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. 

It’s likely that you built your company from the ground up, growing from one truck to multiple vehicles. Your accounts have more freight and you want to keep the business. Good drivers are scarce and idle rigs cost money. The obvious solution is to simply hire more drivers. Sounds easy, right? Well, not quite.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) new Safety Measurement System (SMS) monitors the violations accumulated by your drivers and measures the safety performance of your company against competitors. The worse your score, the more likely the FMCSA will initiate a targeted investigation of your company. The million-dollar question is, “What can you do to improve your company’s safety score?”

Certain things in life are supposed to just work. You flip the switch and the lights go on. You turn the key and the car engine starts. To this list we can add: The package arrives when you expect it or need it.

Customer satisfaction – and thus repeat business – is directly related to this expectation. It is not just a consumer expectation, though most people probably associate delivery services with packages that come to the home. In a globally integrated, just-in-time economy, manufacturers and enterprises of many types have these same expectations of perfection. It takes a lot of technology to get that package to the right place at the right time. 

Technology provides competitive advantage in this industry. Elaborate bar coding systems smooth operations in warehouses and processing centers. Fleet management technology completes the “last mile” solution for these operations. National or global services complete the last mile by managing trucks and people, while local services gain a customer satisfaction edge by optimizing their efficiency  down to the individual vehicle.

In late June, in a story that was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, it was announced that the U.S. Department of Commerce, through its Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), had issued a private letter ruling for Pioneer Natural Resources (Pioneer) and Enterprise Products Partners LP (Enterprise) which allowed the companies to export lightly processed condensate from their Eagle Ford, Texas, production. The ruling had actually been issued earlier in the spring, but had been kept confidential. It nonetheless triggered a widespread media overreaction — akin to Alan Greenspan’s famed “irrational exuberance” — with expectations that the ruling heralded the coming end to the U.S.’s long-held crude oil export ban. While not wholly irrational, such expectations are likely overly optimistic.

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