In today’s technologically enabled operating environment, every business is forced to compete on an international level. Modern consumers are empowered with digital tools that allow them to access and communicate directly with manufacturers from all over the world. These new capabilities have irrevocably changed the traditional buyer’s journey.
Supply chains that once took their production and delivery planning cues from front-end functions like marketing and sales have now become the first point of contact for customers at every scale. As a result, executives have moved to build more flexible supply chains that can respond readily to unique purchasing requests from around the globe. But in order to deliver on the promise of fast, accurate, and cost-efficient order fulfillment; organizations must focus on optimizing their transportation and logistics processes.
Technology is Changing Transportation and Logistics
Business logistics has traditionally been defined by a focus on trucks and transportation networks. But in recent years, a slew of new technologies have revolutionized the industry.
- Warehouse management systems can now automate the picking process, ensuring that ordered products are instantly located and packaged for delivery.
- Shipments can then be tracked by their barcodes, with all information uploaded in real-time to front-end systems that keep customers updated on their delivery statuses.
- Rapid advances in GPS technology offer a range of new capabilities for managers and drivers alike. Tools like Trackmaker can be used to: keep track of fuel costs across different delivery areas, to update route planning with real-time traffic data, and to monitor driver productivity. Ultimately, this can make order fulfillment safer and more cost-effective.
- IoT sensors allow managers to monitor key metrics regarding temperature, vibration, load weight, and machine performance across their entire fleet. This will help alert them to any urgent requirements for part replacements or repairs. It will also help keep them apprised of any potential threats to shipments.
- Although self-driving vehicles and drone deliveries are still in their nascency they offer a great avenue for improving safety and reducing last-mile delivery costs.
The Role of AI in Transportation and Logistics
While new devices and software applications are great for organizing and coordinating data, the effectiveness of these tools will be judged by the value they can bring into the organization. AI-enabled machines have the ability to continually process through and learn from vast amounts of data and to use these disparate resources to bring real predictive and prescriptive insights to the people who need them the most. These machines can adapt to almost any task, and they can improve exponentially as they gain more experience answering complex user queries.
The most effective AI platforms are used to recognize recurring patterns amongst otherwise indistinguishable data. This ability can be used to build tailored forecasting systems that can handle a range of functions. For example, suppliers could use these tools to avoid costly stock-outs by predicting order quantities over a given period based on everything from market trends, to weather forecasts, and consumer behavior.
In fleet management, these technologies could be used to predict traffic trends and optimize route planning. While drivers could make use of AI to stay up to date on fuel levels, weather conditions, vehicle maintenance, and future deliveries.
Chatbots Make AI Easy to Use
In the past, AI has only been accessible through analytics software that visualizes data insights in the form of graphs, charts, tables and real-time reports. While these interfaces are excellent for data scientists and other experts, non-technical employees and consumers are only able to use them in a limited capacity.
On the other hand, Chatbots are equipped with natural language processing (NLP), which allows them to interface with users in a far more organic manner. Instead of looking around for specific details through search engines and mobile apps, users can talk to Chatbots that will answer their concerns simply and intuitively. This capability saves employees the trouble of switching between several different applications in search of the information they require. If implemented correctly, chatbots offer a unified platform, through which all information can be filtered and expressed.
When integrated with transport management systems, chatbots can support daily decision-making at all levels of the organization. As AI works to consolidate insights from disparate data silos, chatbots can deliver this information in real-time, to interested parties.
Companies Are Already Making Use of Transportation Chatbots
In late 2016, UPS revealed a beta version of an AI-enabled customer chatbot that could direct users towards UPS franchises, provide real-time shipping rates, and help customers to track their packages. Accessible through Skype, Amazon Alexa and Facebook Messenger this AI-tool gave customers an unprecedented level of flexibility in managing delivery locations and timings through a simple conversational interface. Marrying this type of customer-facing chatbot with the internal logistics chatbots will inevitably create an end-to-end conversational commerce market that feels natural to customers, and engaging to everyone involved.
We are already seeing companies take advantage of chatbots to interconnect devices, providing workers with the information they need to do their job well. For example, a chatbot can note that an air conditioner in a warehouse is broken and determine from the weather report of that day how quickly the change in temperature could damage the goods being stored. The chatbot can then relay that information to another department, updating them on the new stock availability. In this kind of system, lag times are greatly reduced and any issues can be spotted and reacted to by human workers far more quickly, minimizing any negative impact. A chatbot having all information in one place also saves a lot of time for employees. It makes sense to have all the information on one interface being constantly updated instead of having to constantly switch between the tabs of different departments and collate the information individually.
Voice recognition software has the potential to be used in combination with chatbots to maximize both safety and efficiency. A driver, for example, only has to speak to ask a chatbot questions such as what the traffic conditions of a certain road are or what the quickest route will be, all without having to take his/her hands off the wheel and eyes off the road! The advantages are clear!
Other companies have extended these chatbot functionalities to offer 24/7 visibility for all shipments from ports to warehouses. Drivers are asked to download a tracking app to their mobile phones, which is then synched to OCR numbers. This information is then made available in real-time through an online map, hosted through an embedded tracker that can be made available through any Facebook profile. Users can interface with the tool using a messenger chatbot that is also enabled to provide hourly status updates as well as targeted alerts when containers close in on company fulfillment centers.
Chatbots are also beginning to infiltrate the world of freight shipping. Traditionally, businesses have relied on freight forwarding services to handle the complex requirements of international shipping. However, these relationships have become increasingly frayed, with capacity crunches affecting well-known trade routes across Asia and Europe. As a result, shipment delays, hidden premiums, stranded merchandise, and an overall lack of visibility has become a common concern with international carriers.
A number of digital platforms have now emerged to tackle these transparency issues. These services offer online freight booking with clear pricing and enforceable contracts. Visibility is increased through the use of on-site chatbots that can interface with carrier systems to provide real-time updates on shipping. These platforms can also keep users informed about possible delays and shipment rates across different geographic regions.