The evolution of consumer devices and IT has given rise to new ways of working with data and technology in transport management, says Johanna Parsons.
T he ubiquity of the smartphone and the emergence of m-commerce are perfect examples of how, from entry level employees to the board of directors, we are all more skilled than ever when it comes to IT. In line with this new level of tech savvy, the variety of what can be done with new systems is expanding massively.
Contemporary transport management systems are not just about organising the delivery roster, they are competitive tools; identifying relevant data, and utilising it to add real value.
Brian Templar of Davies & Robson goes further, “TMS are not strategic tools – they are fundamentally tactical… Tactical decision making is about making decisions in a live environment. It is about giving traffic office staff the means to manage the transport operation dynamically.”
And Robert Byrne of Terra Technology says logistics professionals are starting to hear a new term for these tactics – transport forecasting. But not just any transport forecasting.
He explains: “It is the missing link that connects demand and supply planning to logistics execution systems, providing shippers with visibility to future freight capacity requirements by lane, mode and temperature class.”
The idea being that this depth of forecast can be linked with sales and operations planning so that the entire company executes against the same plan, including promotions.
Carl Lyon, head of operational development and support at Hermes, is another advocate of a more cohesive approach. “Linking various functions, collection, hub processing and trunking together in one system gives Hermes the ability to maximise our performance while controlling our resource and cost.
“This also links into aspirations for having a more centralised view of operational planning and performance.”
Such visibility enables the feedback of data to inform dynamic decisions, potentially smoothing operations right back up the supply chain. And as technology gets more established and cheaper to buy into, this level of management is becoming more accessible, even to smaller firms.
DAI’s Matflo Enterprise Logistics Suite is a range of modules, providing a scalable system. Its automated gatehouse for example operates unmanned, speeding up driver entry and exit and site throughput while reducing labour requirements.
But selecting a system still requires a careful consideration of various factors. “I feel that ease of integration, tailoring at low cost and comprehensive assistance when scoping by the supplier can add value when deciding or implementing a system of this nature, because no one operation is the same,” says Lyon.
Paul Hinds, transport director at the Scottish multi-modal freight firm Russell Group, says his experience has borne this out. “We selected WinRoute from Integrated Skills to run a full evaluation of the system and how it might work in our environment. This was because it seemed the easiest to use and to integrate.”
But bigger firms can also benefit from a more modular approach, by rolling various systems out across different sections of a business as and when required.
CitySprint first installed Paragon’s Multi Depot system with street level mapping and INRIX road speed data to work through the 2012 Olympics. It has subsequently been used across all business areas, for some five million time critical deliveries per year.
Emma Blackmore, national support manager at CitySprint, says the firm has increased daily deliveries from 800 to 1,200 for one particular customer, and realised a 14 per cent reduction in costs.
And grocery distributor Blakemore Logistics recently extended its use of Paragon transport optimisation software from pure fixed route planning use to full dynamic daily route optimisation.
Solutions like these can be hosted on-premises or on a SaaS basis, which eliminates the requirement for on-site support by the operator. This was a factor in a recent move by Steinhoff UK Retail, the bed retailer with brands such as Harveys and Bensons, which moved its entire critical IT infrastructure to independent managed services provider, Adapt. The deal included a dual data centre including Adapt’s enterprise Virtual Data Centre, and managed hosting and networking services.
“This is a perfect example of the continuous competitive edge that a private cloud environment can offer businesses in the fast-paced, dynamic retail industry,” says Simon Fisk of Adapt.
And Paragon’s new Territory Optimiser module is another example of an optional add-on that is arguably more appropriate for smaller firms with more variety and less daily deliveries. It balances workloads over specified territories within overarching distribution routes, and if delivering to different customer areas on different days, the software can divide the delivery areas according to days of the week.
This balanced zoning is intended to ensure a fair workload, but also to help to build on customer relationships as clients get to know the drivers or engineers assigned to their particular territory.
As the market matures, new developments are also refining established processes. Monitoring technologies for example are being used for different aspects of transport management, and being blended with other types of software.
Tracking systems are now empowering systems that predict delivery windows for e-commerce home deliveries, track secure loads, and monitor a fleet’s condition.
Earlier this year Isotrak telematics went into a partnership with r2c Online compliance, to offer a service and maintenance platform which it reckons is helping fleet operators save thousands of pounds on vehicle maintenance.
Isotrak’s real-time telematics monitor vehicles on the move and provide live data including engine management to r2c Online, which produces predictive maintenance management, using real-time information to manage downtime.
And last month Skillweb’s SmartTask product suite became one of the first to be validated on Motorola’s new TC55 touch computer. SmartTask Apps provide mobile worker features such as proof of attendance, and delivery, rostering, live tracking and alerts, with a range of data capture tech such as NFC tags and QR codes.
But the extent to which machine to machine working will catch on, awaits to be seen.
Lyon is adamant that optimisation, communication or more dynamic routeing are not in themselves compelling cases for using mobile computing.
“There are plenty of options for mobile computing, handhelds and in cab technology which is advancing all the time, but these only seem to be deemed essential where it is important that transactions for collection or delivery is paramount.”
The cost, and return on investment imperative will always be the deciding factor for businesses considering investing in IT for transport management. But the array of new tech on the menu means more firms than ever are finding that to get the best out of their operations, in whatever flavour or portion size, IT is a must.
Case study: Agrii grows service with Paragon via TomTom
Agronomy business Agrii has implemented an innovative real-time transport optimisation and vehicle tracking solution for its agrochemicals division.
Paragon’s Fleet Controller system integrates a live vehicle tracking feed, provided by 49 TomTom PRO 9150 navigation units, with its advanced vehicle routeing and scheduling software.
This delivers a real-time plan, from actual performance information, to the Agrii transport and customer service teams, and enables customers to receive updated ETAs via text message.
TomTom’s PRO 9150 provides intelligent navigation and live traffic information to help drivers avoid congestion.
It is an all-in-one portable device combining navigation and GPS tracking.
“By integrating Paragon and TomTom technology we are able to plan and manage deliveries of more than 350 orders a day, which given the location and type of customers we serve would be a logistical challenge if we didn’t use this solution,” says Tony Frain, Agrii’s logistics manager.
“The software allows us to offer customers the opportunity to place orders up to 10.30pm and we’ll guarantee delivery if stocks are available by the next working day in three slots: before 9am, before 12pm or next day.”
As Agrii’s agrochemical delivery operation using 3.5 tonne vans and 7.5 tonne trucks is seasonal, the company can flex the size of the hire fleet without installing and removing hardwired equipment.
Agrii’s Alconbury depot supplies some 6,000 farm customers in the UK, with drivers delivering direct to the farm’s chemical storage facilities, the locations for which have been located accurately using the GPS vehicle-tracking units.
“This streamlines the delivery because using a postcode alone would only take them to within a kilometre of the location. If we can get the driver within 10 to 20 metres of the store, it improves our performance and the level of service we offer our customers.”
Case study: Farrall’s saves £100,000 on fuel
Farrall’s Transport has taken on Volvo Trucks’ online transport information system, Dynafleet, to boost service and reduce costs.
“Given that our bottom line fuel bill amounts to over £1m a year – fuel is our biggest bill after wages,” says managing director Mike Farrall.
The firm wanted to invest in a system that enables measurement of driving style on fuel consumption for its predominately Volvo fleet.
Farrall’s has phased in the Dynafleet technology gradually over the last two years.
It now gives the transport manager a real-time view of fuel consumption, service intervals and driver times as well as current locations of the vehicles in the fleet.
Dynafleet produces a report based on idling time, gear selection, cruise control etc, and taking into account variables such as load weights to score each driver for feedback linked to an incentive scheme and driver bonuses.
“We are reaping the benefits from using the information collected via Dynafleet – whether it is data on the vehicle, the driver, or the load being hauled,” says Farrall.
“Implementing Dynafleet is a significant investment for a medium sized company such as Farrall’s Transport. However, the rewards are considerable.”
With Dynafleet Farrall’s has boosted efficiency from an average of 8.6 to 9.6 mpg, resulting in a saving of some £100,000 per year.