After undergoing decades of very little change, the trucking and transportation sector has recently gone through a massive shift in technological innovation and process change. In fact, the onslaught of disruption, which has been far-from-gradual, has seemed to come from all corners. Whether it be the ELD mandate, telematics, autonomous trucks, or advances in safety systems – technology has completely taken over a once very un-technological sector.
To remain competitive in this ever-changing environment, trucking companies, freight brokers, and third-party logistics (3PL) companies need to reevaluate how they do business. The 21st century credo for all businesses has been one of ‘adapt or die.’ Transportation companies need to be at the forefront of the revolution, even if these technologies sometimes seem foreign or inaccessible.
Rise of the Machine
Much like every other industry grappling with technological disruption, trucking companies, freight brokers, and 3PL operators are adjusting to an onslaught of computing power. Consider that today’s smartphone is more powerful by orders of magnitude than the computers used by NASA just a half-century ago, then consider that is the least of it. Today, the discussion has moved beyond a simple computer chip and into the realm of artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and robots running the show.
As computing power has opened a new world of possibility, companies and investors have stepped into the void. Today, freight brokers have access to apps and web consoles that help them better connect shippers and carriers. The methods of connection have become more efficient, secure, and satisfactory, thanks to real-time data transfer and database integration.
Trucking companies are grappling with AI-run trucks, integrated technologies, and even massive change in the dispatch office and shop. The inexorable march of AI technology is causing a fundamental shift on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution. And as with any major change in society, the new, technological revolution will see some rise while others fall.
Fear Not the Machine
Many within the transportation sector are viewing this technological shift through the lens of fear and intimidation. Some are concerned that these changes may wind up doing more than just disrupting current practices – they may even put the entire concept of a freight broker or 3PL in jeopardy. Fortunately, many of these fears are unfounded and based on the simple fear of the unknown.
Trucking companies and logistics firms are in a unique position to be able to embrace technology in a way that allows them to create greater efficiencies, develop new products and services, increase revenue targets, and grow their customer base. To those who act quickly, technology will provide the opportunity to gain an advantage in the marketplace.
With so much investor money pouring into the transportation sector, the debate should not be around what types of technology are available, but rather how quickly the industry will adjust to the pace of adoption. Companies operating in the transportation sector will have to work to be the disrupters rather than the disrupted.
Harness the Machine
The trucking companies of today will need to invest in technologies already available to them to get ahead of the curve, which is already possible. Intrepid operators can reduce the capacity shortage, decrease detention time, clear up route chaos, increase fuel efficiency, and prevent costly and tragic accidents, using new technological products, tools, and services available today.
Creating a better route situation while helping to alleviate capacity problems is just one example where data mining and sharing between entities can have a big impact. As one example, if a freight broker books a truck and the delivery is completed, without access to the network used by the freight broker, it may very well be the carrier does not end up taking the most efficient post-delivery route.
In a system where information is shared from trucking company to freight broker or 3PL, capacity opens in a big way. Utilizing technology to address the capacity crunch, if nothing else, has created a more secure environment for freight brokers. Shippers simply have far more options when it comes to finding carriers and outsourcing their freight needs.
New databases, apps, and online systems have provided freight brokers with far more leverage in maintaining the relationships they already nurture with motor carriers. Shippers do not have a built-in or well-maintained network of relationships with many different fleets, so utilizing 3PLs and freight brokers to open access to reliable capacity is a cornerstone of how these businesses can embrace and take advantage of technological change.
The Future of Freight Brokering
Technologies built into transportation management software (TMS) helps agents save time, track and save important information, ensure compliance, and follow regulatory changes. Even better, many of these TMS solutions can be utilized remotely or from the office and can be programmed for multiple users.
Shippers and trucking companies reap the benefits from working with a freight broker who is utilizing technology that allows them to build relationships, introduce new ways of doing business, and address capacity problems. Back-office administrators, whether with the motor carrier or the broker, benefit from online platforms and software tools that make once-stodgy tasks like invoicing far more accurate and on-time than ever before.
There are many common frustrations associated with moving freight, whether it be long detention times or problems with communication. The whole idea behind embracing the technological revolution in transportation rests upon a company’s ability to remove obstacles and solve problems through the lens of available technologies.
Online platforms also allow motor carriers to link up with a broker and facilitate an exchange in a matter of minutes. Agnostics data-sharing platforms allow interested parties to create deeper relationships and cross-reference information in a way that benefits everyone. When combined with fleet management software (FMS), TMS systems and the brokers that work with them have turned a process that used to be incredibly time- and labor-intensive into one that can be completed from anywhere, anytime, and from any device.
Fleet Management in the Modern Era
Speaking of FMS systems, they have undergone a huge revolution over the last five years. What used to be clunky programs with major interoperability problems have turned into sleek, cloud-based, multi-purposed tools that can do just about anything a fleet manager needs. One such example is an FMS solution for GPS tracking integration so that motor carriers can track their trucks.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions allow dispatchers, fleet managers, and shop technicians to handle everything from scheduling to fleet maintenance, route planning, and load optimization faster and more efficiently. And by having everything in the cloud, resources wasted on paper, space for files, printing technology, and more, can be put to other needs.
From map apps that provide route planning specifically for truck drivers to “Uber for trucking” services, the amount of ways that a fleet can “manage” their assets has exploded exponentially. As tomorrow rapidly becomes today, fleets, freight brokers, and 3PL providers will need to be able to answer a critical question: Are you on the technological train to the future or will you be left in your competitor’s digital dust?