Automation in Trucking: What Does It Really Mean
When I have conversations with trucking industry veterans and experts and I tell them we built an automated 3PL, they are very quick to point out situations where automation will not work. They ask, “what happens when they lose an order” or “what happens when you encounter a snow storm.” I simply ask them “what do you do when that happens.”
The point is that automation should be thought of as a tool to enhance the jobs that humans do rather than serve as a complete substitute. It should be used to provide better service levels and greater visibility across the network while reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Many people hear automation and they think lower cost and low service-levels, which couldn’t be farther from the reality of transformation within the industry.
The bank teller/ATM is one of the most well-known and earliest examples of automation. Today there are still tellers to handle customer questions and execute complex transactions. But for the 95% of the time when that is not necessary, you can quickly have a machine execute a transaction with less human error and less wait time. At BridgeHaul we have automated 75% of all non-value added activities in procuring truckload freight while simultaneously improving the shipper experience. BridgeHaul can do everything a traditional 3PL can do, while a 3PL cannot do everything that BridgeHaul is capable of doing.
As an example, BridgeHaul can automatically determine the appropriate amount of detention pay based on when a driver arrives at a shipping location and when the bill of lading is signed based on geolocation. If detention pay is warranted it is applied automatically to the invoice and there is no need to spend resources auditing the accuracy of the charge. To take it a step further, a customer using BridgeHaul can see average wait time for every shipping location and break it down by time of day to determine where dock management and scheduling operations are inefficient.
While some 3PLs understand the benefits of automation and are heavily investing in technology, many others say the process is too complex to automate. The neysayers may be correct that the process is sometimes too complex to fully automate but those critics are missing the true opportunity. Furthermore, as artificial intelligence becomes more complex, there will be a time when 95% of the logistics process becomes automated.
It may take tech heavyweights like Amazon and Uber to enter the industry before startups like BridgeHaul are validated, but I suspect industry veterans’ views of automation will change fairly rapidly once large incumbents begin to see market share losses.