Mobility: Strengthening every link in the chain

An integral part of our new world, mobility is having an impact on every link in the supply chain, from the warehouse/DC to the yard to the transportation network to the last-mile—and everything in between.

Where just five years ago it was still common to see truck drivers jotting down travel notes on a clipboard and taking calls from dispatchers, now much of that communication has been streamlined onto mobile devices that enable more seamless interactions. The same can be said for yard and last-mile delivery activity—all of which can be handled, monitored and tracked using mobile devices that help shippers work more efficiently.

Today’s mobile devices and their software platforms provide high levels of visibility, reliability and accuracy across the end-to-end supply chain. And in return for their increased investment in mobility, logistics operations can more readily meet the needs of their increasingly demanding customers, maintain competitive advantage and overcome mounting labor challenges facing nearly everyone these days.

“We’re seeing steady progress of mobility in the supply chain, with much of that progress being driven by the challenges that all shippers are facing in today’s business world,” says Bob Hood, a Capgemini principal and lead for the group’s Move Domain practice. “Increased transportation costs, a driver shortage, and changing regulations—all of these issues are driving the increased adoption of mobility.”

When combined, all of these factors converge to make mobility a requirement for more effective and efficient management of the supply chain. The makers of mobile tools, equipment, devices and software are keenly aware of this fact, and have stepped up to the plate to cater to their customers’ needs. Over the next few pages we’ll explore the continued adoption of mobility outside of the four walls of the warehouse, show how companies are leveraging its capabilities and take a peek at what’s coming around the next corner.

Working without wires

As the mobile-enabled supply chain continues to come into clearer focus, the days when shippers watched trucks leave their loading docks and then crossed their fingers in hopes that those goods got to the right place—and at the right time and in the right condition—are fading quickly. With “the Amazon effect” going full throttle, and with customers expecting both their B2C and B2B orders to be fulfilled quickly and accurately, the push to deploy more mobility in the supply chain is in full force.

In return for their investments in mobile technology, shippers are benefitting from improved planning, faster access to real-time freight data, better management of deliveries and pickups and enhanced driver safety thanks to hands-free devices. Mobility solutions also give shippers an interactive interface for customers, business partners, and carriers—all of which come together to create a streamlined, cohesive supply chain.

Hood points to the Internet of Things (IoT) as a key driver of the mobility movement, and namely because it helps to create a more connected environment across multiple tools, devices and software platforms—something that wasn’t necessarily feasible before IoT went mainstream.

For example, companies can put tracking devices on items, shipments, or vehicles, and then track both item location and shipment conditions (e.g., temperature, shock, humidity) via the Internet of Things (IoT). Using sensors, those tracking devices transmit data in real-time, letting transportation managers know exactly what’s going on with any shipment and at any time. A pharmaceutical maker, for instance, will be alerted if a certain shipment’s temperature has exceeded preset parameters and, in turn, do something about it before that shipment becomes unusable.

“Everyone is looking at how to leverage IoT,” says Hood. “We’ve all heard the stories about the food contamination problems that companies are trying to manage. These and other challenges are driving more companies to look at how to put sensors on trailers, improve monitoring of the transportation network, and get out in front of these issues.”

Pointing to vendors like Elementum, TransVoyant, and FourKites, Hood says technological innovation and the introduction of new solutions are also pushing the mobility trend
forward.

“There are more and more vendors focused on helping companies leverage visibility and use the data that’s being made available through the connected-device environment,” says Hood. “These vendors are taking advantage of all of that data that’s being made available, whether it’s through ocean freight, over-the-road (OTR), or over-the-rail networks—and capturing that data and all other relevant information such as weather, traffic and even unstructured data
from social media to provide real-time insights.”

But even with the influx of new and improved mobile technology on the market, some shippers are opting to stick with their manual processes. “In the supermarket industry, margins are very, very thin. However, the cost of not doing something is increasing,” says Hood. “Put simply, the types of companies you would generally see on the front end of any technology are already implementing mobility—but there are also laggards that are not.”

The connective tissue

Another key driver of the mobility is the overall expansion of the supply chain as a whole, says

Simon Ellis, practice director at research and consulting firm IDC Manufacturing Insights. In other words, whereas the supply chain may have once included just a handful of key people—warehouse supervisor, dispatcher, driver—it now incorporates a wider variety of waypoints.

“The supply chain is an inherently distributed function that includes people who aren’t in your buildings, but are scattered across different locations,” says Ellis. “Because of this, the ability to connect them, get information from them, and disseminate information to them is a critical part of modern supply chain management.”

This scenario is a critical component of the real-time supply chain—a Holy Grail that shippers have been striving to reach for decades, and that may be here sooner than we think. With devices now connected with networks of sensors, and then capturing and disseminating more timely and accurate data across the supply chain, that real-time supply chain is now within closer grasp for many companies.

“Mobility is the connective tissue that supports the real-time supply chain,” notes Ellis. “Whether that means capturing information in real-time and sending it back to the systems to make decisions based on that data, or sending the information out to people to make those decisions, mobility truly is the heart of the process.”

Moving beyond the truck cab

Driver connectivity has been top-of-mind for shippers for decades, but thanks to advancements in technology, those same shippers can now think beyond the truck cab and extend their mobile supply chains in both directions—back to the dock or out to the customer’s receiving location. “Mobility is moving beyond the cab,” says Hood, “and beyond simply providing connectivity around vehicle and driver performance.”

“We’re seeing steady progress of mobility in the supply
chain, with much of that progress being driven by
the challenges that all shippers are facing in today’s
business world. Increased transportation costs, a driver
shortage, and changing regulations—all of these issues
are driving the increased adoption of mobility.”
Bob Hood, Capgemini

Credit the new electronic logging device mandate with driving at least some of this trend. As of December 17, 2017, any commercial vehicle weighing over 10,000 pounds with a model year of 2000 or newer had to be equipped with an FMCSA-approved electronic logging device (ELD). By pushing drivers and carriers to “move into the electronic age,” so to speak, the ELD mandate is essentially propelling any laggards to invest in mobile technology—whether they intended to or not.

“Because they now have to keep electronic logs, there’s a fair amount of maturity for mobility in transportation,” says Hood. Concurrently, the technology continues to evolve to the extent that it’s now possible to use handheld devices—as opposed to cumbersome, clunky in-cab communications and asset tracking systems. “We’re now seeing more detection-type, IoT-enabled devices both on the containers and in the trailer,” says Hood.

The same evolution is happening with rail, where the movement is enabled by a combination of mobile devices and IoT. “For years, car location messages had to be routed through several different companies, and those messages weren’t as timely or reliable as shippers would have liked,” Hood explains. “But now, many shippers are putting IoT devices in rail cars to measure things like temperature and pressure and to track locations—all of which adds up to improved supply chain visibility.”

What’s the outlook?

As mobility continues to enhance supply chain activities that take place outside the four walls of the warehouse and DC, the availability of more real-time data at a lower cost will also push the on-the-go supply chain forward. As this trend continues to evolve, expect to see a wider swath of shippers tapping into the power of the mobile supply chain.

Going forward, Hood expects to see even more innovation around how companies leverage the connected world and the information that it’s generating. “I think we’re also going to see more vendors come into the space to develop supply chain visibility applications and leverage all of the inputs such as weather and social media,” says Hood, who also sees a place for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in that equation down the line.

“Once that happens, companies will really be able to automate, to a much larger extent, how they deal with exceptions that occur during the distribution and shipping processes,” adds Hood, “and truly leverage the power of the mobile supply chain.”