Private fleets and shippers are harnessing digitalization to improve their operations

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CHICAGO — The growing adoption of information technology in the transportation industry is creating new opportunities for shippers and private fleets to improve logistics planning and the driver experience.

This trend also raises questions about how best to use and share the growing amount of data companies are collecting about their operations, industry executives said at Reuters Events’ Supply Chain Execution USA 2022 conference in June.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this move towards digitalization in the logistics space, said Andrea Turner, senior vice president of global customer service and logistics at snack company Mondelez International, whose brands include Oreo, Ritz and Chips Ahoy.

“There is never a shortage of data. The question is how to get it and how to put it together,” Turner said during a panel discussion at the event.

Chicago-based Mondelez International ranks 46th on Transport Topics’ list of top 100 private carriers in North America.

In addition to using the right data in the right way, supply chain actors can unlock additional efficiencies by finding better ways to share that information, Turner said.

If shippers and their various external vendors and transportation and warehousing providers can exchange data in real time, they can make better decisions, respond more quickly to market disruptions and changes, and ultimately manage better. their activities.

“That’s where we’re headed,” Turner said. “I think everyone has ideas on how to get there. We’re all trying to figure it out… but we’re not there yet.

Creating this more collaborative supply chain will involve building trust and transparency between multiple organizations with their own separate data streams, she said.

Mondelez International’s Turner says supply chain stakeholders could improve efficiency by agreeing to share more data. (Seth Clevenger/Transportation Topics)

“I would love to see those walls come down sooner and faster, but if you think about all the vendors you have, it’s a daunting task,” Turner said.

Another challenge for shippers and logistics operations is integrating technology into their workforce.

Artificial intelligence can help improve forecast accuracy, for example, but that’s only half the battle. Companies also need to convince staff to trust this information and act on it.

Turner said technology adoption also plays an important role in employee recruitment and retention, a key topic as many companies grapple with labor shortages.


Snack company Mondelez International operates a large private fleet to deliver the products. (Mondèlez International)

The next generation expects to work with connected, efficient and effective systems, requiring business leaders to keep pace with technological advancements.

“The talent war right now is so tough,” she said. “People have a choice.”

Technology to support drivers

In particular, trucking operations face fierce competition to recruit and retain professional drivers.

To help bolster their workforces, private fleets have taken steps to make these jobs more attractive.

Santa Monica Seafood, for its part, has focused on simplifying the work of drivers by digitizing and automating their daily tasks.

Private 100

Exhaustion from supply chain disruptions, combined with more lucrative opportunities, has led to increased turnover rates for supply chain managers. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg News)

“It’s extremely important to make things easier,” James Nissenberg, the company’s vice president of logistics, told the Reuters conference.

The wholesale seafood distributor uses its private fleet of approximately 80 vehicles, including box trucks, vans and tractor-trailers, to provide last-mile deliveries of seafood and other highly perishable.

Santa Monica Seafood provides its drivers with route plans prepared in a logical order and has equipped its vehicles with telematics, including temperature and humidity monitoring capabilities that do not require driver interaction.

“They don’t have to touch it,” he said. “We get this information automatically.”

Additionally, the company’s drivers conduct their routine vehicle inspections on their phones rather than on paper.

“Now everything is digital. It is saved in a database. It makes their life easier. »

The evolution of omnichannel

Shippers and retailers are also adjusting their supply chains in response to the expansion of e-commerce, which has grown at an even faster rate during the pandemic.

Fashion retailer Macy’s, for example, continues to refine its omnichannel strategy to support changing consumer habits.

“We’re focused on meeting the customer where they are and how they’re buying,” Dennis Mullahy, supply chain manager at Macy’s, told the Reuters conference.

“Omnichannel is not just digital. It’s really about integrating and adapting to how customer behavior is changing,” he said. “We have customers who buy from our stores. We have customers who buy online from home. We have customers who buy in our stores, online.

Physical stores remain a crucial part of Macy’s business, and “always will be,” Mullahy said, but the role of these physical locations is changing.

“Your store now plays a different role in the ecosystem because not only does it engage customers, but it also holds inventory that can interact with digital customers,” Mullahy said. “If I’m out of stock, I need to be able to take it out of the store and move it, and I need to do that seamlessly.”

Meanwhile, the many disruptions of the past two years have put more emphasis on supply chain resilience and flexibility.

“I think we saw how fragile the supply chain was in 2020. And it didn’t happen by accident – ​​it’s an ongoing problem. We just haven’t seen as many links in the chain break as literally happened across the board for everyone in 2020,” Mullahy said. “I think it opened a lot of eyes to this notion that we can’t just take it for granted that you can put a product on a boat and it comes in and shows up.”