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Ready for Artificial Intelligence in Your Business? Tech Experts Share Three-Step AI Strategy

It’s time-honored and true: Shippers, third-party logistics (3PL) providers and motor carriers keep a protective layer on their data. In the near future, they will be using systems to connect their data ecosystems with artificial intelligence (AI) that will intelligently plan and execute freight movements.

As this new reality unfolds, technology experts believe that transportation companies will no longer have departments squabbling over freight.

The operating divisions of transportation companies, such as freight brokerage, over-the-road trucking, dedicated and intermodal, all try to get every profitable load. But as companies adopt systems with machine learning and other forms of AI, experts predict that internal friction will dissolve from computers determining what freight fits and does not fit in each division.

The result will be a newfound ability to more effectively utilize assets, resources and drivers, said David Dunst, IT manager for Paper Transport (PTI), a dry van truckload and intermodal carrier based in Green Bay, WI.

PTI operates more than 900 power units in regional, dedicated, local, and intermodal operations out of the Midwest and the Southern United States.

On a higher level, Dunst believes that AI will benefit shippers and 3PLs by connecting with motor carriers to select the right capacity at the right time. “It’s a huge difference in how we’ve thought about transportation historically,” he noted.

To make this and other visions become reality, the speakers in Trimble’s Supply Chain in.sights Summer 2021 events discussed a three-step process to make the most of data today and prepare for the future.

Step 1: Create Insights

Companies are gathering more data than ever before. The quantity that comes from transportation management software (TMS), telematics, electronic logging devices (ELDs) and other sources is not the problem, said Adrian Gonzalez, a leading transportation and logistics industry analyst and advisor.

The primary concern for companies, he said, is what should they be doing with all of the data they are collecting?

Gonzalez cited a recent survey on data management given to the Indigo research community, which he directs, with 100 members who are transportation and logistics executives. Two-thirds of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed to the question: “Are you drowning in data and starving for insights?

The survey found the greatest challenge for companies to convert data to insights is having data scattered across many different systems that don’t talk with each other. The next challenge is not having enough data analysts on staff.

Deploying business intelligence systems and processes to bring data together from different systems for analysis is not quick and easy, he said. The outcomes will be worth it by having insights that inform actions, fix problems, and help companies innovate, he added.

Getting data into a common platform for analysis is the first step, but the value comes from giving data context. To do this, companies need to set clearly defined goals and objectives for what they are trying to achieve, he said, such as reducing fuel, maintenance and detention costs or improving utilization and customer service.

Companies also need to establish baselines and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress towards their goals, he added.

The top three areas where Gonzalez is seeing investments being made by shippers, transportation and logistics companies to harness their data and create insights are:

  • Capacity procurement--Shippers and 3PLs are using data science to predict movement of rates and capacity in the market and to align shipment patterns with carrier networks.

  • Performance management--Carriers are using shipper scorecards to identify problem areas such as detention times and drilling down to identify and address the root causes.

  • Network design--Shippers and transportation providers are using data to strategically evolve their networks, adapt to changes and deliver more value to their customers.

Step 2: Automate Routine Work

Delivering insights to users will have limited value if they are bogged down with doing repetitive, mundane tasks.

Covenant Transport, Inc., one of the largest truckload carriers and 3PLs in North America, is using robotic process automation (RPA) tools to automate labor-intensive tasks in tandem with a business intelligence platform from Domo.

The RPA tools have made it possible for Covenant to automate mundane tasks such as verifying past employment records of driver recruits and sending cash advances to drivers to cover over-the-road expenses.

Matt Mullins, vice president of program management for Covenant, based in Chattanooga, TN, estimates that RPA technology has saved the company over 2,000 man-hours so far.

The Domo platform connects to any database and is relatively easy to implement for users to have real-time data and feedback to make decisions, said Mullins. The Domo platform is giving insights to more than 220 users today, he noted.

PTI has benefitted from RPA technology as well. The company’s office staff no longer needs to log into customer websites to enter and change pickup and delivery appointments, or to search various websites of freight brokers to find available backhauls. The automation has positioned the company to grow without adding headcount while giving people more time to focus on higher-value work, Dunst said.

Step 3: Let Artificial Intelligence Make Decisions

Business intelligence and process automation tools are the core elements of continuous improvement programs. They also give companies, like Covenant, a foundation to build on and apply advanced technologies like predictive modeling, AI and machine learning to solve future challenges like planning freight movements, Mullins said.

“These tools help us get there quicker, better and faster,” he said.

Before starting a project that involves the use of advanced technology to create data insights, David Dunst from PTI said the two most important questions to answer are: 

  • What are we trying to accomplish? 

  • What will the new data cause people to do differently?

One data project that PTI completed had safety as the goal. The company hired some consultants to help create a predictive model that would identify drivers with an elevated accident risk. The project required significant resources and knowledge from staff to complete, he said.

PTI has used the insights from this model to proactively engage drivers on a personal level who are at risk based on changes in behaviors. The company has seen a reduction in the number and severity of accidents and driver retention has improved, Dunst said.

More recently, PTI implemented Trimble Dispatch Advisor, configurable software that uses machine learning to give load planners recommendations for how to put the “right driver on the right load at the right time,” he said.

TDA gives load planners an explanation for each driver-load match recommendation. This transparency has helped speed adoption of the technology by creating trust with users in the information, he said. Results from using Trimble Dispatch Advisor include making the fleet more profitable and load planners more efficient as well as improving the company’s ability to meet driver home time commitments, he explained.

Chris Orban, vice president of data science for Trimble Transportation, believes there is potential for AI to improve both fleet efficiency and safety by giving drivers customized coaching sessions. The coaching is tailored to each driver by analyzing video and telematics data to identify both good and bad behaviors and can be coupled with human intervention as needed to maximize results.

“Humans and computers working together is the true power in our industry right now,” Orban said.

Realize the Power of Artificial Intelligence with Trimble

As noted above, the artificial intelligence of Trimble’s Dispatch Advisor is helping Paper Transport make better decisions when it comes to the utilization of their drivers and assets.

Curious to find out how artificial intelligence could increase the performance and efficiency of your business? Connect with us today to learn more about how we can help you harness technology to streamline all parts of your organization.