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UPS had a very clever marketing slogan back around 2011 (maybe three or four branding campaigns ago): “We love logistics,” often pictured with a heart. The rest of the world seems to have caught up with UPS’s passion in recent years. There is a greater appreciation, especially among consumers, for the enormous complexity and effort involved in the daily movement of millions of goods around the globe.

The idea that logistics relies on data to function properly is not exactly a new one. Information sharing to manage transportation and track inventory probably started the day a horse and buggy delivered the first loaf of bread. But in the digital age – a term that should be retired soon – that data has morphed from paper and spreadsheets to electronic files shared via EDI and API connections among various partners and stakeholders.

But as you well know, not all data sharing is created equal. Real-time data, i.e., the ability to share information instantaneously, often in an automated fashion, can spell the difference between corporate success and failure. Considering the speed at which business moves these days, that isn’t overstating the case.

The Importance of Real-Time Data in Logistics

As is the case across industries and business functions, real-time data – and, critically, the analysis of it – is the very lifeblood of logistics. For every transaction and touch, authorized parties need access to data in order to provide verifications, feed analytical models, track shipments, etc.

We’ll break out three primary areas within logistics and supply chain, and consider how real-time data impacts operations.

In the Warehouse or Fulfillment Center  

Inventory management for B2B, B2C, and every variant thereof has become increasingly reliant on access to and the sharing of real-time data. Retailers, for example, can now have a dashboard view of every SKU count at any point in time. This enables them to optimize inventory levels, manage channels, and keep suppliers accountable. Using next-generation analytical tools built into software like OMS and ERP, they can fine-tune forecasting and optimize demand planning.

Similarly, manufacturers can keep a more accurate track of parts on hand, what will be needed, how much, and when. Just considering the auto industry, cars today, on average, are composed of 30,000 individual parts. Real-time data and analytics can prevent costly hiccups in production schedules, while allowing carmakers to throttle the assembly line up or down, so to speak.

Taking a cue from manufacturing, warehouses and fulfillment centers are becoming increasingly automated. This includes things like automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), put walls, autonomous robots, and articulating arms that can recognize, grasp, and drop SKUs into bins. None of these functions can happen without providing these systems access to real-time data.

In Transportation Management 

Transportation management is another area of logistics management where real-time data plays an important role. Analyzing data from multiple sources, including traffic patterns, weather conditions, vehicle locations, and delivery status, enables route optimization, greater fuel efficiency, and faster transit times.

For shippers, a Transportation Management System (TMS) taps real-time data to optimize carrier selection, finding the best option based on parameters such as cost, service quality, and reliability.

For fleet owners, real-time analytics can enable preventative maintenance, reducing vehicle downtime and extending useful life. They can also use these data-driven Insights to power resource allocation decisions, so the right vehicle is selected every time, increasing operational efficiency. Lastly, these tools can aid in long-term strategic planning for infrastructure investments and fleet management.

In Yard Operations

In a nutshell, yard operations cover the management of inbound and outbound vehicles, assets, and personnel moving around your facility’s yard. It includes scheduling trips to and from dock bays, locating and accessing trucks, trailers, containers, and chassis, and ensuring loading and unloading are done efficiently. At the entrance gate, security is a primary consideration, as vehicles and drivers are vetted before permitting them entrance to the yard and facility.

Real-time data and analytics can improve all these functional aspects of yard operations. At the gate, vehicle data is processed via syncing with security cameras, speeding up validation for inbound and outbound vehicles. It also serves a dual purpose: enhanced vehicle flow and lower and lowering CO2 emissions by reducing idling time. This is especially important as states like California and New York raise the bar on environmental regulations that impact logistics operations.

Analytics can also detect unusual patterns in vehicle flow to enhance security. Automating checks against vehicle documentation and cargo manifests also aids regulatory compliance.

In the yard itself, data and analytics can display the availability of loading docks and parking spots in real time, so drivers can quickly navigate to the correct location. This also helps optimize the loading and unloading process.

While technology such as yard management systems (YMS) has significantly improved yard operations, they lack the ability to integrate real-time data feeds from existing equipment such as security cameras. In addition, yard operations are often a neglected area for technology investment. This is unfortunate because opportunities for increased efficiency abound that can provide benefits up and down the supply chain.

When Real-Time Data is Lacking in Logistics

Conversely, a lack of real-time data is the source of multiple issues in logistics management across functional areas. Organizations generally lose the ability to track various assets, such as shipments, vehicles, and inventory, both inside and outside the enterprise. Supply chain visibility, a critical aspect of operational efficiency, is greatly reduced.

Operational Efficiency Suffers

A lack of real-time data in the warehouse impacts inventory accuracy, which can lead to overstocks, stockouts, and SKUs placed in the wrong locations. The result is inefficient use of warehouse space and labor, delays in order fulfillment, and increased operational costs. The inability to track and respond to inventory levels in real time causes inefficiencies and, ultimately, dissatisfied customers as orders are delayed.

Without access to real-time data, yard operations suffer when vehicles become stacked up at the gate awaiting clearance to enter or exit. Both inbound and outbound shipping are impacted as wait times for vehicles, containers, and chassis, and dock door access take longer. Labor is also misallocated as yard workers have to take additional time to locate and access assets. Overall, yard operations become reactive rather than proactive, as delays mount up and costs increase.

In transportation management, the absence of real-time data means losing the ability to make route adjustments in response to traffic, weather, or emergency situations, causing delays and increasing fuel costs. Lacking insights, fleet utilization suffers, expenses rise, and the ability to meet delivery schedules is impacted. For shippers, this means an inability to optimize carrier selection, delivery delays, or to adapt to disruptions. All of this adversely affects service levels and customer satisfaction.

Proactive Problem Solving Hampered

Across all these areas, a lack of real-time data and analytics reduces an organization’s ability to provide early detection of potential issues impacting logistics and supply chain operations. For instance, a lack of insight into market dynamics and demand patterns leads to poor inventory planning and inefficient ordering and replenishment cycles. Similarly, transportation managers can easily overspend on both contract and spot market carriers, as many factors that analytics can easily detect cause regular fluctuations in pricing dynamics.

Managers cannot implement effective change management in yard operations to optimize areas such as labor planning, dock slotting and scheduling, yard layout, and gate operations.

Making Real-Time Data Happen

Several technological advances are making it possible to utilize real-time data and analytics in different aspects of logistics. They include:

The Internet of Things (IoT)

On a basic level, transmitting sensors such as RFID tags, combined with GPS tracking, is how the Internet of Things (IoT) is being used to improve the performance of logistics operations. The ability to store and transmit data from all kinds of products and equipment makes it possible to enhance a range of functions. This includes everything from maintaining temperature and humidity levels for perishable items to improving the accuracy of inventory counts and yard asset locations.

Advanced Telematics

Telematics is revolutionizing logistics by providing real-time data on vehicle location, condition, and performance. Combined with analytical tools, advanced telematics enables improvements in route optimization, fuel economy, maintenance schedules, and driver safety. Overall efficiency increases, reducing costs and improving logistics decision-making.

Data Feeds and Integration

Similar to how IoT turns a wide spectrum of assets into data-sharing devices for analytical purposes, cross-functional software platforms can be integrated with complementary systems to create a multiplier effect. For instance, inventory data stored in a warehouse management system (WMS) is shared with a warehouse execution system (WES) that oversees robotics and automation for fulfillment. The WMS also feeds data to an order management system (OMS) or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for order processing and replenishment planning.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is certainly changing the game as well across all the software and hardware that touches logistics. It’s making systems “smarter” and more efficient through algorithms and machine learning in a continuous improvement process.

Real-Time Data Is Making a Real Difference Across Logistics

Practically speaking, no area within the broad scope of logistics and supply chain management is not being impacted by the use of real-time data and analytics. Rapid advances in technology, including AI, IoT, and cross-platform integration, are enabling significant improvements in efficiency, cost management, and performance.

EAIGLE Leverages Data, AI to Optimize Yard Operations

EAIGLE is a pioneer in applying AI to logistics across retail and manufacturing organizations. Its groundbreaking technology leverages real-time data capture from existing security cameras to optimize vehicle flow and manage all yard assets. EAIGLE’s platform seamlessly bridges the gap between TMS and WMS systems and augments rather than replaces a legacy YMS.

EAIGLE’s systems for gate management (AVAC™) and yard operations (YardSight™) are designed to improve operations through faster, more accurate yard asset management, improved gate access, and more efficient bay scheduling and queueing. To find out more, request a demo today.