Special Report: The Future of Freight
Part III: Technology
If shippers and brokers are planning to move a lot of loads soon, they’d better act now if they want a way to haul them.
By next summer, the culmination of several events – including the driver shortage and changes to hours-of-service and other regulations – could leave the trucking industry short the equivalent of 400,000 units of capacity, which would dwarf the capacity shortage seen in 2004.
If that prediction holds true, shippers and third-party logistics firms will be in a mad frenzy to secure truck capacity. One consequence may be more adoption of the latest technologies to exchange information between shippers, brokers and motor carriers.
While the old standard – electronic data interchange – remains alive and well, newer Web-based technologies are gaining traction and can provide faster, more robust ways for shippers, brokers and logistics providers to integrate with carriers. Here are five ways those groups are changing how they communicate now and in the future.
1. Direct Communication
The classic form of EDI involves transferring flat files between business partners through a third-party value-added network. VANs provide setup, testing and validation of EDI transactions.
The current trend is for business partners to bypass VANs by using Internet protocols such as file transfer protocol and AS2 for direct machine-to-machine communications.
“We are seeing a large increase in demand for direct integration using AS2,” says Austin Henderson, director of information technology at FirstFleet, a 1,500-truck dedicated transporter based in Murfreesboro, Tenn. AS2 communication replaces traditional FTP-type delivery with a newer secured mechanism that uses HTTP as its underlying transport. “AS2 is not a new technology necessarily, but it is gaining traction as the standard mechanism we use to exchange data,” Henderson says.
Similar to what a VAN does, AS2 confirms the delivery and receipt of messages – a critical feature to resolve disputes about who said what and when. These newer forms of EDI can be implemented fairly quickly. McLeod Software, a provider of transportation management software, has an EDI module that its clients can use to create or “map” EDI files. The module also comes with built-in FTP and AS2 tools to establish direct communication with business partners.
Because EDI requires specialized programming skills, McLeod, TMW Systems, PCS Software and other providers of dispatch and integrated fleet management systems manage the EDI setup and mapping process for most customers.
TMW Systems recently partnered with Extol International to offer more sophisticated EDI connectivity tools for its customers across its operations software platforms and all modern communications protocols and channels, says Monica Truelsch, director of marketing.
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