From the Payphone to MacroPoint – A Logistics Technology Retrospective

Consider how far logistics tech has progressed between the use of roadside payphones for check calls and today’s cell-based track-n-trace solutions like MacroPoint and others.   Machines and tools for transportation that once reigned supreme for centuries have been supplanted by newer equipment which dominated transportation for decades.  Technologies like sail boats, steam engines the telegraph were subsequently rendered obsolete by newer tools that then dominated the industry for short span of years before being replaced by the next, “next big thing”.  While truck, train, jet plane, and container ship technology has reached stasis in terms of efficiency improvements, the technology used to improve the operational efficiency of moving freight via these modes continues to accelerate.

Communications technology facilitating the movement of freight is where efficiency and speed is captured in the modern supply chain.  The internet now connects customers to shippers in real time.  Checking on the status of a shipment using the internet is the dominant logistics tech of the day – from a container full of sneakers en route to a DC from China, to a single pair ordered for home delivery from Amazon.com.  For over the road truck deliveries check calls/shipment status updates were conveyed sporadically at best, whenever drivers found a roadside or truck stop payphone to log their position.

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Not all carriers are equipped with EDI/in-cab telematics units – something only feasible for larger, well-financed carrier organizations.  Moreover, while most truckers own cell phones, getting them to call in at regular junctures is easier said than done.

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The advent of in-cab telematics units brought check call automation a step forward, making over the road check calls happen even more quickly and accurately.  Cell phones also made it easier for a truck driver to call in and report his position.  Yet, in spite of these advances, there were still gaps in track and trace capabilities.  Not all carriers are equipped with EDI/in-cab telematics units – something only feasible for larger, well-financed carrier organizations.  Moreover, while most truckers own cell phones, getting them to call in at regular junctures is easier said than done.

Enter MacroPoint and similar offerings from providers like FourKites and others.  Used as a standalone or in addition to existing communications capabilities (EDI, in-cab telematics, Driver Mobile Apps, and online Web Portals) these new tech tools provide an additional layer of visibility and more accurate freight tracking to shipping organizations.  More reliable than traditional driver check calls, this service allows shippers to approach 100% shipment visibility when used in conjunction with the other communications protocols mentioned.  Automating check calls makes for more responsive tracking and automatic status updates which reduces call volume into operations.  MacroPoint and others integrate directly with most TMS platforms, putting this additional, up-to-the-minute tracking capability in the midst of all relevant transportation management functions.

These tools help shippers expand their carrier base, providing access to even the smallest niche carriers and furnishing them with the same level of tracking capability as the larger, EDI-ready carriers.   These tools are also a boon to improving the tracking of private fleet trucks.  Even if a shipper is using rented equipment, drivers need only bring their cell phones with them and they’re fully trackable and traceable.  The MacroPoint solution pings the cell antennae in drivers’ phones, so they need not even answer the phone in order to provide accurate location data.

Makes pulling off at a truck stop to find a payphone seem as archaic as a 3-month sailing voyage across the Atlantic!

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