Maximize intermodal efficiency with logistics software

Distributing products, raw materials and other goods across the continent often requires a complex network of variables. Transportation management software can help fleet managers maintain full organization no matter the state of the economy.

As 2013 comes to a close, freight businesses are feeling relatively optimistic about the future after what was a largely positive year in terms of industry growth. In June, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) released its "U.S. Freight Transportation Forecast" report, which concluded overall revenue for distributors would reach $1.3 trillion in 2024, which would be 63.6 percent more than the amount of money that was generated in 2012. The online publication Investing Daily said trucking would account for more than 80 percent of that total by 2024, which is only slightly higher than the share of the market it currently holds.

Fleet owners have more variables to manage
Trucks continue to be one of the most affordable options in ground transportation. However, a variety of external factors have indicated that an intermodal approach to distribution in many industries may be the most economically viable option moving forward into 2014. Investing Daily said the high cost of labor, as well as the volatility of the global fuel economy, has made it increasingly difficult for fleet owners to predict their yearly overhead spending habits. Similarly, the the slow recovery from the U.S. economy in the wake of the Great Recession has had a profound impact on the availability of business opportunities for freight companies.

In fact, the online publication Transportation Topics cited the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics' (BTS) "Commodity Flow Survey" report, which found trucks are traveling shorter distances than ever before. During 2012, nearly 85 percent of ground shipments from these vehicles were less than 500 miles. The average trip charted 489 miles.

Much of this trend has to do with an increasing dependence on intermodal transportation systems when shipping products and raw materials around the country. Whereas many businesses relied on a combination of two different fleets for longer journeys in the past, managers have become more interested leveraging the benefits of intermodal shipping on a more regional basis. A separate article published on Transportation Topics indicated that intermodal rail volume in the U.S. economy through the week ending in Dec. 7 of this year was 9.4 percent higher than it was during the same time period in 2012. The energy industry is currently one of the most frequent users of this method of transportation. The website cited data from the Association of American Railroads that said petroleum and related products rose 18.6 percent compared to last year.

Other sectors of the economy haven't been as active in recent years. Fleet managers in a wide variety of industries are still holding out for more telling signs of improvement for the near future. The online news resource Progressive Railroading said intermodal transportation may be especially important in helping ease overhead costs.

"Our biggest concern is the sustainability of the economic recovery. We have seen encouraging growth in some products we transport, but we're still not back to pre-recession levels elsewhere," Wick Moorman, chairman and CEO of the railroad company Norfolk Southern Corp., told Progressive Railroading. "We need an economic and policy environment more conducive to growth."

Automated tools create more opportunities for business growth
Fleet owners who are responsible for collaborating with a variety of other companies during the shipping process may want to consider investing in advanced technology such as logistics software. These tools make it much easier for managers to organize all of their resources in one centralized system and ultimately make more informed decisions about ongoing operations. Businesses can also eliminate any day-to-day inefficiencies that have an impact on spending. Additionally, freight organizations may want to utilize equipment maintenance software, especially when so many trucks are now taking shorter, but more frequent trips. Rather than wasting excessive amounts of time performing routine maintenance on vehicles, an automated software program can streamline the process and get trucks back on the road as soon as possible. Fleet owners don't necessarily have to wait for the entire economy to pick up to start experiencing an increase in productivity.