Lightning-fast shipping speeds and real-time tracking updates are more important to consumers than ever. The biggest players in the game have set expectations sky high for ecommerce retailers, and many companies are seeking out any opportunity available to gain an edge.
Putting investment into advanced warehouse management software or last-mile network optimizations is a worthy endeavor. But it shouldn’t be done without looking at the whole supply chain from a time management perspective.
Inefficiencies at the port can lead to costly hangups, including stock shortages, long backordering wait times, or slowdowns at stateside finishers and assemblers.
A critical link in the supply chain
Historically, the global supply chain has operated almost exclusively behind the scenes. This is especially true at the port of entry, where specialized procedures, equipment, and nomenclature make drayage and customs particularly opaque for laypersons.
Perhaps as a result, port-side processing has been slow to innovate. Even today, drayage is seen as a data “black hole” on the supply chain. While other aspects of shipping and logistics have built solutions for up-to-the-minute tracking and advanced notification capabilities, the port remains a transparency challenge for BCOs and ecommerce retailers alike.
What is drayage, and why is it so important?
Drayage describes the process by which cargo is taken from container ships, organized, and distributed to nearby warehouses or intermodal transit networks. Each cargo ship may contain hundreds or thousands of containers that need to be carefully identified and arranged for transport.
Inefficient drayage makes it more difficult and resource intensive to locate cargo and get it out of port (and on to its next destination). Without optimized drayage, visibility and efficiency suffer — a shipment could sit on the dock or at customs for a few hours or as long as a week before moving back into data visibility.
When demand is up, that can impact supply chain turnaround, increase rates of lost merchandise, and drive shortages.
Smart drayage is here
Luckily, recent innovations in drayage are drawing back the curtain. As new technologies become more widely available, drayage becomes more visible and more efficient. Here’s a look at what’s new on the docks:
Smart containers close the knowledge gap by allowing for real-time monitoring of cargo location, internal conditions, and overall physical integrity from anywhere. For sensitive cargo like perishable food, these sensors give peace of mind to retailers that their product is consistently refrigerated throughout the shipping journey by storing real-time data in the cloud to be accessed from anywhere.
Knowing where cargo is on the dock only matters so far as that data can be used to process it quickly. Advanced tracking allows drayage firms to anticipate and make resources available to process cargo when a container ship comes into port.
Processing can be done quickly using IoT devices to expedite unloading and to document and collect essential data without introducing additional labor to the equation. That data can be fed into 3PL analytics software to make improvements to operations for future shipments.
Blockchain and streamlined intermodality
With document processing and customs, a lot of work at the port is done on a “hurry up and wait” schedule. That is starting to change thanks to new innovations.
Blockchain technology that keeps an active record of bills of lading and shipment transfer histories can streamline processing and enable better transparency without sacrificing operational security.
Blockchain advocates hope that the technology can allow for secure data decentralization among a network of global hubs. Nowhere is this more valuable than at the port, where cargo may change hands between three or more independent supply chain providers in a matter of hours.
Having one accountable digital ledger to track a container along intermodal channels can save time spent on paperwork and processing, and improve overall security and efficiency from container ship to warehouse.
Advanced warehouse and yard management systems can drastically reduce the amount of time cargo spends waiting for pickup at the dock. Using big data from smart containers, new 3PL software solutions can match per diem schedules with port schedules, then prepare prep drivers to ensure they’re ready for the load.
Advanced WMS systems enable innovative fulfillment solutions, such as less-than-truck (or, increasingly, international less-than-container) shipping. The addition of IoT devices to the software ecosystem can tailor real-time data models to coordinate transportation modes all along the supply chain to minimize lost time and product.
Transparency is here, too
Customers today aren’t satisfied with speed alone. They want to get their stuff fast and know where it is every step of the way. This capability requires advanced tracking technology that can follow cargo from the manufacturer to their doorstep.
Building this infrastructure requires a physical presence at the port that is cost-prohibitive for many companies. That’s where 3PL drayage partners come in. When you’re looking for a 3PL drayage partner, choose one that keeps up with the latest technologies and prioritizes supply chain visibility for you and your customers.
Drayage presents an incredible opportunity for BCOs and ecommerce retailers precisely because it is so complex. Between staying up to date on changing schedules and regulations, navigating terminals, and keeping up with paperwork, there’s plenty of opportunity to innovate.
To get the job done right, you want an experienced 3PL partner that understands drayage top to bottom. Of course, you also want a partner that can match best-of-breed software with a proven track record to ensure that your supply chain will stay running smoothly.