Moving goods and materials from source to market has never been more complicated, mostly because of globalization. Products move by land, sea and air, across continents, oceans and time zones. Controlling all that – and not letting the inevitable ebbs and flows control your business – requires highly sophisticated systems for supply chain management. Businesses more than ever rely on automated systems that are at the same time highly customized to each mode of transportation and yet thoroughly integrated with other business process automation.
Shippers that use land, air or sea transport methods may be combination carriers, freight forwarders, container ship operators or various other company types. The primary differences among these modes have to do with the kinds of vehicles involved. Each mode offers unique issues and challenges.
By Air: Companies Must Account For Flight Planning, Tracking
Issues unique to air transport companies may appear obvious. Companies must consider flight planning and real-time flight tracking; they have to schedule flight-crew shifts for maximum efficiency and safety, and must comply with stringent regulations.
Other issues include access to gates, aircraft maintenance, ground crews, and fuel.
That’s not to mention an always-unpredictable variable – weather. One tropical storm or blizzard can disrupt an entire supply chain.
By Land: Split Shipments Often Come Into Play
Land transport, too, has unique aspects. Moving goods may involve a variety of transportation methods, especially by rail and truck. It may often involve split shipments, with different contractors operating either in parallel along a given route or on different legs of the route. Unlike with flights, shippers don’t need to know only where a trip starts and ends; they also need to know the route, intermediate stops, and road or weather conditions along the way.
By Sea: Port Operations, Documentation Can be Factors
Sea transport shares some characteristics with the other methods of shipment. Trips may have intermediate stops, but traffic and weather conditions along the way are less of a concern compared to land transport. Issues such as port operations and access have some similarities to air transport’s need to deal with gate access. Another concern that sea transport shares with air and with ground transport is the need for customs clearance and documentation when crossing country borders.
Yet various transport modes share concerns that are common to running any kind of business – particularly transportation businesses. For example, they all have relatively expensive assets to manage in the form of vehicles. Companies must deal with cost, depreciation, maintenance and similar issues involving these assets. They also have to manage and track various types of parts, equipment and materials needed to maintain the vehicles. This requires thorough integration of transportation management systems with inventory management, warehouse management and supply chain management systems.
However specialized a transportation management system is, it still has to include several fundamental capabilities. All transportation companies need to know where each shipped item is at all times; they have to deal with documents such as bills of lading and transportation requests. Every company must provide notification of shipping and delivery status. When these capabilities are integrated with invoice management systems, it allows companies to analyze cost per shipment, a crucial factor in efficiently running any kind of transportation business.