Logistics: Connecting the dots to make sense of data
With the evolution of technology and multiple IT systems in logistics, it is proving demanding for shippers to determine how to connect various sources of data and information to unlock meaningful findings
This can be a daunting task for many logistics managers, especially if you are not IT-savvy.
In this article Rene Tjong Tjin Tai, CEO of Dyzle outlines some guidelines on how to approach the task of integrating IT systems in order to make it meaningful for a business.
The growth of IT for multiple use cases
The last decade or so has witnessed the introduction of IT solutions into various parts of the logistics industry. Most with a positive business case for a specific challenge.
Some of these systems have become more established by proving their corporate value, such as:
- Fleet management systems
- Transport management systems (TMS)
- Warehouse management systems (WMS)
- On-board computers
- Track & trace systems
- Temperature monitoring systems
However, we now increasingly see a demand for connecting all these systems. They work well on their own, but management like to see ‘the big picture’ while also making the information relevant to others in the supply chain, including for customers.
We have seen examples like:
- Integration with TMS systems
- Integration with track & trace systems and other (IoT – internet of things) sensor vendors
- Connecting between logistics service providers (LSP) and 3/4PL.
Lots of data: the need to make 1+1 =3
All these individual IT systems combine to generate what those in the tech industry label as big data. With so much data being created, how do you decode this data to create value, save time or make processes more efficient?
They key is to have the right data in the right place at the right time so it can effectively be accessed or used when the customer:
- wants an update or wants to see the data at any particular point in time
- calls the customer support desk
- calls to talk about the status of a shipment or order
Ideally, the customer support system should enable someone to enter the order number or shipment number and then view the temperature and track & trace data associated with that number.
Translating this to business information needs, product quality or integrity can be checked using the temperature data; product location is identified by the track and trace data in the fleet, transport system (TMS) or warehouse system (WMS).
By bringing this data together either in the ERP system stored centrally or in the customer support system, it then becomes easy to get the big picture at any time simply by entering the customer identifier or order/shipment number.
Whatever the use case, in all cases the methodology is the same. The questions that need to be asked and addressed are:
- Who needs the data and for what purpose?
- In what system is the data needed (ie what system is the person using most of the time)?
- In what format is the required data to be presented (the person reading the data needs to be able to understand or able to explain what he or she sees)?
Help – I’m not an IT guru!
So how do you get to this point where all the data is easy available at one central point? The key is to ask the right questions and select your vendor carefully. Here we offer some guidelines.
The first step is to set your goals or objectives as described above (eg. who needs the data, what for, where is it required, and how is to be presented?). It probably helps to draw a picture and map everything out like this:
Vendors need to understand your business and the process as described, not just sell you a piece of technology.
Step Two: It’s important to understand that no one vendor has 100% of the market or the solution, or 100% global coverage, so they need to show willingness to cooperate with other vendors.
Step Three: Vendors will then need to be able to connect their systems to other systems in an appropriate way with a so-called ‘API’ (application programming interface). They need to specify what needs to happen within their solution – and put the pieces together in one proposal in a way that you can understand, in your language, not ‘IT speak’.
Step Four: You should define what the result you are looking for from your IT solution vendor and only pay based on the result that meets you and your customer’s objectives. Be demanding: they are the specialists, so they should take care of you and understand your needs.
In conclusion, you may not be an IT specialist, but in an age when IT systems and technology are becoming more prevalent, it’s important that you define clearly what you need and ask the right questions of your vendors.
Only then will the systems be connected in the right way to help you serve your customer more effectively, with relevant information and proof of product quality at your fingertips.