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Are Data Silos Stopping You From Sharing Transport Data?

The concept of Big Data is not a new one. Systems across the supply chain are collecting vast amounts of data, from sales orders to fleet performance and warehouse returns on a daily, if not sub-second, basis. All this information goes to waste if it is stored in siloed systems and then left untouched. Organisations are missing out on the opportunity to create actionable insights that deliver real savings and operational efficiency.

Transport functions universally are under more pressure than ever to report on KPIs. What is the average cost of a delivery? How many drops are completed per driver? What is the impact of changing shift times, or delivery windows on costs? With such a wealth of valuable data at our fingertips, providing useful insight to the business should be straightforward but doing this quickly, efficiently and confidently is not always as easy as it sounds.

So what is getting in the way of making this happen? Examining the results of our most recent UK customer survey – completed by more than 100 logistics professionals – we can identify a number of industry trends and understand the reporting challenges faced by transport planning teams in more detail.

Reporting and data sharing

The Paragon survey points towards a growing emphasis on business-wide reporting for many transport offices with 58% of respondents claiming that requirements have increased in the past 12 months. Unsurprisingly, the operational (81%) and logistics (66%) teams were receiving the bulk of reporting, but there were many respondents who also said they were reporting to their finance (65%), customer service (58%) and business development (28%) functions as well. Human resources (8%) and marketing (7%) also got a mention, with only a small number (6%) stating they did not share any data.

There were some concerns amongst respondents, however, that a shortage of relevant staff resource within the transport office was having an adverse effect on their ability to meet more complex reporting requirements. Only 16% of respondents said they had grown their transport planning team in the previous 12 months, with one going so far as to say that the “lack of a reports expert in our business is a major issue currently”.

Reporting processes and automation

On the surface it does appear that the demand for increased reporting is being recognised with a large proportion of organisations who use route planning software (83%) saying that they do have processes in place to share critical transport data. Yet delve a little deeper and you find that only 51% of these use some sort of automated historical or real-time reporting system, with the remainder still providing historical reporting manually. This is causing difficulties for some transport offices and one respondent suggested the “lack of automation means reports are sometimes delayed, or alternatively, requirements are too complex and time consuming to create manual reports”.

In fact, there was a recurring theme about access to information with comments such as reports lacking “accuracy and timely data”; data availability was poor “which meant we missed the [customer’s] deadline”; and a time-sensitive report was needed “but the data wasn’t available at the required time”. The reality of poor access to data leads more than three-quarters of respondents (78%) to agree that they would significantly or slightly benefit from having increased levels of automation in the transport office and almost one in ten had already taken steps to fully automate their operation.

System integration

While over half of respondents (53%) acknowledged that their route planning software had been integrated with at least one back-office system, there is clearly some way to go when you consider the areas of the business they are sharing data with. WMS (28%) and OMS (17%) were the two systems most commonly connected with, but integrations with other back-office and front-office applications – including CRM (9%), finance/payroll (4%), SCM (2%) and HR (1%) – were still quite rare.

The complex nature of the supply chain means that the IT systems that typically underpin each step are not joined up, reflecting a siloed approach to business planning and investment. One respondent summed up the challenge that many transport offices still face when they explained: “We wanted to report to our call centre the routing by client so they can give the data to the customer, but the problem was that they wanted a link with our CRM system that we do not currently have”.

Is AI the only answer?

The findings of the Paragon survey point towards a growing realisation that we need better ways to capture and communicate relevant information from the transport office, without placing unsustainable pressure on already stretched transport planning resources. Through growing automation and integration, it will become possible to more quickly and easily share information with colleagues across the business, suppliers and customers in multiple formats.

That’s fine for those with sizeable R&D budgets, or new entrants unencumbered by legacy systems but what can the small or medium-sized logistics company do to improve visibility across their transport operation today?

While investment in AI and Machine Learning may seem a little far off for some organisations, considerable benefit can be gained by integrating systems to improve the flow of information. For example, linking your routing and scheduling software with telematics technology makes it possible to monitor your transport operation in real time and measure how it is performing against plan, establishing clear KPIs and then consistently measuring against them.

Most advanced routing systems will store data in an easy to access SQL database, allowing you to use a number of different Business Intelligence tools to mine the data for useful insight and easily share status and performance updates. Using real-time reporting tools such as Paragon’s Live Management software provides an excellent way to quickly analyse data and create graphs and tables that can be accessed via browser-based tools.

Moving forward, the transport office will increasingly be expected to capture, analyse and share performance data and insight in a meaningful way across the business. Real-time visibility of the transport plan versus actual; resource-level planning at an individual driver and vehicle level; and visibility of delivery progress at an individual line-item level will provide a better understanding of supply chain challenges. Operating without this level of visibility and control in highly competitive logistics markets is no longer an option.

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