Transportation Business Intelligence: Drowning in Data or Winning with Insights?

Supply chain and logistics professionals face many challenges, including drowning in data!

This is especially true in transportation management, as companies work across many modes, many geographies, and many sources of data, including from GPS and mobile devices.

There’s a lot of discussion these days about the importance of converting data into actionable intelligence. Why is this so important today?

“The reason actionable intelligence is being discussed today and why it’s so important is because of the incredible impact it can have on all aspects of your business,” said Karen Sage, Chief Marketing Officer at MercuryGate in a recent episode of Talking Logistics. “The type of analyses you can do today were really challenging, if not impossible, before the advancement of business intelligence tools. Today you can ask and get fast answers to really complicated questions, like ‘What is the average transportation cost for shipping widget X by less-than-truckload this year to date?’ — questions that in the past required a lot of time and data crunching to answer.”

“The faster [you can analyze the data], the better, and having the data provided to you in ways that can help you respond more quickly, the more effective it is,” she added.

Of course, converting data into actionable intelligence is easier said than done. What are the main challenges shippers and logistics service providers face in this area?

“With regards to shippers, Eric Johnson [at American Shipper] just did a great survey and it showed that only 5 percent of shippers believe they have extremely accurate data,” said Sage. “Even more surprising, 20 percent of shippers said they have no idea how accurate their data is.”

The fact that many shippers still don’t use a transportation management system (TMS) is another issue.

“So the first challenge shippers face is getting measurement and instrumentation in place,” Sage added. “You’ve heard the old adage, ‘garbage in, garbage out’ — I think that’s truly relevant here. You need to invest in technology, such as a TMS, to help record and aggregate the data so that you can effectively track and manage it. Once you have those systems running and recording the data, that’s really when the magic can happen.”

The challenge for logistics service providers is a bit different, as Sage explained:

“Logistics service providers are more likely to have technology in place such as a TMS, but the challenge they face is how to extend that data to the shipper, how to provide it in the right context and in ways that the shipper can leverage it and can provide above-and-beyond insight into what’s going on with their transportation operations.”

Over time, business intelligence and analytics have become an important component of transportation management systems. How have BI/analytics capabilities in TMS evolved over the years?

“Business Intelligence isn’t totally new to TMS; we’ve had sophisticated and customizable reporting in the core system for a long time,” said Sage. “What has changed dramatically over the years is the ability to take data analysis to a whole new level. First, there’s a lot more access to data, from different places, and a greater ability to understand how all of that data is related. Users also have a greater ability to filter and parse the data, and by doing so, they can get answers to very specific questions on the fly. Instead of having common pre-built reports, users can ask and answer questions on the fly like ‘What about the last six months?’ or ‘What about only on truckload?’…Today’s BI for transportation solutions provide more [configurable and flexible] ways to slice and dice the data.”

As I commented a few weeks ago, just like there are some people who still use flip phones, there are some people who will continue to use Excel tables and printouts to review what’s happening in their transportation operations. They will ultimately be less productive and effective than those who adopt more modern and powerful BI tools.

I encourage you to watch the rest of my conversation with Karen for additional insights and advice on this topic, including how BI for transportation management will evolve in the years ahead and what new capabilities and innovations are on the horizon.

After watching, post a question or comment and keep the conversation going!