Thursday, November 15, 2012

Logistics and Technology. Common Denominator: Data

“Sign here”, a common command uttered by the friendly man in all brown garb delivering daily Amazon packages to hopeless consumers across the nation. But “here” isn’t a clipboard with a receipt stub on it. It’s now a tablet that receives and sends data instantly through the new frontier of logistics. Data. Sundar Swaminathan, a senior director of industry strategy and marketing at Oracle, wrote an article earlier this year explaining data’s role in logistics. He begins by showing the broad range of technology used to collect data. If the tablet mentioned earlier is the tip of the iceberg, the technology that the consumers don’t see are stuff like Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs) in trucks, sensors and RF tags in trailers, and RF readers in distribution centers. Swaminathan explains how all of this technology works in conjuncture with the different players in logistics such as the manufacturers /retailers, trucking, air shipping, ocean shipping, and authorities such as customs. And the common denominator of the two is data. The data is what links the technologies to the players allowing managers to make decisions about the data they receive. For example Swaminathan explains how trailer tags can provide “insights into container transit times and dwell times, temperature, integrity of loads”. This is subtle but very important. This may be a few categories but it can produce a lot of useful data from the thousands of trucks circulating the nation and the globe. Any database student can already see the ERD coming together in their head or the hundreds of query combinations that could come out of this. While Swaminathan does a great job allowing the reader to link logistics, technology, and data, he merely scratches the surface and focuses a lot of the article on consumer quality data. There can be so much more technology and data can provide to logistics besides making consumer feedback more efficient. One nuance to the use of this data technology could be a driver compensation system that takes into account many different bits of data attached that comes from readers on freight. Compensation could be based on such factors as quality of the product, price of the product, weight of the truck, location (more dangerous more compensation), and receiver satisfaction. Through queries and different applications of SQL functions, a fair and agreed upon compensation can be reached which can benefit driver moral and increase productivity. However, such technology can be used on the policing side of logistics. This data collected could rid the need of weigh stations. Policing could become more efficient as this data could one day be read like a speedometer reads speeds. Police could have the ability to see weight in real time saving the government money on staffing and depreciation on roads. This could also lead to an increase in jobs as a need for “IT” auditors to make sure nobody is cheating their data. Data and the technology that has created it, has done a lot for making logistics more efficient. But there is still a lot data can do for logistics as technology continues its innovate faster than we can learn to utilize it.