In order to increase their competitive advantage today, transportation and logistics providers must successfully address the diverse demands of a constantly-changing environment. For example, customers are demanding faster turnarounds, shorter lead times and up-to-the-minute order and shipment information. Yet despite significant increases in operational costs, especially labor, customers still expect unprecedented levels of flexibility and responsiveness. Clearly, the balance of power is tilted in favor of the customers, forcing transportation and logistics providers to continue to attempt to do more with less.

All of this adds up to a scenario where maximizing customer satisfaction and loyalty must be at the top of your list of business goals. One way to achieve these objectives is to focus on pursuing the “perfect order.”

As companies have begun to make more supply chain and purchasing activity digital, the data formats used to share that digital information have multiplied in kind. The advent of multiple format options brings flexibility and the power of choice, but it can also lead to additional cost, even in today’s world of transform engines and configurable system connectors.

To control the inevitable data format explosion, companies should strive to standardize their data formats by understanding the effort required to maintain integration of these various data feed formats, the feasibility of standardizing formats across various partners, and how standardization can be accomplished.

One way to take the railroad industry into the future is to look to its past. More specifically, to make use of the knowledge base of all those employees near retirement, or already retired, who can help train the next generation to be leaders in the industry.

With advances in technology, it’s easy to write off the older generation in favor of Millennials for whom computers and automated systems are just a part of life. But that’s a mistake. Technology can improve transportation, but only if it’s used as a tool to enhance productivity and not as a substitute for basic operating knowledge.

Let’s take the case of a trip I made recently with one of my company’s consultants who had 21 years of operating experience as an executive with a major rail carrier. Conditions appeared optimal for travel, yet trains were sitting for long periods of time for no apparent reason. The cause, according to experienced workers we talked to in the region? Dispatchers were making decisions from 1,000 miles away via video display, and many of them did not have direct everyday, in-field experience with the territories they were controlling. These dispatchers had the technology to make long-distance decisions, but not the field knowledge base to make optimal decisions.

Open the business section of any newspaper, or turn on your favorite news TV program and chances are the discussion is about the economy or our nation’s infrastructure. From the stock market, to political views, to transportation funding bills in congress, these are certainly important topics for discussion. However, there is one specific piece of “infrastructure” that needs significant investment, attention, and is too often not part of the conversation… this is our human infrastructure. 

In logistics, no matter the scale of your operation, your “human infrastructure” should be, and can be a key asset in separating you from the competition. Especially for companies enabled by trucking, where in large fleets annual driver turnover rates for many years now has topped 100 percent per year, and complex federal regulations are fundamentally changing how and when truck drivers can operate. 

Operating in the automotive industry has always been challenging. Long and complex supply chains, unpredictable demand patterns and changing regulations – not to mention planning-to-production processes that can take up to five years – have caused headaches for car manufacturers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for a number of years. 

The recession of 2008 and 2009 and its impact made things even harder. Collapsing demand and other associated factors squeezed the car industry and hit suppliers hard. Prior to 2008, it was important for suppliers to be able to respond to unplanned or short-notice demand from OEMs, as the balance of power usually lay with the manufacturers. 

Walk into your warehouse and imagine more than 40 percent of the SKUs within it contributing less than 5 percent to your organization’s overall revenue – and even less to your margin. Unfortunately, this is true for a majority of companies and probably applies to your own organization. Combine this with the number of SKUs in the average distribution company’s product portfolio tripling over the past 10 years and the problem has a far bigger impact than the average executive realizes.

Some impacts are obvious: warehouse and inventory space, handling costs and their usage of the most valuable real estate in the entire supply chain, shelf space. However, it is the less obvious impacts of excess SKUs that do the most damage: they diffuse focus across a larger number of products, eat up limited promotion dollars, distract sales organizations as they push distribution, use up the creative effort of marketing, sign shops and merchandisers and prevent the effective launch of new products. 

Managing a commercial vehicle fleet is growing ever more challenging. Fleet managers must grapple with wildly fluctuating fuel costs, the constant cycle of vehicle maintenance, balancing driver performance with driver safety while being buffeted with ever increasing regulations and legislation. Meanwhile, new technology, the ubiquity of mobile connectivity and the increasing demand for time-sensitive deliveries are forcing fleet managers to up their game. 

Fleet managers now more than ever need solutions tailored to their specific needs and often turn to specialized fleet management software or systems to help them navigate in this rapidly changing and complex environment. 

It’s no secret that accurate and fresh maps are core components of fleet management solutions. Locating drivers, visualizing a vehicle’s position and generating truck specific routes already help companies reduce lead times, fuel costs and optimize many other parameters of their fleet. 

Relationships between distributors, suppliers and other mobile service businesses, and the customers they serve are typically fast-paced and time sensitive, spurring many businesses to turn to technology to automate and integrate their route accounting transaction management.  

The era of offline, handwritten paper-based transactions is fading fast as more fleet-based companies adopt automated, computer-based wireless systems that link mobile workforce transactions with back-office planning, processing and reporting systems.

The route automation trend spans many industries. Whether a fuel supplier specializing in just-in-time deliveries to oil drilling sites, a food and beverage distributor serving a network of supermarkets and retail stores, or a construction firm delivering materials and equipment to job sites, integrated route management software and mobile printing has proven to help to reduce costs, improve transactional speed, increase visibility across the enterprise, all while ramping up driver productivity and customer service. 

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