America’s Infrastructure is a topic most of us don’t think about. We just expect it to work in the same way we expect the lights to come on when we flip a switch. However, there has been increasing concern by trucking companies, shippers, and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the infrastructure we all count on – safe roads, bridges, waterways– is showing its age and in need of repair.
That is not surprising when you realize that our interstate highway system was created in the 1950s. Since that time, commercial and passenger traffic has grown exponentially, while arguably, investments and repairs have not kept pace. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), “America’s roads are often crowded, frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded, and dangerous.”
The ASCE recently gave our roads and bridges a score of D+ on a scale of A-F, with F being a failing grade. Their report also puts a price tag on the congestion that they say impacts every two out of five miles of America’s urban interstates – $160 billion in wasted time and fuel in the calendar year 2014 alone.
For supply chain managers, the impact of our nation’s infrastructure is about more than a long commute to work. It is about delays that could make it harder to get products to market and more difficult to compete, as well as potential capacity issues as carriers strive to deliver “just-in-time” service while dealing with congestion, poor road conditions, and increased costs for fuel and labor when trucks are forced to sit in traffic.
Many groups and advocates are proposing a variety of solutions to the current and pending infrastructure crisis in America. While we may be limited in our ability to impact the government’s plan for infrastructure, we can take advantage of technology to mitigate the impacts of the issue on our businesses and supply chains.
Here are the top four ways that a Transportation Management System (TMS) can help you navigate the often crowded road ahead.
One of the most common features of a TMS solution is its ability to route freight movements. If your TMS provides control tower visibility across both inbound and outbound shipments, the technology can help you find the most direct routes and eliminate empty miles. And with flexible and customizable TMS solutions, you can proactively plan around areas of gridlock. This will keep your freight moving, not stuck in traffic.
With a TMS that has a single platform for all modes of transportation – parcel, less-than-truckload, truckload, ocean, air, rail, and intermodal – you can optimize loads. For example, several small parcels can become one less-than-truckload (LTL) shipment, or multiple LTL shipments can be consolidated into one truckload. A good TMS optimization tool will ensure that you have the ability to quickly review multiple scenarios, building in service commitments as well as past experience that you have had with specific carriers. You may experience a reduction in overall transportation spending, and with fewer, fuller trucks on the road, everyone benefits from less congestion on already crowded highways.
For companies that use a combination of a private fleet and outside carriers, deciding how to best utilize all of these assets can be a challenge. For example, should you move a shipment from Charlotte, NC to Miami, FL on your private fleet when the chances are the truck will return from Miami empty? If so, can you search your entire network for a backhaul opportunity? A TMS that offers fleet management solutions can help you make those types of decisions and can also help you to maximize all of your assets, with complete and current data about drivers, equipment and operations. If a driver is stuck in a traffic jam and nearing the end of their hours of service (HOS), that is information you need sooner, rather than later.
Access to capacity for backhauls
TMS solutions can also offer quick and easy access to information about available capacity, helping you to secure backhauls to offset imbalances. Some systems provide you with the ability to view all of the options available on private and public bid boards, and you can save time by using automated email messages regarding loads. Again, this will help you avoid empty miles, which add unnecessary costs to your supply chain and place even more strain on the nation’s roads and highways.
When it comes to infrastructure, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sums up the issue very succinctly, “Most Americans agree that our roads, bridges, mass transit systems, air, and seaports and water infrastructure are critical national assets that drive growth, jobs, and global competitiveness. What we can’t seem to agree on is how to pay for badly needed maintenance and repairs.”
Clearly there is not an easy or obvious solution. But, technology solutions like TMSs can help supply chain managers avoid extra costs and gain efficiency – even when dodging potholes.
Karen Sage is MercuryGate’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) responsible for the company’s global marketing, communications, sales enablement, and go-to-market efforts. She is a veteran with 20+ years of experience in business-to-business marketing and communications helping several industry leaders launch disruptive new categories, accelerate revenue growth, build leadership brands, and establish marketing organizations that scale globally. She comes to MercuryGate most recently from the spend management solution provider, SciQuest. Prior to SciQuest, she was at CA Technologies where she served as vice president of marketing leading rapid growth initiatives. Her experiences leading growth also include multiple leadership roles during a 15-year stint at Cisco. Karen started her career having invented the NETSYS Performance tools at NETSYS Technologies, Inc., which was acquired by Cisco in 1996.