As demand grows, inflation bites, and improved sustainability becomes a key industry goal, businesses across the container transport and logistics industry are looking for ways to further optimise their operations.
For years, many industries have been in investing in digital transformation (and, more recently, AI and machine learning) to achieve more streamlined operations and real-time improvement. But while big data and digitisation have the power to determine the optimal way to move cargo through the supply chain, the container transport industry has been notoriously slow to adopt technology.
While some larger players have embraced innovation and invested early, many are starting from a very basic digital footprint. They’ll need to walk before they run.
But that could be a good thing. While the long-term goal is to optimise the entire supply chain through digital tools and data-led decisions, a more realistic route is to start small. Helping landside operators adopt accessible and beneficial digitisation now will go a long way to achieve complete supply chain optimisation in the not-so-distant future.
Digisiting container transport is a Catch 22
What’s the best way to operate a supply chain? It’s a question that could have a thousand different answers, depending on who you ask. Largely, container supply chains are operated on ‘experience’ or on what some operators think is best (or have just always done).
We know that data can help improve supply chain operations and make it more agile, cost-effective, and sustainable. But while some major industry players have access to these kinds of tools, others have limited technology available.
Achieving the ‘ultimate supply chain efficiency’ would require machine learning and artificial intelligence to predict and execute the optimal movement and optimisation of a container supply chain.
Doing this for a small handful of major operators is achievable to a certain level – but is only effective until a constraint presents itself. Something as common as a vessel delay or road accident causing a road blockage would suddenly throw out any efficiency gained.
With so many links in the container supply chain, it makes it easy for technology inequity to flourish. Not everyone will be motivated to invest in digital tools now if they have to wait for the potential benefits of optimisation.
Big picture thinking vs. small picture action
The reality is orchestrating a whole supply chain eco-system would require digitisation and data sharing to exist for 90%+ of transactions. Only then would there be enough data to deliver real-time insights that optimise movements of all operators.
This is not something that can happen overnight – or even in a year or two. Can we wait for every stakeholder to prioritise digitisation and hope they are all open to sharing their data before we optimise supply chain movement?
The answer, quite simply, is no.
But what if we don’t need to?
It might seem favourable to look at the big picture when it comes to container supply chain optimisation – after all, it is a long chain with many stakeholders. However, optimising at an individual level is more likely to get the traction required for industry-wide improvement.
If we focus in on individual businesses and the benefits they can achieve right now from digitisation, the task suddenly doesn’t seem so hard – and the benefits are still numerous.
Small changes that have big impacts
If we break the supply chain optimisation journey down into single steps, the first is to encourage the continued uptake of digitisation across stakeholders. Digital solutions that offer immediate benefits to operators will set us on our way to driving an optimal, data-driven supply chain in the future.
One small step to digitise gets us one leap closer to a digitised and optimised supply chain.
Examples of this are already visible amongst landside transport operators, who are increasingly adopting digital platforms like MatchBox Exchange (MB) to enable them to Re-Use and Exchange empty containers.
MB has cultivated an accessible and simple form of technology that allows individual operators to optimise their own link in the chain by:
· Collaborating with other operators to optimise container usage and transport
· Optimise fleet utilisation by reducing empty container trips and depot usage
· Reducing truck kilometers and decreasing Co2 emissions in the supply chain
· Maximising the benefits from digital tools without major interruption to operations
Encouraging this uptake through accessible digital tools that deliver direct and immediate benefits to individual stakeholders is a small but impactful step that the industry needs to take in order to achieve overall supply chain optimisation through data, AI and machine learning. A whole supply chain ecosystem might not be that far off after all.
MatchBox Exchange works with shipping lines, transport operators and freight forwarders to make landside container transport more efficient and economical through digitised container triangulation. For a free demo of the platform, click here.