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The Growing Role of the Internet in Logistics Supply Chains

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Remember when the Internet first hit the scene? For many of us, this new technology provided an alternative way to find general information, listen to music, or maybe even read a story from the local daily newspaper (if it had a Web site) when we were home and in front of our desktop computer. Downloading pages was typically an agonizingly slow process, thanks to the dial-up connections that were the norm at the time, and most Web pages were simple and static, with few or no interactive features.

Flash forward to the present, where the Internet is not only a valuable resource, it’s also a vital part of many of our lives. From communicating to friends and peers via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, to managing bank accounts and purchasing goods and services, the Internet has made an impact on every facet of our society and in how businesses and organizations operate. Material handling is no exception, and facilities, managers and workers that embrace new online and cloud-based applications and programs will quickly improve the way they manage their operations.

Computer software platforms and applications have been an integral piece of the logistics supply chain puzzle for decades. Although beneficial in improving overall internal operations, they did not have the functionality to bridge the gap between on-site activities and tasks performed away from the site by vendors, suppliers and others, such as monitoring the status of inbound shipments or quickly communicate with other systems and personnel. These applications were also usually pricey and required an internal IT support technician or team to adequately monitor and maintain the software. As with most technology, they could quickly become outdated and require frequent updates or even replacement.

That all changed with the development of Internet-based transportation and logistics management applications and processes.

For some, e-mail is the first thing to come to mind when the term “Internet” is mentioned in conjunction with material-handling operations. While e-mail certainly has revolutionized the way facilities communicate with suppliers, vendors and staff, it’s just a small component of the overall big picture. Just as important is the way software is now developed and utilized. Operators no longer need to purchase their software from a retail outlet or have it mailed to them. Nor do they need to hire a custom programmer or additional IT technicians to implement and oversee the software. Today’s logistics management software is available right through the Internet and, in some cases, doesn’t require any installation or downloads to utilize (these are known as “cloud-based” applications, which will be examined more deeply in a future column).

The number of advancements—and products and services in general—have skyrocketed during the past decade, creating endless possibilities for material-handling operations to improve, streamline and, in some cases, even automate procedures that previously required assigned staff and skilled IT professionals to manage.

Material-handling operations can choose from a variety of different software packages for an assortment of different tasks. Some common ones are:

Shipment tracking. What previously required a phone call or fax communication can now be done using Internet-based software. These software applications allow for quick viewing of shipment statuses, such as when it was picked up and where in transit it is. It can also give staff the ability to access this information at any hour of the day, not just during operating hours.

Dock- and delivery-scheduling. Online software makes this important part of the logistics chain easy and seamless, especially when a facility incorporates a scheduling application that allows drivers to self-schedule their own deliveries online, instead of having to call them in.

Inventory control and management. Although software for managing inventory has been around for years, it usually required an individual to be in front of a computer or network
connection where the software was installed. No longer. Web-based applications allow facility personnel to access and manage this important task when away from the site, such as from a laptop with a wireless connection or through their Smartphone.

Staff scheduling. A paper work schedule pinned to a wall or on a clipboard is inefficient for both manager and worker alike. An online staff-scheduling application makes it easy for employees to check their schedules, while giving managers the flexibility to plan and modify work schedules from any Internet connection. This can be especially beneficial if a manager needs to make immediate changes to the operating schedule while off-site.

Yard and dock management. Managing equipment and resources online and in proven software is much easier and efficient than recording them on a sheet of paper on a clipboard or spreadsheet. Considering the cost of yard and dock equipment and machinery, a secure and backed-up database gives operators the peace-of-mind that all items are properly monitored and accounted for.

Regardless of the type of task you’re looking to improve or automate with software, chances are there’s an Internet-based application for it. A simple Google or Yahoo search is the first step in putting your material-handling operation on the path to greater efficiency.

Appointment-Plus is an industry-leading online scheduling software application used by food and beverage distributors, warehouses and other inbound facilities to manage their deliveries. The scheduler has booked over 60 million appointments and reservations since 2001. For more information visit