It’s clear that technology has empowered us to better understand the mechanics of logistics across geographies and modes. The promise of an automated, fully-digitized supply chain stands to deliver significant benefits to manufacturers, retailers, and other shippers.
The complexities of modern logistics mean these technological promises are inexact and likely far off. When successfully integrated, organizations can eliminate manual processes, interactions, touchpoints, handoffs, and even the physical assets inherent in the supply chain — and automate these known repetitive tasks.
And the numbers don’t lie: a PwC report found that companies with highly digitized supply chains and operations can expect efficiency gains of 4.1 percent annually and revenue upticks of nearly 3 percent annually.
Key challenges in the supply chain
Beyond automation, supply chain visibility — the ability to monitor events across connected supply chains — has been touted as the foundational technology to align and optimize far-flung supply chains. However, most visibility solutions today offer just that — visibility into exceptions as they occur, without suggestions on how to actually fix the exception.
One of the starkest exceptions facing logistics today is the current driver shortage, a problem that’s expected to triple by 2026. It’s impossible to balance growing demand for shipping with a fixed supply of drivers. Additionally, turnover in the trucking industry is at an all-time high, stemming largely from job dissatisfaction.
Even the most high-tech, forward-looking digital supply chain is powerless against fixed capacity. No matter how digitized your supply chain is, if you don’t have a driver to move the cargo, the cargo simply won’t move. In the face of an intense driver shortage, logisticians need to invest in technologies that optimize their use of current drivers while allowing them to tap into flexible networks of additional drivers.
Technology to connect and optimize the network
Modern digital supply chain solutions provide specific capabilities to optimize the services shippers offer their customers while maximizing their supply of drivers.
Visibility solutions add a layer of machine learning and artificial intelligence to go beyond exception identification for data. When properly analyzed, these data are helpful for identifying patterns and areas for optimization to fuel better planning and resource utilization during busy seasons, especially during a labor shortage. Learnings from specific histories enable better suggestions and ultimately automatically make corrections for better supply chain management.
Even an optimized network is slowed down by a finite supply of drivers. Yet, there’s a significant volume of small medium-sized trucking companies that represent a significant flexible source of increased capacity. The latest supply chain technology solutions link shippers to a logistics network — a connected supply of third-party drivers. Joining these networks lets drivers maintain relative independence and flexibility while having access to a broader range of potential customers.
Drivers are equipped with mobile applications with a broad array of capabilities, such as automating mind-numbing paperwork, ensuring timely payment, and providing early warnings to maximize driver clock time while minimizing waits at ports.
The bottom line
As we continue to embrace advanced technologies, trucking organizations are poised to move from automation to orchestration. Management is essential, but it’s the execution — with a robust, healthy supply of drivers — that really moves the needle.
Drivers are a critical part of the supply chain, and today’s shortage of drivers is one that can’t be overcome through technological innovation alone. What’s needed is the right intelligent technology that maps leading-edge optimization with networks powered by driver-focused systems to ultimately improve the logistics supply crunch.
Mark Pluta is CTO of Blume Global.