What’s trending in logistics software for heavy industry? It’s an important question, but not the most important. Innovations like AI, IoT, and machine learning get a lot of airtime, but how do they make your company more profitable or more efficient?
That’s the question we need to ask first.
Best-in-class logistics software should serve customers, suppliers, and companies across all functions. It should also give you the measure of control you need to make shrewd, finely tuned decisions using all the data at your disposal.
To do that, you need more than the latest AI tool. You need functional software that gives you a solid foundation for integrating emerging technologies.
What Should Your Logistics Software Tell You?
To meet the needs of your customers and suppliers as well as those of your company, you need to have the right information at your fingertips. Logistics software is evolving rapidly, especially in areas like process automation and analytics. That’s good news, because it helps you pinpoint key data quickly and efficiently, without hours of manual analysis.
But before we talk about what features your software should have, let’s consider what you need to know on a daily basis. Here are five of the most important things your logistics software should help you accomplish:
Manage resource data so you can deploy machines and employees most effectively to meet your objectives.
Your software should help you manage your fleet, control shipping costs and schedules, manage supply chain visibility, and manage multimodal transportation (air, sea, ground).
Track and predict inventory turnover, anticipate restocking needs, and avoid dead stock or unnecessary storage costs.
Supply and Demand Analysis
Supply and demand analytics improve forecasting, product traceability, production, and sourcing for lower costs, better service, and higher quality.
Equipment operations and maintenance have a critical impact on your profitability. By monitoring equipment output and function, your logistics software can catch problems early, before downtime and expensive repairs drain away your profits.
What Should You Look for In Logistics Software?
Your data is one of your most important assets. Data gives you key insights into your company’s efficiency, profitability, risk potential, security, and customer satisfaction.
But only if you’re using it effectively.
The end game is to boost profit, reduce waste, and increase productivity (obviously). Logistics software helps you accomplish those goals in three steps:
1. Track the data.
2. Analyze the data.
3. Implement insights from the data.
The question you need to answer is this: Does our current logistics software successfully accomplish each of those steps?
If not, what should you be looking for in new software? Consider these essential components.
The foundation of any successful logistics or analytics platform is a comprehensive data management solution. Functional data architecture lays the foundation for business analytics, dashboards, data modeling, and reporting, all of which help you make better business decisions that support growth and profit. It’s also vital that your data integrate seamlessly with all of your business functions, including logistics software, your ERP, and your customer-facing software.
Automated workflows accomplish processes faster, with fewer errors, and with more visibility into each part of the process cycle. Automation also reduces the amount of time managers need to spend on operations oversight. Full process automation may still be a future goal for your company due to costs, but you can take steps in that direction by implementing system-directed manual processes that introduce automation without a full system overhaul.
Predictive analytics uses key data about production, operations, supply/demand, and transportation to predict your needs in the future. Functions that previously required many hours of analysis based on human judgment can now be performed in a fraction of the time and with fewer possibilities of error. For example, you can predict when your current inventory will need to be restocked, when a customer will need to schedule another shipment, and what demands you can expect on your supply chain. Predictive analytics contributes to supply chain planning, transportation management, equipment maintenance and more.
End-to-End Supply Chain Visibility
Real-time access to data about each step in the supply chain positions you to address problems quickly and keep all parties informed at each stage of the process. Deeper visibility helps you avoid issues like missing shipments and unhappy customers, and it gives you the information you need to make better, more impactful decisions.
Overstocking and understocking can both hurt profits. Logistics software should track raw materials, supplies, finished products, orders, and storage capacity to keep you informed about inventory needs or changes.
Effective demand forecasting supports resource and inventory planning, customer satisfaction, and risk analysis. By analyzing historical data, the software can predict market trends (even for new products), handle inputs from suppliers or partners, and manage future planning.
Know where drivers and shipments are at all times with real-time transportation tracking tools that log driver hours, trips, deliveries, and even customer reviews. Accurate logs, route optimization, automated task assignments, and delivery notifications help you promote efficiency and streamline both hours and costs.
What Do the Best Software Tools Have In Common?
The needs of your company are unique, but the end goal for logistics software is the same: to maximize profit, minimize risk, and keep everything running smoothly. The best software tools keep these needs at the heart of every operation, even as they implement new technologies.
We’re seeing some exciting innovations in the logistics industry, and Gartner predicts that some of them will revolutionize supply chain management and logistics over the next few years. Here are just a few of the technologies to keep your eye on:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI uses data models and historical performance to make predictions about the future. The technology hasn’t yet developed independent decision-making functionality, but that is just over the horizon. In the meantime, as AI tools manage tedious tasks like data analysis and reporting, human workers can invest their skills in strategy and planning.
Imagine a warehouse stocked floor to ceiling with goods and an army of robots skittering over the top, pulling items as needed and preparing them for shipment. It’s not that far in the future. In fact, warehouse robotics solutions are already being developed and implemented by companies like Alibaba, Ocado, and Exotec Solutions.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT solutions can be implemented for preventive maintenance, supply chain monitoring, inventory management and more. And in the not too distant future, we’ll also see widespread use of Intelligent Things like autonomous vehicles and robots designed to handle labor-intensive tasks so human workers can be redeployed to more impactful roles.
Blockchain is still in its very early days, but we’re already seeing potential applications for the logistics industry. Imagine, for example, that you could track a high-value shipment by creating an unalterable digital record that includes the unique attributes of the materials it’s made with, the shipment, and its progress along a route.
These are all impressive new developments—but you don’t need a smart warehouse filled with robots or a fleet of driverless trucks to benefit from logistics technology innovation. The key to choosing logistics software that will serve your business is to remember the goal: maximize profit, minimize risk, and keep everything running smoothly.
As technology evolves, tools become more sophisticated and new technology can absolutely give you a competitive edge. But start with the basics first. Develop a solid, functional data architecture. Create an intentional analytics strategy. Choose software that helps you draw useful insights out of your data. The best logistics software tools put these needs first as they implement new technologies to carry your company into the future.