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Carrier Technology: Why it's Important for Supply Chains

By Chad Lindbloom, CIO, C.H. Robinson

Chad Lindbloom, CIO, C.H. Robinson

Like many service companies, logistics providers work hard to meet—or in the case of exceptional providers, exceed—their customers’ expectations. One way to do that in today’s tech-obsessed world is through advanced technology capabilities. But only the best logistics providers also prioritize and support carrier technology.

Even if a logistics provider is non-asset based, it’s important to provide technology for the carriers and drivers who deliver the products and goods that keep our world moving. While it certainly helps streamline the carrier’s business, it can actually have a distinct (and positive) impact on a shipper’s supply chain too.

"One system can easily diminish any gaps that may occur when information exists across multiple systems"

Carriers need logistics technology

According to our research of FMCSA data, of all trucking companies, 89 percent only own between one and five trucks, which mean, owners tend to wear many hats. Like many small business owners, they’re filling any and all roles—from operators and dispatchers to accountants and tech support. Because so many roles already overlap in many business models, carriers often don’t have room to support a robust technology system—either in the budget or in personnel time.

The ongoing driver shortage only contributes to the need for overlapping roles. The low number of driver tends to cause high turnover rates because drivers can switch companies easily and often, always looking for the best fit. This can make it challenging for carriers if they constantly need to train new drivers to use a unique technology system.

A logistics provider that supports both shippers and carriers through technology can help provide one clear picture of an entire supply chain. One system can easily diminish any gaps that may occur when information exists across multiple systems.

Technology for carriers must be mobile

Mobile technology is already ingrained in many of our personal lives and certain aspects of our business lives too. Yet many business transactions still take place from a desk—because the people involved work in an office the majority of the time. However, this isn’t the story for the carrier community.

As roles overlap, it’s common for those owning carrier companies to also drive a truck themselves. They deliver freight while managing other aspects of their business at the same time. Everything from finding loads to submitting delivery paperwork is often handled from the cab of a truck. And in the case of companies with multiple trucks and drivers, owners may need to dispatch loads to other drivers—even if they’re on the road themselves.

It’s drastically different from the way many shippers operate. When working at a desk in an office, mobile technology is just one of several convenient options. But for carriers, a mobile solution may be the only way they can stay connected.

After all, it’s pretty difficult to bring a desktop computer on the road. Even laptops and tablets—while smaller—don’t have as many connectivity options as they primarily rely on WiFi hotspots. Whereas a smartphone can connect anywhere the cell phone provider’s latest 3G or 4G coverage extends.

How shippers benefit from carrier technology

There are numerous benefits for shippers when carriers and drivers are properly supported through technology.

• Connectivity means visibility

With the right technology (i.e., mobile technology), carriers and drivers are more likely to be connected most or all of the time. This leads to a new level of visibility for shippers. It allows the logistics provider and shipper to find out about a truck breaking down after only five minutes rather than five hours after the delivery was scheduled. This close level of visibility makes it easier to address issues before they become full-blown problems.

• Faster documentation submissions

If the logistics provider’s carrier technology has mobile documentation support (and it really should) it’s faster and easier for carriers to submit paperwork. Many tools even let carriers take pictures on their phone and upload directly from there. Eliminating the need for bulky scanners, fax machines, or truck stop hardware means carriers can be timelier in these areas of business, which in turn helps close invoices and resolve outstanding claims faster and with less hassle.

• Accurate data collection

Data automatically collected via a carrier smartphone app will probably be more accurate and timely than relying on check calls and human estimates. Improving a supply chain relies heavily on analysis of historical shipping data, but it’s only helpful if that data is accurate.

Basing a decision solely on anecdotal estimates passed on from a driver to a dispatcher to the provider’s representative can sometimes feel more like a game of telephone rather than accurate planning. It’s much easier to make supply chain changes and improvements based on accurate data pulled straight from a single technology source.

Tomorrow’s outlook for carrier technology

Today’s logistics industry faces problems ranging from recruitment to static pay rates and many are turning to technology to help. Already the use of mobile technology is booming in the trucking industry, and more industry-specific mobile apps are on the market from both logistics providers and other companies every day. Apps to improve safety or compliance, apps that make efficient use of a driver’s time, and apps that connect carriers and shippers are all vying for the top spot with carriers.

Technology adoption rates in the industry are likely to climb as new offerings help improve carrier efficiency and contain costs. We’ll continue to see the number of carrier-focused apps grow for some time, but those that stand the test of time will need these three things to be successful:

• Easy to use and learn interface

o one has time to read lengthy manuals to understand how to use an app. Any successful carrier technology must be easily navigated by even the most basic user and deliver all relevant information clearly and concisely.

• Wide variety of tools and capabilities

An app that uses GPS to track a shipment is great, but it won’t compare to one that can do that and allows for document upload directly from the device. Going back to the easy to use aspect, carriers will prefer an app that can do everything rather than switching across many apps to get the job done.

• Direct connections to freight opportunities

Carriers, no matter how big or small, need to keep their equipment full and on the road. A technology solution that directly connects them to hundreds or thousands of loads across the country or the world will be more valuable than those that don’t.

• Trucks are crucial to our economy

As long as products continue to be bought and sold, effective transportation will be necessary. No matter what the future of carrier technology holds, smart logistics providers will focus on and support carriers in all aspects of their business so they can improve performance, profitability, and efficiency—all while on the road. 

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