Small data drives big transportation results

  • July 31, 2023
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Pitches for transportation management systems (TMS) usually include software demonstrations in a real-world delivery scenario. They often feature a delivery area map with color-coded routes, numbered stops and truck icons proceeding along their paths like diligent ants. It’s a successful strategy for software providers because it places you, the prospective client, in the control tower, where you can imagine their delivery operation becoming an optimized juggernaut.

Route-optimizing algorithms usually receive the most focus — and with good reason. In a crowded field of TMS providers, proprietary algorithms (when compared to those of the competition) unlock small percentages of additional transportation network savings when applied at scale.

Optimizing algorithms need comprehensive data

However, there's a wide gulf between your vision of what those algorithms can do for you and achieving results in the real world. Many organizations take on an integration project without completely understanding how the software and underlying programming make optimized decisions. Usually, the fundamental weight and dimension data of shipped products determines those decisions.

The sad fact is that many businesses have fallen behind when gathering weight and dimension data for all their SKUs. There was a time — before huge data sets and incomprehensible algorithms — when small bits of information, like the size and weight of packaged goods, weren't considered all that important in operational decision-making.

Small details make all the difference

The primary product records in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system include each SKU’s weight and dimensions. But coordinating with warehouse supervisors to gather this information can seem inefficient, so this critical step is often skipped. Tribal knowledge in transportation planning and on the warehouse floor would aid in loading trucks as efficiently as possible. Maybe an enterprising logistics coordinator or warehouse manager can create a spreadsheet of product combinations that could ship without exceeding delivery truck volume or weight capacity. But, with the pressures of daily operations, usually no one makes the effort. Because they view relatively cheap transportation as a commodity, few companies quantify their shipping performance based on cube usage.

The need to accurately capture weight and dimensional data becomes painfully obvious when TMS software runs an optimized delivery model with missing or inaccurate data. Let’s say the software reckons that five semi-loads of product can be merged into a single full-size cargo van at tremendous cost savings. (Think of it as the proverbial 10 pounds of kit in a five-pound bag.) There’s no quicker way for your warehouse staff to lose confidence in your brand-new TMS than to receive this “optimized” outcome.

Fortunately, there’s an efficient way to collect the necessary data

NTT DATA manages weight and dimensional data-gathering initiatives for clients at a low cost per SKU. We install an appropriate dimensioning device at your warehouse for several weeks. It weighs and measures every product packaged for shipment. We compile the weight and dimension data in spreadsheet form, along with a photograph, and upload it to your ERP system.

But the process can’t end there. You must keep the dimensional database within your TMS up to date. If not, the gradual effects of entropy will undo all your efforts. That’s why we provide clients with a playbook that describes how to manage weight and dimensional data-gathering activities for new-item setups and supplier-provided products.

— By Ben Gutsch

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