The Evolving Technology Prongs of Transportation Management

By Michael Bartz, Vice President, Information Technology, ReTrans

Michael Bartz, Vice President, Information Technology, ReTrans

The world of common carrier transportation and the software that drives it is undergoing an increasingly rapid period of transformation. The sphere of transportation management software is riding the wave of the changes in mobile communication, miniaturization of consumer electronics, and the mainstream adaption of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Long gone are the days where the most important information technology issue in the back office was the “speed and feeds” of EDI. These changes and innovations are affecting every area of transportation software and process as follows:

• In the back office,

• In the tractor and trailer,

• In the product,

• “In” the route.

Scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) has been slowly building as a capability to stem the tide of paper (or PDF) invoices and receipts. The marriage of machine learning with OCR, however, in the last few years makes the application of a totally paperless invoicing and financial settlement possible. his project should be at the top of every CIO’s “must do” list if it is not done already. t delivers on personnel efficiency, data accuracy, and cash flow management.

"As good stewards of innovation, IT organizations must use good judgement to adapt and adopt new products and processes"

The spread of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and the promise of 5g mobile cellular are driving changes not only in the tractor and trailer, but also in the commodities and products being transported. Federally prompted electronic driver logging and the ubiquity of GPS-enabled smart phones provide better visibility into the when and where of a carrier’s assets, both human and machine. In addition, smart phone-enabled tractor and engine monitoring devices are adding another layer of safety and reliability for both the carriers and the drivers. Better sensors and ultra-wide band data networks are providing an opportunity to monitor in-transit commodity for both environmental safety and physical security. t goes without saying that mobile data networking provides a solid foundation for route visibility and real-time monitoring of assets.

So, these sensors, cell phones and networks produce mountains of data, but to what end?How can an IT team make sense of this data and deliver meaningful results to operational units of their companies? I see several trends and needs. One is better marketplace decisions based on seeing carrier availability. You are seeing many variations of brokering tools and disintermediation services (see Uber Freight) that join route and asset availability. These tools will yield a more aggressive, but transparent market. here is also a rising class of service providers that are augmenting traditional EDI services with real-time monitoring. The only word of caution is that aggregation of all this carrier from the swath of small-to-medium carriers is not guaranteed, especially if you depend solely on securing access of driver’s cell phones. The last trend is the growing use of data visibility and analytic tools to wade through all the data flowing through your system. Every IT shop today should have a team dedicated to data analytics and the construction and dissemination. Tools like Qlik and Tableau (don’t forget Excel) are becoming as important to the modern transportation department as a TMS. Being able to analyze “cost per pound” and “cost per mile” and react quickly is essential in today’s transportation world. It is worth mentioning that all this data needs protection!

One thing not mentioned here regarding transportation management: driverless tractors. I think the hype from two to three years ago has rationally settled down, but we do need to keep an eye on this technology. It will likely first arrive in caravanning solutions and all the aforementioned technologies will be good enablers.

Technology is driving changes in the transportation industry. As good stewards of innovation, IT organizations must use good judgement to adapt and adopt new products and processes. Agility, speed and experimentationare the by-words of a modern technology-driven organization.

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Michael Bartz, Vice President, Information Technology, ReTrans