Skip to main content

Editor’s Note: This is the first post in a series produced in partnership with Catavolt, who helps manufacturing organizations drive operational excellence with mobile apps. We encourage our audience to visit The Catavolt Blog for more relevant posts about mobility in manufacturing for best practices, tips, and great industry insights.

It’s no secret that anything “mobile” is all the rage today.

However, mobile technology is not new to the transportation world. In fact, the introduction of Qualcomm’s OmniTracs™ in 1988 and UPS’ roll-out of the DIAD (Delivery Information Acquisition Device) four years later are prime examples of pioneering companies investing in mobile technology as a means to drive efficiencies and create competitive advantage.

Author Malcolm Gladwell defined a “tipping point” as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” For mobile technology and transport, the theoretical tipping point is in our rearview mirror.

Price points for hardware and communications have fallen, and the reliability and capabilities of mobile technologies for transportation have vastly improved. So, fleet managers need to ask a fundamental question, “What does it mean if my drivers, assets and cargo are continuously connected to the enterprise and how can I leverage this fact to create value for my organization?”

Technology Maturity

The early adopters of mobile technology in transportation had deep pockets along with the patience required to work through the inherent challenges associated with implementing a burgeoning technology. Now we can reap the benefits of their diligence and the maturing of these technologies. With the knowledge we’ve gained and the right tools in place, we can enable virtually any shipper to take advantage of the “continuous connection” paradigm.

And the mobile landscape continues to evolve. Advances in disparate technologies have converged to push us past the tipping point, opening an opportunity for 3PLs to develop new, differentiating capabilities to further reduce costs and enable enhanced services for shippers. These advances have occurred in the following areas:


The cost, speed and reliability of mobile communications networks have improved greatly in the past decade. Driven by consumer adoption of mobile technologies and relentless competition amongst wireless providers, we now have low-cost networks capable of delivering vast amounts of data cheaply, quickly and reliably.

Source: Mike Mulqueen of Manhattan Associates from Logistics Viewpoints Article.

Mobile Technology in Transportation Management Impacts all Points Along the Supply Chain

Because of the nature of the environment in which they work, many logistics and transportation personnel are using multipurpose, ruggedized or commercial-grade mobile devices because they allow more efficient management of the supply chain while allowing managers to work from wherever they are located.

The technologies involved include mobile phones with:

  • built-in cameras,
  • handheld computers,
  • tablets,
  • barcode and label printers,
  • scanners,
  • RFID tags,
  • GPS,
  • near field communications (NFC),
  • voice recognition software, and
  • shared logistics networks.

All of these technologies are both mobile and wireless, allowing maximum flexibility.

Bridget McCrea, writing in “Logistics Management,” identifies 8 trends that are currently impacting the industry:

  1. Wireless now accommodates a sharper focus on efficiency and transparency.
  2. The end user is dictating mobile consumption and driving the market.
  3. Mobile solutions are pushing shippers out of their “manual” comfort zones.
  4. The smartphone is carving out a place for itself in the supply chain (they are starting to replace ruggedized devices).
  5. Wireless helps shippers create a more cohesive workforce outside of the four walls of the warehouse.
  6. Smaller, more nimble shippers are using wireless to ramp up and improve their technology infrastructures.
  7. The mobile device and applications are being paired up with the individual worker in mind.
  8. Mobile devices are still only as good as the information that’s available.

For the details on each of these trends, please read Bridget McCrea’s full article.

So, Where is this Heading and What is the Impact on the Supply Chain of the Future?

While each of these technologies can be used singly, the newest trend is to combine many of them into “total mobile solutions” that cover the entire logistics and supply chain operation.

Many of these solutions are packaged as downloadable apps that let users track and trace shipments, get rate quotes, and receive shipment notifications. This is true in our own mobile Transportation Management System (TMS), available for Cerasis shippers on both Apple and Android.

And, it is not just logistics managers who are using this technology – it has spread to truck drivers, dispatchers, sales personnel and receivers.

The result is that the entire logistics industry is being transformed.

But, it’s not going to stop there.

Major manufacturers and the big retail chains are always demanding more efficiency – finding more ways to squeeze costs out of the supply chain in order to become even more competitive in terms of pricing.

One vision is that the new mobile and networking technologies will lead to collaboration among manufacturers in order to lower costs.

Today, each major manufacturer or retail chain operates its own warehouses and distribution centers.

In a few years, competitors will need to collaborate with each other in terms of logistics and warehousing in order to reduce costs even further.

A 2010 report by the Global Commerce Initiative and Capgemini entitled “2016 Future Supply Chain” suggested that the new distribution network would look like this:

Mobile technology in transportation management

Such a network is only going to happen through the extensive use of mobile technology in transportation management and accompanying software.

In order to work, this vision will need new telematics and compliance solutions that captured data on all aspects of the network.

Dynamic Content

Content providers now capture and disseminate real-time and predictive traffic information captured from en-route vehicles. These data can be used to provide more accurate ETA information or even re-route vehicles around traffic incidents. Additionally, dynamic content such as weather, fuel prices and third-party loads can be integrated into back-office systems to enable more accurate and efficient dispatch and route planning decision support.

Mobile Computing

Low cost yet powerful mobile devices ranging from ruggedized handhelds to smart phones to tablets—running customizable pickup and delivery applications—enable processes to be automated and digitized. Information that captures the essence of a customer interaction can then be communicated back to the enterprise in real time and disseminated to the appropriate resource.

Examples of how this technology can improve operations include:

  • Capture of the consignee signature at point of delivery
  • Identify OS&D (Over, Short, Damage) situations and initiate freight claims process
  • Scan product off the vehicle to eliminate delivery failures
  • Codify and standardize communications to enable reporting and analysis
  • Manage regulatory compliance

Back-End Information Data Gathering Lends towards Gleaning Meaningful Insights

By merging and synchronizing the above technologies into a single mobile transportation management system, an enterprise now has unprecedented visibility into their shipping activities. However, enterprises need to be able to effectively manage vast amounts of disparate data that are now flowing into the enterprise. To do so, the back-end system must offer the ability to interrogate and direct data based on pre-configured rules. A specific datum received by the system may represent information about a shipment, asset, driver or any combination of the above. The orchestration layer is responsible for identifying the type and criticality of the data, which will then determine how it is to be handled.

Key capabilities required by an orchestration and analysis layer are:

  • Exception Management: The ability of the application to identify exceptions as they occur and initiate the appropriate issue resolution steps
  • Data Accessibility: The ability for stakeholders to gain real-time, on-demand access to data
  • Planning: The ability to use historic data as a means to influence future planning
  • Reporting/Analytics: The ability to find insights that can be used to drive operational or strategic change

The Summary of Mobile Technology in Transportation Management

3PLs, Shippers, and transportation providers have long been tasked with balancing the competing objectives of minimizing costs and maximizing service. In addition, shippers must deal with increased fuel surcharges and freight pricing changes, an impending driver shortage, increased highway congestion and green initiatives designed to decrease energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

However, mobile technology in transportation management offer those in the transportation space an advantage that their predecessors did not have. Namely, enterprises now have the advantage of continuous connectivity with their drivers, assets and cargo. The ability to harness this technology in a manner that adds value to your enterprise and your customers will separate the winners from the losers.