The case for going mobile

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Remember the good old days, before deregulation in the transport and logistics industry? Remember when drivers spent the first and last thirty minutes to an hour of every workday reviewing paperwork? When time dispatchers and load planners read through drivers paperwork to make sure that it was completed properly? When all of the days activities and shipments had to be entered manually into the companys systems for transfer and billing?

Todays logistics carriers each have their own business challenges, yet they share many of the same obstacles in trying to turn a profit while taking a shipment or package from point A to point B. Many of these obstacles are related to the timeliness and quality of information exchanged between the transportation company, the driver that actually picks up and delivers goods, and the shippers and receivers.

Modern wireless technologies can offer transportation and logistics companies benefits far beyond any previously available. Rugged handheld computers, wireless and automated data collection technologies bring useable information to the field and make capturing and collecting information more efficient then ever.

The logistics industry can not just add vehicles, people or capacity to increase profits, however, it can use better communication and better systems to create efficiencies that lead to increased profits. To achieve these new efficiencies, company executives must be able to identify, track and manage all assets touched by the companys drivers, including vehicles, inventory, information and even customers. Gathering this data need not be burdensome to the organisation or to the staff. Wireless technology allows for virtually effortless mobile asset management and accountability, and the best part is, you dont have to be a UPS or FedEx to afford it.

Wireless-enabled handheld computers also allow T&L companies to gather customer, route and accounting information right at the customers door, in real-time, as goods are picked up and delivered. This instantly available information means faster invoicing, more accurate route planning, scheduling and dispatching and less time in the cab for drivers.

Those who oversee the day to day operations of a logistics company need wireless technology to stay competitive. The availability of real-time information from the road improves planning and scheduling of operations on all fronts. Todays advanced operations are hungry for data. Smart wireless handheld devices allow users to collect data and transmit it, in real-time to management.

Additionally, mobile computers allow drivers to alert the office immediately when things dont go as planned they get a flat tire or a customer adds a large package to their pickup order. Changes in schedule, freight and route then are absorbed by the dispatch department, which can quickly plan a new route or call in a different driver. All of these changes can be communicated via data transfer, so drivers do not have to pull over and break from the schedule to make or receive a phone call.

Alternatively, doing business without wireless can be a real nightmare for T&L operations managers. Inefficiencies such as double handling of goods (which mean more opportunities to cause damage or make mistakes), staged pickups and a general start-and- stop, hurry-up-and-wait pace are common, especially when drivers and dispatchers must rely on handwritten or radioed information.

Drivers have enough to worry about between traffic, customers and ever-changing regulations. Wireless communication makes drivers more efficient, cuts down on paper work and mistakes, and eliminates time consuming chores such as handwriting and re-entering reported information.

Drivers know that, with increasingly tighter schedules, their time at the customers dock is valuable. If a driver misses a scheduled delivery, he may have to wait a considerable amount of time until another opportunity arises to make the delivery. If the driver knows he is going to miss a delivery window, he can call or send a message ahead to reschedule, thereby allowing the retailer to reschedule its dock crew to receive the shipment later.

Dispatchers also benefit greatly when drivers carry wireless handheld devices. Messages sent out to alert the fleet of schedule changes or updates are sent immediately no phone calls necessary. Once the driver reads the message, the dispatcher receives an electronic acknowledgement of receipt. Dispatching via phone can be a time consuming and repetitive chore and therefore requires more labor, whereas a wirelessly enabled fleet can be handled by fewer dispatchers.

The real-time reporting afforded by wireless technology enables customers to check on shipments, verify charges and request changes to shipments quickly and easily, making them feel comfortable, assured and prepared for the arrival of their package. Wireless handheld devices also open up simple, direct and efficient paths of communication with valued customers, improving working conditions for the driver, information flow for the company and most importantly, improving customer satisfaction.

Stuart Scott is Senior Director, International Marketing, Intermec Technologies. Intermec develops, manufactures and integrates technologies that identify, track and manage supply chain assets. Core technologies include RFID, mobile computing and data collection systems, bar code printers and label media. The companys products and services are used by customers in many industries worldwide to improve the productivity, quality and responsiveness of business operations.

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