.
So, increasingly, there is a move towards Internet-based solutions that can make communication as seamless and real-time as possible for all parties concerned." Another driver, in Williamson's view, is the requirement for little or no upfront capital expenditure when sourcing a transport management solution. "This is another major advantage of the SaaS model for users," he remarked.
James de Roo, business development manager UK at PTV Group, cites Cloud-based transportation management solutions services as one of the key developments in recent times because he believes it to be a highly attractive deployment model when considering the benefits to the end customer – no least because there is no need for lengthy implementation on premise. de Roo adds that there is also little or no up-front capital expenditure required, and no need for regular upgrades – users just pay a subscription fee.
de Roo also comments that meeting consumers' requirements at multiple locations with multiple transport modes at different times requires a flexible transportation chain that can react quickly to unexpected changes and circumstances. He points to apps and data driven transport management services as a means to ease the transparency and data path among every stakeholder within the supply chain. This can result in a more connected form of transportation, in his view.
Rafael Hernandez, manager, EMEA industry marketing at Honeywell Scanning and Mobility, believes web-based solutions are the only way for users to manage their transportation systems. "Online solutions offer a way of knowing, a way of demanding services, and a way of delivering information," he said. "The transparency they provide helps to keep information flowing. Customers have easy access to different services; often described in more detail, providing a wide-spectrum of information from picking options to delivery methods and special conditions.
Shipments can be easily tracked, again offering further visibility to the customer through real-time information in a matter of seconds. Such practice is now a standard and companies that do not provide a range of online services along with their usual offering, are very likely to lose out."
Hernandez added that transport and logistics is becoming a very competitive industry, and the only way to keep up with increasing demand is to integrate new technologies quickly. "Ability to manage mobile workforce more effectively is crucial," he remarked. "Transparency is a growing trend and customers want to be able to access real-time information from their mobile or the comfort of their home in a matter of minutes. With increasingly busy lifestyles, customers want to have as many delivery details available as possible – location and timing information being crucial."
According to Hernandez, access to information is vital not only for customers; mobile workers need to be able to access all information in real-time. In Hernandez's view, the easiest way to ensure swift flow of information and full parcel traceability is to provide devices that allow them to send and receive information in a matter of seconds. He adds that such devices should provide:
- Online access to central database in order to know all the information inherent to the parcel to be shipped, and the customer to receive the item (LAN and WAN radio).
- Navigation system for planning and optimising their route scheduling.
- GPS to help navigate and allow accurate parcel-tracking.
- Barcode reader or RFID interrogator for tracking the goods to avoid manual data entry which speeds up the delivery and minimises the error rate.
- Camera for reporting incidents and ability to track signature as proof of delivery.
- Capability of mobile payment to provide multiple payment options to the customer.
- Ability to process all administrative information in order to provide most accurate real-time updates.
Additionally, Hernandez comments that all administrative information (expenses, fuel, time management) will be reported to the back office using this device. "Just as important as the delivery vehicle is for everyday operations, so is the device," he said.
In terms of changing demands, Hernandez reflects that customers are demanding more information and a higher quality of services than ever before. "This generates an incredibly competitive environment, where companies are constantly looking to provide new solutions and adapt latest innovative technologies," he said. "Businesses have to continuously improve performance in order to keep their position on the market. Industry leaders have to be fast in adapting to changes and often exceed customers' expectations." Hernandez also considers that globalisation has provided many opportunities for the transportation industry. "Less restricted flow of goods between different countries and even continents has opened many fast-growing markets to businesses, allowing a speedy growth and development of a more complex international network of service providers," he said.
Efficiency, cost and speed
Ebbie Khadem, managing director, Spirit Data Capture Ltd., maintains that, from the customers' point of view, the main demands are efficiency, cost and speed. "So we make sure that our solutions embrace these key elements/requirements," he said. "We designed a platform idea so most of the features are embedded within the platform itself, i.e. communication (such as WAN, Bluetooth, WIFI), printing, navigation (GPS), camera, device type (PDA, smartphone or tablet) and operating system (Android, Windows or IOS). These are fundamental elements when you are designing a platform. This approach offers a fast and efficient development cycle allowing the customer to choose from a range of hardware and operating systems."
Khadem added that this approach allows Spirit to develop applications rapidly with short testing and validation as the only development areas will be the business logic of a task or a process and integration to the back office system.
In terms of transport and logistics, Khadem considers that one key area of concern concerns how quickly and efficiently they can complete a task in the field. According to Khadem, the main drivers for this are the mobile application, back office integration, information about the performance of the system and driver behaviour. "A software solution must deliver this to the business," he remarked.
Another current talking point, according to Khadem, relates to subcontractors. "Most transport companies don't want to give them expensive devices; they would prefer if they used their own smartphone," he said. "This means the solution has to cope with the idea of 'bring your own device' (BYOD). The application should easily be downloaded on these devices and hook up to the back office easily. As a result, the level of training required will be much lower than the standard user training."
Continuing the theme of BYOD, Khadem reflects that in the past the WIFI infrastructure within four walls has always benefited from BYOD, where the users have brought their devices and hooked on to the system at the place of work using the data security of place of work. "This saves the companies the effort of making devices available to the casual and contract workers," he commented.
Khadem also makes the point that most manufacturers today try to bring in many features into one device to cover at least 90 per cent of activities – 3G, 4G, Push-To-Talk. He added that mobile device management can monitor and manage devices from the field over these devices.
With regard to possible market drivers for development, Khadem's view is that requirements have changed. "The role of a mobile phone used to be just to make a call, then to be able to send and receive messages as well; now we want more." Khadem added that there is now a requirement for one device to do it all. "So hardware has changed significantly to keep up with this need," he said.
According to Khadem, there is a convergence and manufacturers are looking at that constantly – the desire for one device to do everything and provide additional cost savings etc. Therefore, one of the questions being asked is what development tools can be used to make everything easier in order for rapid cost-efficient changes to be made.
In terms of the relationship between the more field-based Transportation Management systems and the back-office systems they integrate with (such as ERP, CRM, WMS, Supply Chain Management Printing and Labelling devices etc.) what do our commentators consider to have been some of the key recent developments?
Williamson points out that, in the case of Transporeon, this is one of the most critical areas. He commented: "Our platform can interface with all main back-office systems; ERP, WMS etc.
It can also interface with legacy systems, if required. When transportation management solutions of various types aren't able to interface with back-office systems things can become very manual and time-consuming. When we say to customers we can provide a detailed report for, from creation of an order in their system, through to transport and delivery, and then say we can provide them with this level of information – collection time, delivery time, POD etc. over a period of a week or a month – within seconds, they often say that's exactly what we need because in the past it had sometimes taken them four, five or six hours to put together a report."
Maquignon maintains that companies are looking to replace multiple solutions from various vendors (separate applications for truckload, LTL, parcel, and fleet operations) with a single, more integrated solution. He commented: "There is a real trend towards a certain level of application convergence as supply chain organisations need to better orchestrate end-to-end processes across functional domains, to connect people who are not from the same departments and are using different systems (ERP used by Finance & Accounting, WMS used by warehouse workers...). In that case, the TMS is the bridge between all of these functions that will enrich the communications and allow the sharing of real-time information and data. That is why we work on end-to-end integrated solutions by connecting processes and services that span a variety of previously independent functional areas."
Upton considers there hasn't been any major revolution in terms of the relationship between mobile device technology and back-office systems. "Interfaces have naturally evolved over the years and moved to the web service type rather than the older FTP model," he said. Ayres points out that mobility brings efficiency and that it is being widely adopted by organisations in many areas of their operations; not only on the road, but also within warehouses and distribution centres. "We are seeing ERP and other software vendors recognising this and building mobility modules into their software," he said. On the hardware side, Ayres explains that printers are being designed around the changing needs of users – smarter battery management, lighter and smaller form factors, increased ruggedness, and of course connection to and management via the Cloud.
According to Hernandez, information is key, and each element in the supply chain has to be in sync. He added: "With the increasing demand for global operations, companies often hire multiple different contractors during different stages of the process. Sharing information internally but also with independent entities is crucial. This can often be a tricky process due to different ERP, CRM or IT systems used by the external contractors. The carrier has full responsibility for the parcel that is often handled by external contractors on various stages of the delivery. During these stages The Cloud is key for sharing information. Communication between the mobile workforce and back office has to be accurate and interactive – running like clockwork."
Khadem considers that back-office integration is possible as long as the correct tools are available and everything can be transmitted in a much easier manner. He adds that Spirit's platform is designed to get that done as soon as possible. "Criteria for the initial request regarding functional specifications is key, and should be able to connect to anything as a back-office system," he said.
And what have been the subsequent benefit improvements for end users? Khadem explains that security is much easier due to mobile VPN/mobile device managements to make sure firewalls are in place to avoid security breach. And with wide-spread Internet access, Hernandez points out that customers can extend their search and be more selective with their choice of carriers. "Companies have to be able to provide flexible services – home picking, packaging, tailored tariffs depending on time and destination and, most importantly, an option to change delivery details (time and location)," he said.
From de Roo's perspective, improvements in wireless communications and transparency have been particularly notable, enabling faster reactions and real-time optimisation as well as connection of fleets regardless of whether they use the same telematics provider or not.
According to Maquignon, one of the main improvements for the user is that the TMS enables to share real-time information across all the parties involved without double data entry. "Besides, connecting with carriers and other trading partners can be labour-intensive, repetitive and thus time-consuming," said. "Implementing a TMS will automate the tasks that have no or few added-value, which means more time to invest on other aspects of transportation management or on customer service and relationship. Then, only the management of exceptional issues is done manually as everything else is automated. This helps supply chain managers to focus on optimising their transport plan and routes."
Ayres comments that advances in wireless technologies have allowed for larger and faster data transfer between devices and networks. "In order to maintain the seamless data flow required in an end-to-end visibility solution, it is essential that the components within the chain are enabled with the latest wireless and related technologies," he remarked. "As such, Zebra printers have a host of connectivity options, and our Link-OS printers feature dual band connectivity which allows communication via Bluetooth when out in the field, and seamless connectivity to Wi-Fi when back inside the four walls."
Have changes in transportation-related legislation (either locally or globally) influenced the development of Transportation Management systems over the past year or so? Ayres stresses that compliance with legislation is critical within the supply chain, and failure to comply can have serious financial and legal consequences. He adds that the upcoming EU Regulation 1169/2011 effective December 2014 deals with highlighting allergens within food, but among other directives also mandates origin labelling of unprocessed meats from livestock.
Ayres also reminds us that the USA has the FDA Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) which was signed off in 2011. This in effect requires those in the food supply chain to be able to trace foodstuffs 'one step backwards and one step forwards'. Ayres adds that anti-counterfeiting, especially in pharmaceuticals and fashion, is also high on the agenda of the supply chain, as is avoiding the use of conflict minerals. "Traceability solutions using technologies such as RFID, serialisation and sensors can help minimise these risks," he said.
de Roo explains that compliance and regulation issues concerning CO2 emissions changed the requirements of carbon footprint reporting, and that the Freight Transport Association (FTA) is currently working on carbon reduction schemes with the Government and with the transport industry.
Maquignon points out that Wolters Kluwer Transport Services complies with the changes in transport legislation and adapts its TMS accordingly for customers. "The adaptation of the CMR in Italy is an example, or fuel surcharge, like the Heavy Vehicle Transit Tax (replacement of the 'Ecotaxe') in France, or the German tax regulation called 'Gelangensbestätigung'," he said. "We have adapted our module functionalities so that the TMS could indicate, calculate and analyse the impact of those surcharges and taxes, for shippers to be well prepared for contractual negotiations with their road transport suppliers. A last example is the carbon footprint calculation that became mandatory in nearly all European countries. However, not all carriers have the ability to retrieve those data directly from their vehicles. A theoretical calculation can be provided by the TMS in order to cope with the regulation."
What are some of the current key differences regarding the different brands and types of Transportation Management-related systems/devices currently available? Williamson thinks one of the key differentiators concerns vendors who can provide solutions that can track orders real-time, giving shippers visibility of all their loads all in one place, irrespective of the company and the transport company they use, without having to go into their telematics systems. "This type of innovation is important in order to satisfy growing trends such as same-day delivery in the most efficient way possible," he said, adding that Transporeon's new Mobile Order Management app serves exactly this type of demand.
Hernandez believes mobility is a fast growing trend in transportation industry, and that the adaptation of mobile devices into everyday operations has been a huge game-changer which has helped to improve effectiveness and quality of services. "It is now easier than ever to integrate different devices, often with different OS, which helps to provide more information to all stakeholders – customers and employees alike," he said. Hernandez added that integration of new technology can often be the differentiating factor on the market. "The most adaptive businesses tend to provide higher quality services and are often able to predict customers' needs, which helps them to win the race," he remarked.
Ayres observes that companies in the delivery chain require solutions that are reliable, technology-rich, and easy to use. He adds that products should also be easy to integrate into existing systems and have the ability to be managed remotely. Ayres stresses they also need the assurance that if support is needed, it is widely and readily available.
Maquignon considers that, today, the TMS market is a "vast, diverse and atomised one". "There are many transport companies, and many TMS editors, often much localised," he remarked, adding that it is therefore difficult to differentiate and sort them by functionality differentiators, as those evolve very quickly and such an overview would soon be outdated.
In his view, the criteria for a customer to select a TMS editor are: its investment and technological capacity, its international dimension, its roadmaps, its range of software solutions, methodology and resources deployment. "Traditionally, the buyers of TMS that have some budget will easily find reliable, expensive solutions," he said. "Middle-range companies can find a solution. But the small companies don't get any offer. TMS cannot be sold like a mass-consumption product. Still a lot of pressure is on the shoulders of each person responsible for logistics with the rapidly changing legislation, etc."
Maquignon explains that one could sort TMS through the following categories:
- Specialised TMS, which provides expert solutions, dedicated to a particular market (carriers, freight forwarders, commissioners, shippers ...) and/or to a specific function (labelling station, cost control, communication platform, route optimisation, loading optimisation, etc.).
- Supply Chain solutions, which are not transport experts but generally coming from planning and warehousing industries, they aim to provide end-to-end Supply Chain software solution (they often acquired TMS to complement their global software offer).
- ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), which opened their management tools to the Supply Chain with solutions for sourcing, storage and transport.
He adds that TMS can also be divided into the following categories, based on their platform:
- Traditional, primarily on-premises applications with the potential for cloud hosting.
- SaaS-only TMS.
- Managed service providers which offer operational services beyond just the software.
In terms of same-day delivery service providers, Upton maintains there remains quite a large gap in the market, and this is what DA Systems is addressing. "Nevertheless, I think a lot of the TMS vendors who specialise in a traditional next-day work model will increasingly start to look at same-day work," he commented. In terms of mobile devices and the software they use, again there aren't that many vendors focusing on the same-day marketplace, observes Upton. "One of the challenges is that the same-day marketplace in the UK is very fragmented," he said. "There are just under 3000 registered courier companies in the UK; some of these are 'one-man bands' and some are big nationwide operators. So there's a huge variety. It's also a very regionalised business; there are over 100 companies, large and small, using our same-day transport management software. However, there are a lot of systems out there that deal with the smaller end of the marketplace and they are largely different systems. There isn't a lot of uniformity."
Because of this situation, Upton believes that, as the retail logistics type businesses really take off in order to satisfy the growing demand for same-day delivery, more and more companies are going to want to use fulfilment partners that can offer the service nationwide. "This is certainly something we are looking to address by creating a central point where all of these different types of technologies can interface and interact; thereby creating unified sets of information at the other end," he said, adding that DA Systems will be announcing more on this in the near future.
And what of the specific benefits our contributor companies have to offer? de Roo explains that PTV provides components for Cloud-based solutions, such as PTV xServer and PTV Map&Guide, while the new service PTV Drive&Arrive and the TruckParkingEurope App are solutions designed to optimise transportation not only in the planning, but also in real time on the road. Ayres pointed out that Zebra offers a particularly broad range of printing and real-time location solutions to identify, track and manage critical assets, people and actions.
He also explained that Zebra's wide range of products, deep understanding of its customers and productive R&D enable the company to offer highly relevant solutions and services that meet customers' changing needs. "We have thousands of customers in more than 100 countries, including more than 90 per cent of all Fortune 500 companies," added Ayres. Hernandez commented that Honeywell has been a Proof of Delivery (POD) pioneer for years. He added: "Our rugged mobile computers have proven to be an excellent solution for postal services – with customers like Exapaq, DPD and Deutsche Post relying on our products. These companies need robust devices that integrate technology in a seamless way."
Williamson cites a statement from customer BSH Group as clearly representing the types of benefits afforded by using the Transporeon system. Thorsten Schlette, corporate logistics/process management at BSH Group, said: "A big advantage of freight transport assignment via Transporeon is that it saves our dispatch staff a huge amount of time. In addition, time slot management creates transparency, both internally and externally. The flexibility of Transporeon allows us to also find goal‐oriented solutions for very specific processes. We therefore want to build on our good working relationships and further develop the Transporeon modules together with them."
Maquignon highlighted the fact that Blédina, a leading French manufacturer of baby food products for children from 0 to 3 years, has made significant efficiency gains across its entire supply chain, due to the Transwide TMS (Transport Management System) solution in SaaS mode. Another customer, Miller Brands UK, is one of the world's leading beer producers (Pilsner Urquell, Bierra Peroni, Tyskie and Miller Genuine Draft a.o.). According to Maquignon, the company had insufficient manpower and a lack of transparency. "Transwide TMS provided them with the efficiencies and insight that they needed to support their growth," he remarked.
Khadem spoke about the close partnership Spirit has with BEC (Systems Integration) Ltd. He explained that BEC provides the solution as a whole, while Spirit develops the applications used within the solution. Khadem pointed out that Spirit does the integration into the back office and develops the files, and BEC's objective is to provide a complete solution; a one-stop shop comprising hardware, helpdesk etc. so customers know who to call on for what they require and to have one point of contact.
Upton comments that IT systems have a big impact on productivity and cost efficiency within any transportation provider. A to Z Couriers, one of the UK's longest standing same-day courier companies, achieved significant ROI when it implemented ACI technology, an end-to-end transport management solution from DA Systems.
Data captured over time demonstrates that ACI has directly supported rapid business growth, saved the company in excess of £0.5 million each year, plus improved customer satisfaction. From day one of implementing ACI, the operations team gained feature-rich functionality to control their entire fleet. This spanned the time a booking is made to allocating a job to a driver through to invoicing the client and paying drivers. The solution also provides electronic signature capture and proof of delivery. This ensures that instant, seamless mobile data exchange between the office and couriers is always visible.
Security and confidentiality
Are there any remaining security and/or confidentiality concerns at the more 'mobile' end of the Transportation Management solutions space? Upton comments that mobile device security is of course an important matter. However, when it comes to insurance and service contracts etc., he believes there is now far too much paperwork involved. "Very little has changed on the service side of things for some time, but there seems to be a real heightened sense of concern," he said. "Nevertheless, there are useful checklists to be completed, including the activation of passwords and encrypting data.
However, I think it's very easy to go over the top and invest huge amounts of time and money on something that has never really been a major issue in the world of distribution and logistics. It may be different for large insurance conglomerates that need to ensure millions of customer records aren't lost, but at the end of the day we're talking about delivering parcels."
Ayres considers the issues of security and confidentiality as equally relevant and important throughout the entire supply chain. "Therefore it is imperative to secure it from end-to-end," he said. "As the old adage goes; a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Mobile devices outside of a secure environment can themselves be tracked via Mobile Device Management software, which can be managed from within Zebra's Link-OS environment." Maquignon and Williamson consider that there has been nothing that has driven Internet-based transportation management platforms in a certain way due to any recent legislative changes.
Hernandez believes the increased information flow opens new opportunities to both customers and companies. However, he adds that gathered information can also potentially be exposed to security threats, which can damage confidentiality between the customer and service provider. "Companies should take extra care when processing information," he said.
Williamson: With regard to our own Cloud/SaaS logistics platform, there have no security breaches. Our customers entrust us with some very sensitive information and this must be protected by a very robust system. Interestingly, growth in the SaaS applications in mainland Europe has far outstripped uptake in the UK. From a business application point of view, European countries have become more open-minded to SaaS over the past few years.
Many of us in the UK think nothing about using Cloud-based facilities in our private lives. Most of us will do Internet banking and use Facebook or any other form of social media and be happy to post private information online. However, when you introduce the idea of a Cloud-based solution into business you sometimes still come across obstacles such as companies with historic IT departments that are happy to maintain legacy systems and see the Cloud as being in some way unsecure.
However, in mainland Europe countries such as Germany France Italy Poland have really embraced the Cloud and don't give it a second thought. Nevertheless, I'm confident that the UK will catch up because the terms Cloud and SaaS are definitely becoming more familiar with now, and slowly the security issue is taking a back step as the overriding benefits are being realised.
The next move
What might be the next key developments be over the next year or two? Hernandez reflects that there is always room for improvement. "It is important to innovate and make sure you are one step ahead," he said. "In such competitive environment, businesses have to constantly ask what additional services can be provided to customers – even if the customer appears to be satisfied. Technology will definitely continue to play key role in improving processes.
Automation is the new fast-growing trend – I think we might see some interesting developments in this area soon." Hernandez also believes users are becoming more and more tech-savvy, and are now quite often demanding a similar level of tech-awareness from carriers. "Demand for new services is increasing and businesses should be gathering feedback more effectively; this will give a more solid basis for improvement," he said.
Ayres observes that customer requirements are also changing. "Once it was enough to know what something is, but now customers need to know more: What is it? Where is it? What condition is it in? Has it been dropped? Has it been kept at the correct temperature or opened by someone other than an authorised person? And so on. Again, access to meaningful data and the decisions that can be made by analysing that data is only going to become more important in the next year or two, and likewise the technology that enables this, such as connected devices and M2M." Ayres also sees an uptake in the implementation of Internet of Things applications in this space.
Maquignon agrees. "The Internet of Things will be an innovative topic to follow in the next couple of years," he said. "It is the idea to create objects that are connected with other systems so that decisions and actions could be made." Also, looking at the longer term, Maquignon believes an important change will be that one day stop users will stop using computers or laptops, and rely only on tablet PCs and mobile devices. "Mobility is very important to take into account," he remarked.
With regard to changing end-user requirements over the coming year or two, Maquignon believes the trending requirement for more connected and integrated end-to-end solutions will continue to grow, as the supply chain continues to be more integrated into the core strategic organisation of each company, for the benefit of the end-user. He adds that what will also simplify the user-experience will be to manage a TMS solution like an app.
Williamson considers that in B2C consumers increasingly want to know the estimated time a delivery is going to be made, and having this communicated to them via text message or phone call. "It's all about having the technology in place to ensure you can keep customers updated regarding any re-planning and re-scheduling that might need to take place due to unforeseen challenges such as road works, accidents," he said. "One of the main challenges here come when you're using multiple carriers and how you can ensure all parties concerned have the means to keep both the end-customer and the shipper informed of developments in real-time."
In terms of general trends going forward, Williamson believes continuous improvement in the way goods are shipped and delivered to customers, both in the B2B and B2C space – continue apace. "And with the growing trend for same-day delivery – often referred to as last mile delivery – this is now more important than ever," he said. "This is where real-time tracking of orders by drivers with regard to all their loads is important."
Upton, like Williamson, also believes there will continue to be increasing interest in, and acceptance of, same-day delivery. "This marketplace is definitely on an upswing at the moment, and on a global scale," he said. "The US seems to be leading it but we are certainly seeing it happening in the UK as well." Upton added that he believes wearable devices will also become increasingly prevalent in the world of distribution and logistics.
"The use of devices such as Google Glasses certainly has huge potential for delivery services; particularly at the doorstep," he said. "Here, the delivery person can benefit from having immediately visible and up-to-date information related to the customer and the particular order in question. For example, maybe the customer didn't take out the extended warranty on the product when he or she bought it online because they didn't want to pay the extra £50. Here, there could be an upsell opportunity in that the delivery person could have an overlay in the glass pointing out that if the customer took out the extended warranty on the spot it will only cost £20 rather than £50. So, I believe there are many efficiency and sales opportunities to be had with this type of technology."