Using a TMS Provides Much Needed Visibility for Shippers

Shippers are perpetually searching for ways to become more efficient. As competition becomes more fierce, the need for real-time visibility has never been higher.

Anthony Vitiello writes for Inbound Logistics:

There is only one way forward for high-volume shippers who are facing a logistics environment where they’ll be forced to produce far more efficient shipping using far fewer resources in a much more competitive environment. Expectations surrounding shipping velocity (and the fines increasingly imposed for late delivery) have never been higher. The visibility required to plan, execute and monitor freight movements—and most importantly—efficiently schedule pickups and deliveries, can only be delivered through the use of powerful logistics technologies like TMS, optimization tools, appointment/dock door scheduling and others. Shippers simply can no longer afford the extra time it takes to manage these processes manually or using outdated and less-efficient logistics solutions.

The demands heaped upon transportation logistics in the era of accelerated supply chain management continue to pile up at exactly the same time as truckload capacity enters a historic shortage. Yes, capacity shortages have been experienced before, but the premium consumers place upon near-immediate access to goods—from consumer products like apparel, home furnishings, groceries and electronics to B2B items like construction materials, raw materials, packaging, and more—is exacerbated by the exodus of carriers and drivers sparked by the ELD mandate.

Restricted capacity normally means it takes more time and costs more money to move goods through the supply chain. Yet, shippers with solid TMS platforms in place carve extra time out for their operations and can actually save money not only in terms of freight rates, but also in terms of cost avoidance (the penalties levied on late pickup/delivery) as well as in labor expenses.

Saving time is saving money for shippers leveraging advanced scheduling capabilities like those offered by UltraShipTMS. Powerful new appointment scheduling solutions use TMS data to provide real-time carrier notification of available loading dock doors, hours of operation, and loading times for each dock door. This upgrade to traditional scheduling in TMS informs transportation planners with the unique method of scheduling—Appointment Time, Appointment Window, Hours or Operation or any other method—in use at any given location.

Carriers are provided access to the TMS so they can select from a list of available appointment types and times. Appointment times, pickup and/or delivery appointments, and other scheduling data can be set in the order management section of the TMS and transmitted via EDI, prior to offering a load to a carrier. Moreover, the system disallows scheduling if the pickup or delivery requested can’t possibly be achieved given the parameters in the TMS for appointment time/day, product availability transit times and other critical considerations.

Helping to further improve timely pickups and thus, higher on-time delivery rates, Advanced Scheduling tools also support easy dock door scheduling. Vendors are given access to scheduling interfaces via a vendor portal. There, they can determine scheduling availability and reserve specific dock times from among the available open slots. A best-in-class solution produces system-generated messages to be issued to DC management whenever a door is scheduled or released. DC management may also view the entire schedule for a global view of daily DC throughput. Even dock users can be provided access for purposes of reserving dock doors as needed for maintenance, storage or any other reason.

Better scheduling automation and management saves time by:

  • Improving utilization of driver hours of service
  • Boosting on-time pickups/deliveries
  • Minimizing late fees
  • Optimizing labor utilization at the warehouse
  • Reducing man-hours dedicated to scheduling calls/emails for transportation managers
  • Improving visibility into delayed shipments and enabling subsequent re-routing

Not only does the time saved by improving scheduling translate to money saved, but improved logistics also translates to greater competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Want to save time and money in a tough logistics environment? Engage solutions with advanced scheduling capabilities now!


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Blockchain Technology Could Impact the Transportation Industry

Although blockchain technology was initially built for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, it could make its way into the transportation industry for good. Some people feel that it may actually bridge the gap for companies using different operating systems.

Roger Gilroy of Transport Topics writes:

Freight contracts, document transfers, food safety, driver security, parts management and asset tracking are among the many elements of the trucking business that could become easier and more secure through new applications built around the shared digital ledger called blockchain.

The blockchain concept originally was developed to support the digital currency Bitcoin, but technology experts are exploring a whole universe of possibilities to apply it to other industries, including transportation.

Trucking fleets, transportation software companies and other industry players are studying blockchain, testing it and anticipating it could reach a tipping point within two years.

“If you are looking for some kind of immutable, secure, trackable, incorruptible data, then that is what you need blockchain for,” said Ken Craig, vice president of special projects at McLeod Software. “It is going to have a lot of uses in the trucking industry where those types of applications and functions are needed.”

Simply put, Craig said, blockchain provides another aspect of interoperability and visibility within the supply chain, much like electronic data interchange, application programming interfaces or web services.

However, blockchain without its own truly interoperable standards will develop into nothing more than a new process that mimics the difficulties surrounding the use of EDI, he said.

“We have programmers today [at McLeod] that work on nothing but developing new and very proprietary ‘standard’ EDI transaction sets dictated by various shippers,” Craig said.

The push for standards comes as some companies already have forged ahead with their own blockchain applications.

“Two years ago, I was a centralized database kind of guy, looking at big-data warehouses, and I didn’t see the value of blockchain, at first,” said Tim Leonard, chief technology officer at TMW Systems.

Fast forward to now. TMW has 54 separate blockchain applications, he said. Among those are ones covering truckload, less-than-truckload and dedicated activities.

Leonard described blockchain as “the big visibility,” with the contract information, lanes and proof of delivery all contained within the digital contract itself. “And it is a living, breathing ledger, which means it is constantly going back to the transportation management systems, for updates to itself,” he said.

In August, a consortium was launched to develop blockchain standards for freight movements.

By November, it had changed its name to the Blockchain in Transport Alliance after starting out as the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance.

The change was requested by key members, said Craig Fuller, CEO of TransRisk and BiTA’s co-founder.

“Companies like UPS Inc., FedEx Corp., YRC, BNSF and C.H. Robinson do more in transport than trucking. It felt like the organization was well-positioned for cross-­industry collaboration, regardless of mode,” Fuller said.

He added: “We love that TMW [also a member of BiTA] is starting to develop appli­cations inside their ecosystem, but the world of transportation is massive and collaboration with competitive platforms is necessary for the technology to proliferate.”

BiTA said it has 160 member companies and saw applications for membership surge to more than 900 as of January.

North America’s largest truck manufacturer, Daimler Trucks North America, is considering applying for membership.

“Joining BiTA is a talking point, right now, for the company,” Lori Heino-Royer, DTNA’s director of business innovation, told Transport Topics.

DTNA plans a pilot test of blockchain internally in the first quarter, she said, “before we start moving into how do we work with outside suppliers and vendors or our carriers. But I would definitely say that we will make a progression on those fronts.”

There are elements of blockchain she likes and parts she questions.

On the positive side, blockchain could become an agnostic means of linking companies currently using different operating systems. This would reduce the widespread inefficiency in the trucking industry, she said.

“Whenever there is a physical movement and a financial transaction that occurs with that physical movement, it is right for blockchain,” Heino-Royer said.

However, blockchain’s latency, or the time it takes to get all of the verifications out there and understood, needs to improve, she said. “It’s not instantaneous.”

Also, blockchain’s immutability concerns her since entering information correctly 100% of the time is not what happens in the real world, she said.

Lastly, there is a private and a public key to every blockchain transaction to control access to the information.

“If the private key that your organization has gets damaged, that blockchain is then null. It is no longer verifiable. So what happens then? I haven’t seen a good solution that solves that,” Heino-Royer said.

In August, IBM announced a globally focused blockchain to collaborate on food safety with Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick & Co., McLane Co., Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart.

Steve Rogers, IBM’s vice president of supply chain for blockchain, said the emergence of blockchain will be supported by cloud computing, the use of remote servers hosted on the internet to store and process data in lieu of on-premises computer systems.

“The good thing about this new technology is that it is coming after the cloud revolution so people don’t have to worry about fitting up that huge data center with equipment that they then are going to buy lots of software and storage for and have huge IT departments to run that,” Rogers said. “Most blockchain-related services are going to be cloud-based so people can get into blockchain-related solutions much, much easier.”

Transflo, a unit of Pegasus TransTech, is actively studying how it wants to position itself with this technology, Chief Technology Officer Salem ­Elnahwy said.

Transflo provides document scanning and delivery services at truck stops and via its mobile app.

The company handles millions of documents and performs automatic recognition and identification of data on these documents, Elnahwy said, “so we are in a very good position to start with automating some of that data gathering and using blockchain to create a better digitized standard protocol communication across the whole supply chain.”

Another area with big potential for blockchain is improving yet simplifying security challenges with driver identification, particularly given the broader use of mobile apps and electronic logging devices across the industry.

“There is more to be thought through there, at least from the transport side,” Elnahwy said.

Penske Logistics sees blockchain potentially benefiting its customers that operate in the manufacturing, food and beverage sectors, the company said in a statement.

Penske pointed to the benefits of further digitizing and securing supply chain and logistics processes, improving order ac­curacy, tracking physical assets such as vehicles, trailers, trucks and containers, and securing freight bill pay and audit transactions across its freight brokerage and ded­icated carriage operations.

Polaris Transportation Group is one fleet that believes blockchain could provide a competitive advantage.

“In terms of operational precision, blockchain pivots the traditional ‘waiting for an order’ to a more proactive relationship where a customer request is anticipated as early as when the raw materials are sourced in another part of the world,” company President Dave Cox said in a statement.

The Toronto-based fleet said it is the largest privately held Canadian cross-border LTL carrier serving every U.S. ZIP code and Canadian postal code on a daily basis.

“When you think about the ­value of knowing what orders you’ll have to execute tomorrow today, for an LTL operator, it ­allows the system to flow in a ­totally different and better way,” Cox said.

Meanwhile, blockchain and its distributed ledger technology will be here much sooner than later, predicted Jack Legler, technical director of American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council.

“I think we will see distributed ledger technology find its way into the mainstream of contract transactions in our industry,” he said. “As a consequence, warranty and truck parts supply chain transactions will adopt blockchain-based systems once the cost-savings potential becomes more identifiable and distributed ledger technology is proven in reliability,” he said.

When that happens, it will be “like Carfax on steroids,” said Mauricio Paredes, vice president of business technology at transportation firm PS Logistics, a BiTA charter member.


Trade Deficit Grew Wider Than in 2008

The trend of the widening deficit may continue into this year, as the number of imports outweighed the number of exports in December 2017.

The U.S. trade deficit widened to the biggest monthly and annual levels since the last recession, underscoring the inherent friction in President Donald Trump’s goal of narrowing the gap while enjoying faster economic growth.

The deficit increased 5.3% in December to a larger-than- expected $53.1 billion, the widest since October 2008, as imports outpaced exports, Commerce Department data showed Feb. 6. For all of 2017, the goods-and-services gap grew 12% to $566 billion, the biggest since 2008.

The trend may extend into this year: Solid consumer spending and business investment — assuming they hold up amid the recent stock-market rout — will fuel demand for foreign-made merchandise. While improving overseas growth and a weaker dollar bode well for exports, Trump’s efforts to seek more favorable terms with U.S. trading partners remain a work in progress, and his tax-cut legislation may cause the deficit to widen further.

One of the central themes of Trump’s presidential campaign was a pledge to level the playing field for American workers. In his first State of the Union address last week, Trump promised to “fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.” The president recently placed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, sparking concern the U.S. may prompt trade wars.

With two of Trump’s main targets, China and Mexico, the imbalances worsened in 2017. America’s merchandise-trade gap with China, the world’s second-biggest economy, widened 8.1% in 2017 to a record $375.2 billion.


The goods-trade deficit with southern neighbor Mexico increased 10% last year to $71.1 billion, the highest since 2007. The administration is currently renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, and Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the pact.

U.S. merchandise exports to China and Mexico in 2017 were the highest on record — and so were imports.

For the full year, total U.S. exports rose 5.5% to $2.33 trillion, while imports climbed 6.7% to a record $2.9 trillion. Both showed the biggest gains since 2011.

What Bloomberg Economists Say

The international trade balance deteriorated further in December as import growth continued to exceed that of exports. In December, a strong increase in imports possibly resulted from some suppliers rushing goods into the country at year end, fearing import tariffs in 2018. A larger widening of the trade deficit in the fourth quarter than the previous data were indicating suggests net trade could be a larger drag on economic growth than the previously estimated 113 basis points.

— Yelena Shulyatyeva and Carl Riccadonna, Bloomberg Economics

The December goods-and-services gap was wider than the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg for $52.1 billion.

Exports rose 1.8% to $203.4 billion in December from the previous month, led by record shipments of capital goods and gains in industrial supplies and materials. Imports advanced 2.5% to $256.5 billion, boosted by record U.S. purchases of consumer goods, capital goods and food products.

The monthly figures add to details for the fourth quarter, when trade was a substantial drag on the economy, and show how a widening deficit may mitigate any gains in the pace of expansion in 2018. Net exports subtracted 1.13%age points from gross domestic product growth, which registered an annualized rate of 2.6% in the October-December period.

Other Details

• After eliminating the influence of prices, which renders the numbers used to calculate GDP, the December goods-trade deficit widened to $68.4 billion from $66.5 billion in the prior month.

• For all of 2017, the real petroleum gap of $95.9 billion was the narrowest in records going back to 2003, as real petroleum exports rose to a record high; the non-petroleum goods deficit of $740.7 billion was the widest on record.

• Exports and imports of goods account for about three-fourths of America’s total trade; the U.S. typically runs a deficit in merchandise trade and a surplus in services.

With assistance by Chris Middleton, and Vince Golle