The Technology behind Supply Chain and Logistics Apps

Michael Morozov
Founder & CEO

One of the core features of the logistics and supply chain industry is that the business is always spread over a large geographic area with lots of people, vehicles, goods, and assets scattered miles away from the base and from each other.

To keep track of everything that is going on in a logistics company, it should maintain reliable communication with its remote personnel at all times.

On the other hand, for the people on the road, being able to connect with the headquarters, get driving directions, find the nearest gas station or cafe is also of utmost importance.

To enable all these and other functions, logistics companies implement applications connecting the dispatchers with the field personnel, allowing monitoring all company assets, and providing on-the-road support to drivers.

As technology evolves, logistics and supply chain apps become increasingly packed with advanced features and functions that make business flows smoother and the overall company performance better.

Let’s look at the functions that logistics apps offer in 2018 and the technology that is behind them.

mobile applications in logistics

Two sides of a logistics app: desktop and mobile

In a logistics business, one part of its assets and human resources is always bound to the same place – headquarters, dispatcher stations, warehouses – while the other part is mobile and always on the move – vehicles, drivers, goods.

The primary task of a logistics app is to tie these two parts in a single network and to serve both parts of the operation.

Thus, a logistics app usually consists of two interfaces – a desktop or web interface for the in-house personnel, and a mobile one for those on the road.

While the functions of the two interfaces may overlap, they serve different purposes and, therefore, their feature sets are also different. Of course, they form a single system and rely on each other to provide data and update the information.

Admin panel

The admin panel of a logistics app is intended for the management and dispatcher staff usually stationed at the headquarters and controlling the operations. Their task is to control the entire operation of the company – customer calls, vehicle status, personnel availability, warehouse inventory.

logistics mobile apps

Geolocation

The geolocation function allowing locating each vehicle in real time gives the dispatchers control over the entire fleet of the company. With GPS trackers installed in each truck or in the driver’s mobile device, their current locations are known immediately. The geolocation function also allows locating mobile devices with no GPS tracker by their WiFi signal.

Knowing the current location of the vehicle serves multiple purposes:

  • Accurate estimation of the arrival time to notify the customer.
  • Idle vehicles detection, which may indicate an accident or a breakdown. In such cases, the dispatcher can adjust the arrival time for the customer and take steps to assist the driver.
  • Detection of deviations from the agreed route that may indicate vehicle theft. Seeing such a deviation and getting no contact from the driver, the dispatcher can alert the police.
  • Automatic notifications to the customer triggered by the geofencing feature that is related to GPS tracking. Geofencing detects the vehicle entering and exiting a predefined area, for example, the destination point, and can notify the customer automatically that their delivery is almost there.

For geolocation and the related functions, logistics apps often use the Google Maps API to embed the actual map in their UI and the Geolocation API to allow device location by Wi-Fi or GPS.

mobile app geolocation

Chat

In a logistics application, the chat can be used to communicate both with the field personnel and with the customers. Via the chat, dispatchers can provide quick assistance to the drivers, for example, the driver may notify the dispatcher about a road closure that causes a delay or about their vehicle breakdown and get the instructions from the dispatcher.

The personnel responsible for customer contacts can use the chat to answer various questions about the company’s terms and conditions as well as about the status of a specific delivery.

The logistics chat can implement a chatbot for some simple operations, such as tracking an order by its number or providing information about the prices, refunds or areas of service.

UPS, a global logistics company with over a hundred-year history, has implemented a chatbot as a channel of communicating with customers. The company uses artificial intelligence in its conversational interface to improve its service.

Fleet management

The admin panel can also include a dashboard for monitoring the current status of the company’s vehicle fleet. The dispatcher can immediately see which vehicles are currently on the road, in repair, or idle. The app receives the geolocation data and displays the location of each vehicle.

The same feature processes the drivers’ input, as well. In the event of any breakdown, the driver will feed the data into the app to notify the manager that the truck needs inspection or repair.

The same dashboards can also show lots of other information – the age of every vehicle, the dates of their last regular inspection, the repairs data, and the upcoming inspections. The fleet management feature helps to plan the fleet much more effectively and respond to emergencies quicker.

Asset and inventory management

Logistics companies handle thousands of shipments that may be located anywhere at any moment of time – on the way to the warehouse, somewhere inside the warehouse, in a truck, already delivered, lost, misplaced… The logistics app can help the company to keep a better track of each item and find them easily.

To enable tracking, all items should be marked with QR codes, RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags or NFC (near-field communication) tags. The warehouse personnel scanning the QR codes or tags feed the data into the system allowing pinpointing the location of each item.

Solutions for huge warehouses can be built using BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) beacons. The beacons are installed in the warehouse and send signals to the database when the tagged item is within their range. The BLE beacons do not need a clear line-of-sight to locate the item and provide rather a high accuracy.

The Scandit app, for example, is a comprehensive warehousing solution for inventory tracking from the manufacturer to retailer. The app uses all sorts of advanced technology, from QR code readers to augmented reality and image recognition.

Mobile app

The mobile logistics app is intended for the field personnel, mostly, vehicle drivers. Its functionality is directly related to the needs of drivers.

Geolocation

For drivers, the geolocation feature is, probably, the most critical component of the app. In the mobile version, geolocation performs the following tasks:

  • Identify the driver’s location on the map. This feature can help in case of an emergency when the driver needs to call the police or ambulance.
  • Locate nearby drivers. If the driver needs urgent assistance, they can contact their colleagues nearby for help.

The Google Maps API used in the mobile app allows for accurate tracking of the driver’s position in real-time. For tracking, the app can use either the GPS module in the driver’s mobile device or the Wi-Fi signal from that device.

Traffic data and routing

Before starting the journey, drivers calculate their routes to the destination and estimate the time of arrival. This data is fed into the system and is communicated to the customer. However, during the journey, the driver may run into unexpected situations, such as road closures or traffic jams, which can increase the journey time significantly.

To avoid or minimize the delay, the logistics company can include the traffic layer in the Google Maps API to show up-to-date information about the traffic situation. The driver can check the map to see whether there is an accident, a road repair or heavy traffic ahead and adjust their route to bypass the congestion.

mobile app map

Finding gas stations along the route

For the drivers, it is always good to know whether there is a gas station ahead when the fuel gauge is nearing “Empty”. The logistics app showing the gas stations in the vicinity can help the driver to plan their journey more effectively.

In addition to locating the gas stations, the app can provide all sorts of other related information – fuel prices, available amenities, driving efficiency, etc. Some of the available apps even allow paying for fuel and offering all sorts of promotions.

Check, for example, GasBuddy containing the info on hundreds of gas stations across the US and having a payment option, too. The app offers an API allowing integrating its functions in your custom product.

mobile app gas station

If you are using the Google Maps service, there is also a tool allowing showing gas stations on the map. The Places API supports searching for specific places on the map, gas stations among them.

Voice navigation

The market is full of route navigators, both free and paid, but it may be a good idea to implement the navigation service as one of the functions of your logistics app.

Anyone who has ever driven a vehicle along an unfamiliar route knows how hard it is to keep the focus on the road and check the map at the same time. Voice navigation solves the problem by providing the instructions without distracting the driver.

Most voice navigators get the updates on the road situations, traffic signs, speed limits, major repairs, and closures and use this information to help drivers plan their journeys.

For example, the CoPilot Truck app offers reliable navigation and route planning to calculate the most optimal routes, save time and avoid fines. The app package includes an API for easy integration with other solutions.

Time tracking

Drivers can use the app to log the time they arrived at the warehouse, left it for the next journey, arrived at the customer’s location, returned to the base, and clocked out at the end of their shift.

This data can be fed to the admin panel to monitor the drivers’ roster and to plan the staff more effectively. For the drivers, this function allows tracking their time and having better control over their salaries.

The app can be set to log regular shifts, overtime, night shifts, standby shifts, and holidays. This way, the driver can keep the record of his hourly work and rates as well as of any increases or deductions, for example, for working overtime or taking an extra day off.

Some solutions automate the process by using Bluetooth-enabled devices connected to the truck engine and recording the driving time in the app. To see how it works, check the KeepTrucking product, which not only logs the driving time but also reminds the driver to take a break after their working cycle finishes.

Custom logistics solutions – a must-have for supply chain companies in 2018

As you can see, logistics apps can be as multi-functional as you can imagine. Their functionality depends only on the specific requirements of your business.

Today, a logistics company implementing a software solution to monitor and control its fleet and inventory immediately gets an advantage over its competitors.

Logistics apps allow saving time and costs, planning the company’s resources in the most optimal way, increasing customer satisfaction, and reducing claims. They help to improve the safety of the warehouse personnel and drivers and prolong the service life of vehicles and other equipment.

We invite logistics companies to discuss their visions of a software solution for their operation and will be glad to cooperate with them in creating it. Contact us for detailed consultation and professional advice.

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