Don't let weather interrupt expanding ground transportation operations

Severe weather can be a major obstacle for ground transportation operations, but investing in warehouse distribution software can help fleet managers continue business as normal no matter how bad conditions get.

Many small and medium-sized freight organizations are feeling relatively optimistic about the new year - especially as nationwide manufacturing activity continues to rebound in the wake of the Great Recession. According to Reuters, U.S. producers in December charted the highest collective growth rate the sector had experienced in 11 months. The financial data firm Markit said its December U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index was 55 points, compared to 54.7 during the previous month. Similarly, firms also ramped up their hiring efforts, measuring the fastest job growth rate since March 2013. Between November and December, Markit's employment sub-index rose from 52.3 to 54.

"This tells us that business spending is picking up on the back of rising confidence, which adds to the sense that the recovery is [becoming] more self-sustaining," Chris Williamson, chief economist at the financial data company Markit, told Reuters.

Growth may face snags due to uncontrollable factors
Severe weather doesn't care how the U.S. economy is performing. Despite the fact that many ground transportation businesses will be boosting their overall activity in the early weeks of 2014, the growing likelihood of winter storms can quickly present bad news for any rapidly expanding fleet operations. Without the right logistics software, companies run the risk of losing valuable income, as road closures, unsafe driving conditions and excessive delays prevent truckers from making scheduled deliveries on time.

In fact, the start of the year has already seen relatively large, regional weather systems negatively impacting transportation systems. The New York Times reported that many city and state governments were bracing for severe blizzard-like conditions this week. In addition to several inches of snowfall, steadily dropping temperatures were threatening the safety of roadways as of Jan. 2. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced some suburban areas of New York City would even consider closing major highways if the driving conditions were poor enough.

This winter has already presented other parts of the U.S. with infrastructure challenges. According to The Dallas Morning News, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) had to close a major stretch of westbound Interstate 30 outside Dallas in early December 2013 because of a rare ice storm. The Dallas Police Department also temporarily closed the ramps onto highways such as Interstate 35 and Interstate 20.

Using technology to continue business as usual
Sudden events like these can have a negative impact on any company's ground transportation initiatives. However, warehouse distribution software can make it easier for fleet owners to control many of the variables of their operations despite the presence of severe weather conditions. For instance, automated technology allows business owners to increase the flexibility of their deliveries, as they can quickly reassign deliveries or reschedule shipments as need be. Route optimization software also comes in handy for managers who want to be able to identify alternative paths to ultimately avoid putting drivers at risk.

Investing in advanced logistics software will be an especially important business decision for fleet owners in the near future. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said it will be increasingly imperative to improve aging infrastructure across the country over the next several decades. Among the agency's major priorities will be improving the national bridge inspection program, developing a new tunnel safety program and enhancing motor carrier safety oversight. However, these projects will likely take a relatively long time, meaning ground distribution firms must find ways to avoid running into weather or infrastructure-related problems on highways.

As U.S. manufacturing activity continues to pick up, firms will depend heavily on ground transportation to move goods long distances across the country. Maintaining such steady growth into the future will be much easier with the right kind of automated technology. Rather than running the risk of losing business because of unexpected road closures and other side effects of severe weather events, managers can use logistics software to make sure they are able to run their operations with the same level of efficiency despite the presence of unpredictable external factors.