When we talk of a booming economy, and growth and development across all regions, the story can not be complete without dwelling on the role played by infrastructure in taking all this development from the manufacturer to the end user. Your mind starts counting all crucial means of transport, power grids, roads and railway lines, air links, telecom networks and so on. Intertwined somewhere are carriers who act as pivots from where all the action actually starts and without whom the whole activity would come to a stutter. These are companies who transport goods from production factories to the end-users, criss-crossing innumerable distribution points-warehouses, wholesale markets, retail outlets, airports, railway stations, etc. Thus, the importance of having a smooth logistics network for goods and services goes without saying. In this age of supercomputers and all pervasive telecom networks, tracking consignments and providing point-to-point information on the movement of goods and services is not only feasible but demanded as a matter of right by customers. IT has helped ease matters by providing a multitude of options. Apart from the online shipment booking and tracking services available on websites of logistics vendors, we are witnessing an increased shipment tracking activity through mobiles, which is in sync with the massive penetration of mobile phones in India. A more detailed and efficient analysis can be carried out through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which together with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) based technology, not only help in keeping a tab on the movement of goods and services through different points in the logistics chain but also in devising the most efficient routes for movement of goods vehicles.
Another hot area is the adoption of SOA and we are actually seeing vendors exposing Web Services for clients to embed them into their internal applications. This means clients can not only carry out routine tasks such as booking orders, tracking shipments, filing acknowledgement receipts and so on, from the comfort of their offices but also access critical information that makes their production cycles and warehouse management tasks more efficient. Let's look at these in detail.
GIS and vehicle routing apps
When we talk of managing operations of a logistics company, routing of vehicles across a very large geographical area is a very complicated task. Thanks to GIS, this task can be reduced in complexity. The technology helps by analyzing discrete geographic patterns and building complex, mathematical relationships, so that analysts can take accurate decisions. The various components that form part of a good GIS include Vehicle Tracking and Dispatch, Route Analysis, Warehouse Operations and Fleet Maintenance.
In India, a GIS system can be made more fruitful if traffic density figures are available off the shelf across all regions. This data could be used by the route analysis application within the GIS system to advise on the best possible routes for transporting goods. It can even be integrated with a standard inventory control part of an ERP system to create a dynamic system of inventory packets for delivery taking into account the destination assigned to a particular vehicle and its loading capacity.
However, one of the hurdles that has impeded successful GIS implementation in India is the lack of availability of requisite data at all locations. Once a successful GIS system has been deployed, reasonably accurate decisions can be taken and in time.
To get a complete picture of how GIS can be applied to logistics management, let us closely look at how the movement of goods takes place from a manufacturer to the consumer. The manufacturing company (customer) would approach a logistics vendor or visit their website to book their consignment. Once the consignment has been booked, a unique transaction ID is provided to the customer. This contains the details of the goods to be delivered and the payment details. A bar coded tag is placed on the consignment that contains details of the consignee. The consignment is temporarily stored in the warehouse, before being loaded on to the carrier vehicle for delivery.
This was a brief introduction on how logistics operations kick-start. For the sake of brevity, we're not going into the details of supply chain management, inventory management and the routing of goods vehicles. But the key lies in cutting costs at each step. And enabling efficient vehicle movement based on geography is the key to cutting costs.
It's easier said than done as it requires a great deal of calculations and analysis. So, GIS makes it easy to determine crucial parameters such as the time taken to deliver new stocks to a retail outlet and the quantity of goods that can be loaded onto a truck on a single trip.
Vehicle tracking through GPS
Apart from GIS, GPS is at the heart of any vehicle routing system. And with GPS applications becoming cheaper and more efficient, their use in carrier vehicles and the whole of array of mobile devices is only increasing.
Many trucks today come loaded with radio transmitters and GPS navigation systems. These devices send details about the vehicle's location at specific intervals to the central control room where a GIS software interprets the signal and displays the current location on the online tracking application.
Not only does the logistics company keep a tab on the movement of their vehicles but the client can also be provided details about the status of his consignments in real time. An interesting extension of this system would be the integration of real time traffic monitoring applications with the GPS devices. This would enable the company to divert their vehicles when confronted with adverse traffic conditions on a particular route. This can be further enhanced by incorporating meteorological forecast applications so that rain, snowfall, landslides, cyclones can be kept at bay and delays avoided.
Expose Web services to clients
We can see a lot of successful SOA implementations around us. The most omnipresent being Google APIs. They provide services for blogging, email, imaging, maps, news feeds, searching (one of the first services that made them immensely popular), video and more. They followed a very simple approach. Collect a lot of data and publish them as a set of web services. And most of the data is in public domain that can be used by individuals.
Just imagine the type of composite applications that could be built if your bank, retail mart, airlines, hotels, logistics providers, product manufacturers and cell phone companies all exposed services. Let's take an example.
Suppose on your way to the airport you suddenly realize you forgot your daily diabetes pill. With such a setup, you can program your phone to alert you when you're within 100 mtrs of a drug store that has the pill or if you've already reached the airport, get Fedex to deliver the medicine to your destination hotel and charge this to your bank account! You'll not find a better vertical than logistics to highlight the need to switch over to Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). The need to integrate internal applications with those outside the company (with your customers and business partners) will always be the primary driver for SOA adoption. The logistics sector provides ample opportunities for such kinds of implementations.
FedEx and DHL have already exposed most parts of their applications as Web services. Others are following suit. One of the core applications that needs to be exposed is online consignments tracking. As discussed earlier, the customer can be provided real time information about inbound, outbound and third party shipments. This is quite beneficial for customers with large volumes of shipments. They could readily consume a service that could be as simple as printing airway bills and integrating it with their ERP applications rather than frequently logging in to the logistics provider's website searching for information. Such a move would also improve production efficiency as a manufacturing company that imports raw materials can benefit from information regarding the delivery date and time of such raw materials and streamline their production cycles accordingly.
|What are the challenges
before the Transportation and Logistics companies?
These are the days of cut-throat competition. Customers are extremely unforgiving both in terms of costs and delivery deadlines. So, we need to ensure that our processes are extremely efficient and even better than our competition.
How does IT fit the
bill in alleviating your problems? And what vistas does it open up for
SOA has become a very hot topic in the
service industry. What are your plans?
Logistics companies have to deal with lots
of document processing. Anything innovative to speed things up?
|Watch out for these|
|A logistics management
solution invariably comprises of the following five components:
l Vehicle Tracking and Dispatch: You should be able to track the location and the inventory on board every vehicle and have the latest information on its position and operating status.
l Route Analysis: Devise the best possible route for a goods vehicle based on inputs from a GIS based system.
l Warehouse Operations: Probably the biggest part of any logistics process. The movement of goods within a warehouse requires accurate inputs in terms of production cycles and availability of transport vehicles, more so in case of perishable commodities.
l Facilities and Depot Management: Structures that are used to house goods
and vehicles are mammoth in size and require a great deal of maintenance.
Careful planning based on geographic details, the available capacity at
godowns and the amount of inventory, goes a long way in waste reduction.
|With increasing business
activity, how do you ensure that deliveries are timely and hassle-free?
The information on a confirmed booking is automatically dispatched to couriers on field who carry handheld scanners that are GPRS and GSM enabled. Once the shipment is delivered, they scan the shipment and put the relevant information on to their systems, which is then published on our website within 15 to 20 mins. We have an application which sends images and the copy of invoices to the destination country where custom clearance is involved. By the time the physical shipment arrives there, it has already been cleared on ground, cutting short the transit time by almost two days. Each and every leg of the shipment is mapped through IT systems, so that we have updated information at all points of time. For customers who have large volumes of shipments, we provide DHL's own application through which they can print airway bills and upload details on to our network.
How can a customer keep track of the movement
of his consignments?
How do you ensure uptime of your IT
network across different regions, countries, etc?
Any new technology that you are planning
Adeesh Sharma and Jasmine Desai