Note: This article was originally published on the DC Velocity Blog Logistics Problem Solving on September 7, 2017.

It’s hard to imagine logistics without track and trace technology. Before shipment tracking, freight shipments were recorded by hand with a pen, and much of what happened on a parcel’s journey from vendor to customer was unknown. Today, advanced logistics technology has brightened the path and track and trace technology has created faster and more efficient freight solutions for countless companies.

How it All Started

The origins of track & trace as we know it coincided with the advent of the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web. Prior to that, many carriers tracked their packages electronically, but it was not until the mid 90’s that carriers started to create a self-service user experience through the internet to view the information.

Today, more than 20 years later, there are many companies receiving this data from the carriers and presenting it to the user on their web screens. You can now see a map of where all your shipments are in real-time, and each shipment can be color coded (red, yellow, and green) to show the status of the given shipment. Track and trace has become an expected part of a customer’s shipping experience.

Deploy Track & Trace to Improve Logistics Management?

Track & trace ultimately helps companies provide better customer service. When used to track inbound freight, it allows companies to plan their receiving efforts more efficiently. When used to track outbound freight to the customer, it provides a way for the customer to have instant access to the status of their shipment, preventing lengthy calls to customer service to find out where their order is and when it will arrive. Track & trace data allows for the shipping process to move smoothly and expectedly, and provides opportunities for remedies when things don’t go smoothly.

There are many ways to provide improved logistics management, but what companies really need is a system that provides end-to-end track & trace and makes the data actionable. I believe there will be a second generation of track & trace solutions that allow a user to view the status of their order from end-to-end and makes the data actionable. Today’s solutions only show you the status of the order once it leaves the shipping dock.

When the track & trace data shows that the truck with your order has broken down, there’s no button you can press on a fancy tracking screen that will fix the truck and get the freight moving again. That’s why I believe the next generation of track & trace will integrate the data from the vendor (for the inbound freight) all the way to the end consumer (for the outbound freight). The data will be made actionable which will allow a company to diagnose the cause of their late shipments and develop sustainable strategies to fix it.

Choosing the Right Track & Trace Provider

When evaluating a track & trace supplier, I would ask them one question: ‘How will you help me create strategies that will provide me with a competitive advantage? If they can’t answer this question and show you how their system is going to make the data actionable, then you should find a different provider.

Implementing a track & trace solution should provide the following three things:

  1. Actionable data’this allows you to dig deeper into how you’re performing and diagnose the issues
  2. Strategy development’data to identify where to begin and what actions to take to solve these issues
  3. Strategy deployment’that allows you to expand beyond how you are doing things today which creates competitive advantage and long-term value. Seeing a bunch of color-coded dots on a map is cool, but impacting the bottom line is valuable.