The age of cloud connectivity is here, and it has already brought capabilities that we could only dream about a decade or so ago.
The planning systems of hundreds of thousands of companies are now co-hosted and interconnected in a way that changes how processes coordinate with each other.
But the next chapter in this fast-moving story could be much more exciting. If the pools of data generated by various mobile devices can be connected into the planning system cloud, we can increase the value of these systems by several orders of magnitude.
It’s a tough challenge, but achievable and almost certainly inevitable. And we are already using a tried and tested technology that can serve as a critical point of integration: the transportation management system (TMS).
Before we get into the reasons why, let’s consider the current state of deployment for mobile devices in the supply chain.
More or less every player in the logistics industry has, and still is, investing in some form of mobile technology. Whether it is an on-board computer in a vehicle cab, a wireless pick and pack unit in a warehouse, or a wireless receiving system in a freight terminal, these devices have become ubiquitous.
The value-adds are now fairly well established. For example, the technology increases efficiency by making it possible for information to travel with the person in the field or on the floor. Quicker alerts that improve exception management and finer-grained information about financials and operational effectiveness are other paybacks.
These are important pluses, but there is also a significant barrier to maximizing the outcomes. Each application tends to be discrete, creating buckets of information that are valuable to each user, but even more valuable when connected.
Imagine, for example, a product pick device in a warehouse that receives inputs from similar sources of data in the loading dock and trucks. The warehouse operator would be able to re-direct a pick in response to a signal from the dock that a carrier arrival has been delayed. Perhaps the operator also receives a notification that another shipment will be loaded by a truck that happens to be available.
Linking information streams via mobile devices in this way multiplies the value of the data, and raises efficiency levels because inputs usually trigger other operations.
Moreover, this detailed supply chain picture is self-improving for two reasons. First, both the outcome and value of inputs can be measured as the process is being executed. Second, both the process and how it is measured can be refined in tandem. With integrated mobile systems, adding a step to the process necessarily creates a measurement of that step’s performance and its interrelationship with the overall process.
In combination, all of these data points are potentially game-changing benefits—but capturing them is not easy.
That requires real time information processing and systems integration. And every disparate link in the chain—including, for instance, warehouse employees, service providers, and terminal operators—must be encompassed.
Accomplishing this at the industry level will take a lot of time, but it’s much less daunting for individual companies or groups of companies. This is where TMS technology comes in.
TMS solutions are, by design, tailored to individual organizations and associated business processes. As long as a system operates as a single global platform, it can facilitate integration in a number of ways. The TMS can aggregate and normalize data from a large community of supply chain partners, from carriers to customs, dock operations, third-party warehouses, and inbound suppliers. As a data clearing house, it has the ability to accelerate the delivery of information to the right parties. And TMS analytical capabilities can be used to interpret data inputs and feed the information into relevant processes.
Crucially, TMS suites have a 360-degree view of freight networks, a unique perspective that I believe will prove hugely valuable as the next phase in the evolution of cloud computing in logistics rolls out.
The industry should be excited at the prospect. We certainly are.