Thursday, November 26, 2015

From Freight Forwarding to Road and Rail Haulage - All Logistics Benefits from e commerce

Whether Improved Document Systems or Train Maintenance - IT Technology is the Key
Shipping News Feature
UK – WORLDWIDE – As the year draws to a close possibly the thing which has most affected the road and rail haulage and freight forwarding sectors during 2015 has been the steady progress of IT technology and how it affects the logistics industry as a whole. The growth of e commerce in all its forms is in part through natural progression to streamline processes, whilst many changes have been driven by alterations in consumer habits, principally the use of online purchases and the demands for faster service.

Now that we see the spread in standardisation of global shipping and customs processes, data flows freely between states and internationally agreed codes are used for carriers, modes, statuses and transactions, allowing fast and accurate exchange of information, even where languages differ. The air cargo industry has led the charge with short form codes for both airlines and airports instantly identifiable and the continuing spread of electronic Air Waybills.

In freight warehouses and ports across the world RFID devices are now commonplace and any householder will now be used to signing the delivery man’s electronic keypad. Some of the oldest established names in shipping and general transport have been leaders in the field. John Good Shipping, established back when dinosaurs ruled the earth (1833 actually Ed.) has embarked on an extensive programme to implement EDI (electronic data interchange) with its customers, partners and service providers to maintain a prime position as one of the UK’s leading shipping agents and freight forwarders.

Having adopted all the existing industry-standard procedures and codes the company says it was a logical development to improve data sharing processes by prioritising data conversion where the volume or complexity suggested efficiencies, or when the speed of information exchange is paramount.

With suitable input from the major shipping lines updating container positions etc., usually within an hour of a change of status, John Good can instantly and automatically trigger confirmation messages and transfer documents to customers and partners, or indeed is able to react to any problems before they become more serious.

The complexities of what these systems can do however stretches much further, with input from HMRC allowing auto-generation of customs clearance status and documents to customers if required, whilst road hauliers are issued transport instructions, and pre-advices sent to the relevant receiving warehouse personnel.

As a principal ships agency John Good also sees the situation from a different perspective, issuing information gleaned from consignors regarding cargo, shipment and billing requirements, to their shipping line customers. Internal monitoring systems ensure that milestones are noted and warning alerts issued whilst, having developed the company’s own systems, John Good’s EDI team are actively helping customers (and potential customers) so they can utilise the forwarder’s technology to their own advantage. The company welcomes such enquiries.

By loading spreadsheets of orders into the system customers may track shipments by their or their clients’ references such as Order Numbers, Product Codes, SKU, ASN etc. allowing full control over matters and, when for example stock is delayed, the customer can take remedial action before a major problem arises, whilst John Good can automatically update the clients system or advise of status via a daily Excel report.

The advance of these IT processes, and the changing demands of customers for faster delivery systems has had an obvious effect on the road haulage industry, still blighted by a chronic shortage of drivers. In this climate however a beneficiary is the rail freight sector and behind many of the huge number of packages and products that reach retailers’ shelves is rail, an industry which has had to change as quickly, as electronic commerce and customers’ expectations have grown.

On time transit has always been crucial to rail freight operations but higher customer demands have increased this expectation further. Despite the fast moving changes in these markets and in customer requirements, DB Schenker Rail UK has recently announced record improvements in Moving Annual Average scores (MAA) and high percentages for Train Service Arrival Punctuality in 2015, that is arrivals within 15 minutes as scheduled. Royal Mail is a DB Schenker customer and David Hawkins, Head of Contract Operations at Royal Mail, said:

“Two months ago we saw a record arrival on the East Coast Mainline of 100% to time and that’s evolved through our partnership because of the way we work together and a journey over the past seven years based on honesty. Every year, the service has improved. At this moment in time, we’re holding a record 96.3% arrival to time within 10 minutes, which is excellent.”

Royal Mail also recently demonstrated their satisfaction with DB Schenker Rail UK’s performance by putting First Class mail and parcels on the trains for the first time in over ten years. DB Schenker Rail UK currently operates six daily services on the West Coast and two on the East Coast Mainline, along with maintaining Royal Mail’s fleet of 15 class 325 mail trains. Lucja Majewski, Account Manager for Royal Mail at DB Schenker Rail UK, said:

“The performance Royal Mail is experiencing with our services is the best it’s been in three years. We are delighted to be delivering First Class mail alongside our other services. This really demonstrates Royal Mail’s confidence in our performance and the excellent work that we have been doing in partnership with them.”

As with John Good, DB Schenker has ensured updates in technology keep abreast of customer demands. The majority of e commerce organisations have introduced their own tracking systems and, realising the potential benefit of this to customers of rail freight, DB Schenker Rail UK developed the unique tracking system Anubis. Anubis allows customers to trace their rail freight services 24 hours a day, including container movements, invoices and orders. It provides full EDI capabilities with customers and supply chain partners, allowing seamless data sharing and access.

Running trains of course also has different demands and problems yet many are still being resolved using continuous IT updates and DB Schenker Rail UK’s introduction of a Locomotive Reliability Team, built up of PhD Graduates, MSC undergraduates, and highly experienced front line engineers, has increased locomotive performance over 100%. Additionally, DB Schenker Rail UK has six mobile technicians to assist the DB Schenker Rail UK fleet who are highly trained in the field of fault diagnosis and equipped with the latest technology to support this knowledge.

This blend of IT competence all goes toward improved performance and with order fulfilment, train punctuality and wagon availability the key drivers toward increased customer satisfaction, Schenker is satisfied it is getting where it wants to be. One steel customer’s rating of DB Schenker Rail UK rose by 20% recently and cited health and safety performance and the introduction of an ‘out of hours’ dedicated contact as key reasons for their marked increase in satisfaction. Mark Fernandez, Head of Metals and Coal at DB Schenker Rail UK, said:

“It’s a collaborative effort that has helped in achieving this outstanding result. Thanks to the ground staff at Rotherham and Immingham, the Service Centre Team and the Administration Team who all played a major part in this achievement. Our customer, Outokumpu, is very happy with our performance and we continue to work in partnership with them to build on our relationship and further improve our customer satisfaction score.”

Just last month DB Schenker Rail UK secured contracts with construction companies United Asphalt, Brett Aggregates and J Clubb which will see a saving of two million road miles every year with a total of seven trains per week moving between 1,200 and 1,300 tonnes each across the country.

 We look forward to another year of contiued IT system developmentand watch the world grow ever smaller with each new innovation.