Using digital consignment notes (CMR’s) can make the transport of goods more efficient. Even now, carriers and shippers are still producing paper consignment notes by the billions each year. But while digital data will enable many new innovations, that doesn’t mean that carriers should simply start sharing their transport data with just anyone. That’s a lot more complicated than you might think.
Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn combines current trip data from the on-board computers of 20 carriers with detailed traffic information in a control tower. In that way, the team of shelf-stockers in the supermarket will know exactly when they need to go outside to unload the trucks. That is intelligent logistics.
Trucks are normally stationary 55% of the time. Transport planners take congestion and other sources of delay into account, building in margin for those in their planning. But that means that peaks in the loading and unloading times are what determine transport efficiency. Having insight into actual transport data can help further fine-tune loading and unloading times – and remove a lot of trucks from the highway in the process.
Carriers are already sharing their trip data with road authorities to enable traffic management and to optimize infrastructure maintenance. That is handy, as it allows the government to steer heavy trucks clear of vulnerable roads or to advise trucks carrying toxic payloads to avoid being on the road in dense fog. It leads to savings in terms of road maintenance, increases safety, and prevents traffic jams.
The process of digitization is moving quickly in the logistics sector. Even so, many companies still have no policy regarding the sharing of data and what that means for their revenue model. There are three areas of concern: theft due to weak cyber security, squabbles over the ownership of the data, and the drawing of new data borders within the EU.
Logistics service providers that have not properly encrypted their digital consignment notes run the risk of having hackers break into them and digitally revise a truck’s payload or the delivery address, for example. Security measures need to be taken very seriously.
A second problem concerns the ownership of data. Transport data are worth a fortune: the 180 million digital consignment notes made each year contain a wealth of information.
Before you know it, there will be a sort of Booking.com or Uber for the transport sector that will see to the optimization of transport flows. These companies will then book huge profits with big data that carriers harvest for them at no cost. But the carriers will be left behind with low rates. That is why we need to make sure that all that data continues to belong to everyone.
Open data in Europe
The third danger comes from local governments in Europe. Before you know it, those will all be creating their own rules for intelligent transportation systems (ITS), such that carriers will soon need to log on to a different system at every border. The EU needs to fight to ensure that – also digitally – the European road transport network will be free of boundaries.
The logistics sector is becoming digitized at a fast pace. Sharing data with chain partners offers opportunities to improve profits. But in the logistics sector, digitization isn’t going to result in growth. In fact, it is only making the pie smaller: by making transport more intelligent there will be less need for it.
The real question is: who will ultimately benefit from this development if policy isn’t developed now?