Mobile communications is not only revolutionizing the way freight delivery is managed; it is also fundamentally changing the way people interact with co-workers and the extended supply chain.
The ability to access general work systems like email while away from the office is trivial, but the line between work and home life is beginning to blur. This is problematic for workers who typically use specialized work systems. Co-workers assume that, if they have access to sufficient technology to ask a question, their transportation managers will have access to the tools needed to answer it.
As a result, transportation managers are expected to respond to inquiries regardless of where they are or what they are doing when the question is asked. In order to respond to this flow of questions, managers must be able to access detailed shipment information that traditionally have not been available through mobile technology.
This, in turn, requires systems developers to design and implement mobile information platforms that can be easily accessed from the road. And in order to do this, they need to know what kinds of questions managers are fielding from customers, suppliers, and colleagues in this era of mobile communications. As in most kinds of tool development, the key to building an excellent solution is attaining a deep understanding of the problem.
Some years back, we initiated research to begin defining the exact nature of this challenge. The information helped us to design the next iteration of our MIP, a mobile app released in January 2013 that allows users of our Navisphere® technology platform to access critical shipment information with Apple or AndroidTM mobile devices.
As we discovered, the question that most transportation managers asked for help with is probably as old as the transportation industry: What is the status of my shipment? We found that the questions from various stakeholders typically relate to the location of a shipment, whether a load was actually dispatched, and, if it is behind schedule, why the shipment is not on time.
The problem is that identifying loads and retrieving this type of information can be tricky when the caller has only sketchy details about the transaction. Maybe the person is also calling from a mobile device and does not have the detailed information readily available. Perhaps he or she can only offer a delivery number received from a remote distribution center or a basic description of the products in transit.
With the benefit of this feedback, we designed and built a tool that gives the mobile manager maximum flexibility when searching for shipments and initiating action. The new app makes it possible to view detailed shipment information after keying in pickup or drop off dates, container, customer reference, or C.H. Robinson load numbers. In addition, users are able to look at shipment events and imaged documents, and email their account representative with questions on a particular move. Any shipment, in any part of the world, can be tracked in this way from a mobile device.
This is an important starting point and we are excited to make the app available, but this only represents a first step for C.H. Robinson and TMC. The next refinement of the app could provide search capabilities with even more flexibility. The mobile user might only have to input a single term in one input box, for example, to view details of a shipment. This is something akin to a mini-Google facility for freight movements within the network.
In future, the platform could also help users to act on the information they glean from their mobile searches. Having captured detailed tracking information, for example, the device would facilitate the next step, whether that means firing off emails to other parties, requesting further information, or providing updated guidance to the driver on the road. Even more interesting is the ability to utilize the phone to replace or supplement handheld devices for dock-level workers managing the receiving or claims processes.
MIP technology is evolving rapidly and the freight industry must keep pace with each new development. In addition, user expectations rise with each improvement, requiring providers to offer more sophisticated mobile solutions.
I’m excited about the opportunity to expand the reach of our Navisphere platform and impact transportation stakeholders in new and innovative ways.