Like many other industries, transportation did not have the 2021 that it may have envisaged. The instability of a global pandemic was keenly felt in an industry built on connectivity and movement, but it isn’t correct to say that it was an annus horribilis for all things transportation. Challenges bring changes, and the difficulties of COVID-19 could well end up creating a world of innovation, creativity and development in transportation and logistics. We are always seeking elegant solutions to complex problems, after all.
Where should companies direct their focus when it comes to transportation and logistics software in 2021? Trends come and trends go, but the industry is poised to face a unique set of circumstances as the future collides with the present. Companies do not want to just survive, they want to thrive. For any establishment looking to take the next step in transportation, these are the red letter areas that need special attention.
The safety of transported goods
Ensuring the safety of the transported goods in question has never been more important. With regards to moving vaccines from factory to patient, making sure that there are no problems on the road is quite literally a matter of life and death. This is true no matter how you approach it, be it the immediate health of those receiving the vaccine or the wider societal and economic health of a world in crisis. Companies around the world must pay ever closer attention to efficiency and safety, inspiring confidence in consumers and contractors alike.
There is more to it than making sure goods find their way to their designated port safely. There is an environmental side to this that often goes ignored by the wider public. According to a Packaging Europe article in 2018, nearly half of the total environmental cost of shipping is caused by damage alone, and that is the best estimate. Companies all around the world are constantly looking into transportation solutions that will lessen that damage, with alternative forms of packaging taking the brunt of the attention, but bringing the number of mishaps down will bring results. It might sound obtuse to crow about a need to be aware of transporting goods safely, but it is a spot that will garner more attention in the coming years.
COVID-19 and border restrictions
The chaos wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic is well-documented. Not a day has passed without apocalyptic news reports and loudly voiced fears of current health and future economic catastrophes. The shutting of borders and international trade routes impacts global economics, but the damage it causes to the transportation industry goes beyond that. Crossing borders is its bread and butter, after all.
There is no sign of COVID-19 disappearing from the headlines anytime soon, so expect the issue of border restrictions to continue to dominate the transportation conversation throughout 2021. Increasingly complex statuses will lead to a growing need for innovation in logistics solutions and transportation management software, as companies strive to keep corridors open and business moving. This is going to be a long-term battle, as the industry strives to offset the damage caused by the global response to the pandemic. One Statista estimate predicts a 6.1% decrease in the gross value of the logistics industry, a number that varies wildly from market to market, although assuming that anyone comes out unscathed is wildly naive. COVID-19 has presented the global society with a new set of challenges, and the transportation and logistics industry will need to dig deep to stay afloat.
Cloud-Based Systems and Digitalization Adoption
Think the transportation industry is immune to the unstoppable wave that is the digitalization of all aspects of society? Think again. The fragility of humanity, so cruelly exposed once again by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, has made the need for cloud-based systems front-page news in the industry once more, opening up a habitual can of worms that may well prove mighty difficult to shut. Elon Musk may have put a car in space, but putting vehicles on the cloud? That isn’t quite as simple as one might assume.
Why is it so important that transportation takes digitalization very seriously? The one-size-fits-all nature of the cloud speaks for itself, but any company worth its salt will see countless benefits in improved transport management software. To begin with, the cloud has made purchasing costly hardware to track and manage vehicles largely obsolete, allowing efficiency and progress to be traced from the comfort of the office via a single system. This means zero hardware on the premises, saving capital in the present and the future.
Planning transportation is one thing, but planning logistics? Another kettle of fish entirely. Luckily for those in the industry, cloud-based software is here to offer painless solutions. Moving to a digitalized model leads to better management of time and transport, streamlined costs, more efficient quality evaluation, and a wide range of other benefits, including reduced costs and exponentially better communication. Custom logistics software has the potential to change the industry for the better, and the move to the cloud will likely be accompanied by wistful laments about foresight and how it should have happened sooner.
Self-Driving Trucks (automated vehicles)
While the advent of automation isn’t going to make truckers, helmsmen, and drivers obsolete just yet, the days are coming when self-driving trucks will no longer exist in the realms of science-fiction. There is a lot more to shepherding transportation across the globe than simply manning the vehicle in question. Truckers don’t simply drive trucks, helmsmen don’t simply control ferries, after all. There is a myriad of tasks that come along with these basic tenants, from securing cargo to dealing with the logistical and bureaucratic entanglements at borders and beyond, not to mention the off-hand customer service and human face benefits of such things.
Still, automation remains a pertinent discussion for modern times. Some companies such as Scania and Volvo have already dipped their tentative toes into the waters of self-driving trucks, with a truck from the former completing a journey from Sweden to the Netherlands without a hitch. This is merely the beginning.
It isn’t difficult to understand why companies are eager to embrace the potential of automation. Self-driving vehicles essentially eliminate off-hours, allowing for streamlined service and a wider calendar for productivity. Machines don’t require breaks, after all. There is also an environmental angle to this, as automated vehicles also come with a keen eye on sustainability.
Ultimately, it could well be the natural shrinking of the market that makes self-driving trucks the norm as opposed to the idea. As recently as 2018, more than 150,000 trucking jobs went unfulfilled across Europe, highlighting a shortage of workers in an industry that has long relied on them. Transportation romantics might dismiss the idea of self-driving trucks, but the advent of this branch of transportation and logistics software is closer than you might think.
From the rousing to the red-tape. Self-driving trucks might represent the future of the transportation industry, but they need to stay within the rules every bit as vital in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. While many trends in transportation and logistics will vary from company to company, regulation compliance is ubiquitous. Simply put, complying isn’t optional, it is obligatory.
Innovative developments in transportation and logistics software have made this easier, as programs can quickly evaluate whether or not a particular company is up to date with compliance. This isn’t to say that companies can afford to rest easy on the subject, far from it. Failing to comply with new regulations can be terminal, no matter the legislation in question, be it employee-related or even the basic health and safety tenants of the industry. Staying within the lines will always be a trend, no matter the industry.
Mobility as a Service (MaaS)
A relatively new development in the world of transportations and logistics software (the idea dates back to Sweden in the ‘90s, but has only caught on in the last decade), Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is essentially a joint digital channel that integrates various transport services into one easily accessible point, streamlining supply and demand in the process. The drive behind such things is obvious, as modern demands for smoother travel lead to a greater amalgamation of services. This is where MaaS comes in.
MaaS ticks boxes on both ends of the system. From the supply side, a diverse menu of options is easily available to the customer, be they public transport or more private possibilities. For those looking for transport, MaaS brings everything together into one simple channel, removing the hassle-heavy chopping and changing between tickets, time, and payment. In a world that is forever looking to that which gives the best value, MaaS is a welcome development in transport management software.
Since 2003, no trip to London has been complete without an Oyster card. Expect any major city with its ear to the ground to offer a similar model in the immediate future.
More use of artificial intelligence (AI) in transportation and smart mobility
Much like automated vehicles, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer a trend that exists only in the literature of Asimov, Herbert, and the rest. The two go hand-in-hand after all, as developments in AI have made self-driving trucks a possibility through improved motion sensors and automated evaluation capabilities, allowing machines to mimic human behavior in even the most unorthodox of situations. If automated vehicles are the future of transportation, it is because AI has allowed them to be.
The tentacles of AI in transportation go way beyond automated trucks. It is vital in collecting and processing data, be it for traffic congestion, scheduling or flow, for the efficient transport of goods across oceans, tracks, and roads, improving public safety, and a myriad of other things. AI can help with designing an optimal transit network for any given community, picking out areas of weakness in an instant. The search for the needle in the haystack has been rendered superfluous by the developments in AI.
AI is transforming industries of all types across the world, everything from healthcare to banking. The growth of the transportation industry from the steamboat in 1787 to the self-driving truck of the 21st century has been built on technological innovation, at which AI currently sits front and center. Put simply, AI increases safety, lessens logjams, streamlines productivity, and reduces costs. In 2022, artificial intelligence could be the defining factor in better transportation solutions.
Open platforms and data to drive technology-enabled mobility services (Open Mobility)
Many expected the growth of open platforms to be one of the major transportation trends of 2022, but the chaos and confusion caused by the coronavirus caused its impact to be lighter than hoped. 2021 will not go the same way, as many of the trends described above depend on open data availability and transparency across the board. The move towards open platforms and data to drive technology-enabled mobility services is not a new one in transportation, but it will gather pace in the coming year.
The success (or lack thereof) of MaaS depends on the development of open platforms. Without them, prospective customers will not be able to access all the information required to make the choice in question, nipping the innovation in the bud before it has a chance to bloom. Of course, this all sets alarm bells ringing in the world of regulation compliance, further confirming the importance of staying within the rules of the game.
Sustainability and environmental regulation
Finally, 2022 will see continued drive and desire for increasingly ‘green’ modes of transportation. The industry often bears the brunt of activist ire, with no shortage of graphics detailing the emissions of planes, trains, and automobiles. The legitimacy and accuracy of such arguments are for another time, but their existence is not up for debate. For the transportation industry, being one step ahead of the game is paramount.
With that in mind, increasing attention must and will be paid to developing sustainable and environmentally-friendly ways of working. The days of guzzling fuel in the name of commerce are, thankfully, long gone. On a micro level, the needs of the future are managed with every instance of carpooling, ride-sharing, or decision to walk, while large companies continue to work day and night in trying to unlock the sustainability box when it comes to larger cargo. Automation is a step in the right direction, but more steps are required before success can be considered. As more and more countries around the world are embracing environmentally-friendly regulations, this once again becomes a priority area of the industry. Transportation solutions are required for this most global of problems.
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