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How to Defeat the Top 3 Transportation Management Challenges

When I was a student at Laurier University, a couple of friends and I decided to go skydiving over Lake Erie. What I was expecting was a 10,000-foot plummet toward Earth accompanied by sheer terror and intense vertigo.

In reality, the dive was actually sort of peaceful. It felt more like floating than falling.

The reason I didn’t experience the sensation of falling was that I didn’t have enough information. I had no visual frame of reference ― nothing stationary nearby that I was zooming past ― to tell me how fast I was going.

Luckily, I’d been outfitted with a device called an altimeter, which displays your altitude relative to the ground. Without it, the lack of visual cues could have turned my peaceful experience into my last experience.

So what does my skydiving story have to do with logistics?

Well, in the same way you’re lacking that crucial frame-of-reference information when you skydive, a distribution center manager also lacks crucial information that can prevent an undesired outcome.

And even though Steam’s Warehouse and Logistics Simulator would have you believe zombies are a distribution center (DC) manager’s biggest challenge (seriously, check it out), that’s not it.

Screen shot from the Warehouse and Logistics Simulator game by Steam.

In this case, the lack of information tends to result in congestion (“bottlenecking”), personnel issues, and detention fees. Basically, the DC manager’s equivalent of a giant splat (obviously something best avoided).

Sun Tzu advised that in order to beat your enemy, you have to know your enemy. So let’s start by taking a good, hard look at our big splat.

The 3 primary logistics challenges you must solve today

  1. Bottlenecking

    This one is commonly the result of unplanned or untimely deliveries and pickups

    Standard solution: In order to accommodate drivers and avoid delays, some distribution centers will unload the product as quickly as possible, leaving it wherever there is space. When things calm down later, they move that product to its appropriate location. This practice is known as “double-touching the product.”

    Problem with the solution: It’s extremely inefficient, because you’re adding more work to the unloading process. It also introduces the risk of critical loads being delayed, which can affect other areas of the organization.

  2. Personnel issues

    The scrambling and double-touch unloading throws the DC’s work schedule out the window

    Standard solution: Workers are required to put in overtime

    Problem with the solution: Unexpected overtime impinges on employees’ personal time, resulting in stress and worker dissatisfaction. Plus, the abnormally high traffic on some days results in slow traffic on other days, so you end up paying people to do nothing.

  3. Detention fees

    Idle equipment costs you.The FMCSA has also linked it to driver fatigue, which is why the Grow America Act seeks to make carriers responsible for compensating drivers for detention time.1 So the fees aren’t going away and, in fact, may be going up.

    Standard solution: Classic avoidance.

    Problem with the solution: See #2.

So okay. We’ve identified the problems. How do we address them?

The one solution for smooth transportation management

Let’s go back to our first challenge: Bottlenecking.

The problem there is being hit with an unexpected convergence of deliveries without enough available loading bays and/or enough help.

A DC could avoid this issue by coordinating with carriers using dock door scheduling software. To start with, you create a set number of appointments per dock. You can then allot additional time to individual deliveries as required.

You can also use a transportation management scheduling solution for staffing, ensuring you have adequate coverage for all situations. And when you plan in advance, you can avoid last-minute overtime entirely, eliminating a major source of employee stress and dissatisfaction.

Personnel issue resolved.

As for detention fees, you may never escape them completely. You can, however, dramatically reduce your chances of getting hit with them when you utilize a dock door scheduling platform.

Adaptability is key

Weather and traffic delays can always throw a wrench into the works. But if you integrate the right transportation management software, you can minimize their impact through schedule updates. A really effective dock door scheduler will enable you to communicate changes with drivers in real time across multiple devices.

It also helps to think in terms of future growth. Even if your company doesn’t have big expansion plans, plans change. You don’t want to be 10 years down the road and find yourself stuck with logistics planning software that can’t scale to meet your needs.

If you’re in logistics, you’ve experienced these issues. And I’m pretty confident that they’re not your favorite part of the job. So be done with it. There is a solution. You just have to do your research, and find the best one.

As for me, I don’t think skydiving is something I need to experience again. But, should I change my mind, I have no doubt there will be new technology available to make it even safer and more fun. So I’ll do my homework first.

1 U.S. DOT, Grow America Act, Section 5507 http://www.dot.gov/grow-america/by-mode/trucking-motorcoaches