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When disaster strikes, technology can make all the difference explains Tim Fawkes of transport management company 3t

As recent news reports demonstrate, the UK is ill equipped to deal with adverse weather conditions and a sudden snowstorm can cause considerable disruption to transport operations, costing industry thousands of pounds. However, in many European countries where snow is an everyday part of winter life, preparation pays dividends; vehicles are fitted with winter tyres and the authorities clear snow quickly and effectively. Fortunately, weather disruption is rare in the UK, but it is both costly and problematic for businesses without contingency arrangements in place.

Safety first
When managing transport and logistics in difficult conditions, providing a responsible and safe service is paramount. We all want to go the extra mile in delivering service excellence, but not at the risk of an accident or fatality. Being safe is the number one consideration in transportation in poor weather conditions, so auditing your logistics partners, ensuring they are part of your health and safety programme is essential before any service is agreed.

Communication is key
In adversity, the key to managing services efficiently is effective communication. If you are able to advise customers of delivery problems prior to the event, they are less likely to escalate and customers can reschedule their manufacturing plan or pre-advise their own customers. Weather reports are reasonably accurate and accessible 24/7, so taking the time to review these in advance saves an enormous amount time, difficulty and goodwill. Weather conditions at your facility may be different from your customer’s location, particularly if delivering across the continent; and so possible disruption may not be obvious. As Wouter Verhoef, 3t’s Country Manager in France explains, keeping clients informed should be a central part of any transport policy, "Communicating adverse weather warnings proactively to our customers has become a crucial part of providing informed transport management services."

The application of technology
But industry isn’t just affected by delayed or cancelled deliveries; when conditions are bad problems may be compounded by staff being unable to travel to work. However, when it comes to transport planning and communication, this no longer needs to be a problem due to huge advances in technology which enable remote working. Many of our clients can manage their transport system through remote service connections via a VPN (virtual private network) connection. This enables access to the whole transport management system from any location with a broadband connection which means that transport planning can be undertaken remotely, including receipt of orders and communication to carriers, as well as monitoring tracking and cost. Furthermore, even if staff are able to make it to work in poor weather, the number of resulting issues can be so great that the transport planner doesn’t know which one to resolve first. Having a central planning function to provide backup and support can help prioritise issues and support the communication process.

Keeping your options open
Working with your own fleet or with a single carrier/single fleet solution also poses an increased risk when there is a problem as you quite literally have all your eggs in one basket. Using multiple carriers increases the options for problem solving as you can call in additional resources from other regionally based carriers. This facilitates the management of despatch to ensure that urgent orders are fulfilled as a priority. As a service based industry, most hauliers will do their best to be flexible and to help in times of need. There is a saying in the transport industry that you’re only as good as your last load – it’s all about delivering a great service. Hauliers know that if they can achieve this, they can extend their relationship and gain more business.

Be prepared
Countries with more extreme climates experience less disruption because they prepare, so contingency planning will help maximise resources and minimise wasted time when the unexpected occurs. Creating remedial action in the form of a written operating procedure, agreed between internal departments, carrier partners and customers before issues arise will give you the advantage when problems do occur. Whilst it’s impossible to consider every eventuality, a back up plan for systems’ failure, power-cuts, staff shortages and extreme weather conditions will save time in the heat of the moment. It will also help to ensure a calm, structured approach that facilitates the management of cost as well as delivery of an acceptable level of service.

Reporting and accountability
When troubleshooting or reacting to a crisis, reporting often goes out of the window as there is rarely enough time to capture the details of the issues. The true cost of problems is not always understood and quickly forgotten about – until of course the transport costs are reviewed at the end of the month and questions are asked. As transport management experts, we advise the capturing issues as they occur within your system, identifying the subsequent cost of issues as a standard part of the transport planning process. Inevitably, someone will be held accountable for cost changes, so you need to be able to provide the back up information to justify costs.

Central tracking solutions
Tracking solutions are usually carrier specific, but companies that use a centralised transport management system such as 3t’s Global Carrier Manager (GCM) are able to track across all carriers. Using a system like GCM enables customer service departments to see where orders are regardless of the carrier used through a web based customer service dashboard. Issues are logged when carriers communicate delays and automatic checks are in place when the carrier doesn’t confirm key delivery milestones, improving both service levels and the flow of information.

As logistics experts, at 3t we believe that the secret to efficient transport management is the automation of standard activities, so that time and resources can be spent on solving the non-standard activity and managing communication – which becomes even more important when problems occur. We are fortunate to live and work in an age when technology offers so many possibilities, and technology, unlike people, doesn’t get stressed or overwhelmed when disaster strikes. Whilst we can never completely avoid the unexpected, with planning, communication and automation, we can at least reduce its adverse consequences.

About the author
Tim Fawkes is Business Development Director at 3t, and has over 20 years’ experience in the transport industry, identifying and implementing logistics solutions throughout Europe. 3t (www.3t-europe.com) is a transport management company that helps organisations reduce their transport costs and increase control of their supply chain. 3t has offices in the UK, France and Spain. For more information, contact Tim on 01162 824 111, or email tim.fawkes@3t-europe.com.

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