Asset Tracking Pace in 2020: Much Progress Made, Much More to Do

Suppliers’ efforts to enhance their intermodal asset tracking products are progressing in a demanding environment that both features multiple signs of progress and offers the prospect of future advancements.

Allen Thomas, chief strategy officer at Advent eModal addressed the importance of improving how assets are tracked across freight modes and offered some encouragement about solutions.

"It’s a major issue," he told Intermodal Insights. "Most stakeholders have done all they can to optimize and digitize within their organizations, but it matters little if they lose sight as the freight moves across nodes. Our ultimate vision is to create solutions that directly reduce this ‘friction’ that exists at each node exchange."

His company addresses that by integrating its eModal product through API data connections with TMS and dispatch systems. That approach enhances asset tracking, tracing and fee payment functions without having to use a website.

PowerFleet’s General Manager Norman Thomas stressed how data integration can aid providers and customers alike.

"The volume of data, from multiple systems such as in-cab cameras, driver performance and safety systems, chassis and container tracking systems and sensors can cause data paralysis from so many disparate systems," he said. "Integrating our data into customers’ critical management and reporting systems is extremely important to ensure customers can use the information effectively."

Christopher Plaat, senior vice president and general manager at BlackBerry Radar, underscored the importance of focusing capabilities to perform the actual tracking of the asset, whether it is a chassis or a container across every step of the intermodal path, from shipper to origin dray, rail move, destination truck trip to the delivery location.

Some groups are seeking to advance solutions.

Sue Rutherford, vice president of global marketing at Orbcomm, praised the Digital Container Shipping Association and the Container Owners Association "for fostering cross-industry collaboration and dialogue on open standards as a key building block for digital transformation. These initiatives will also contribute to the big goal of end-to-end (E2E) supply chain visibility, integrating cargo and shipment data from first to last mile across production, trucking, rail, warehousing, ocean, ports and more."

She focused on the future as well. "The smart and hyper-connected E2E supply chain is not yet reality," she said, "but we can be sure it is coming towards us."

What’s Ahead

In the early months of 2020, the emphasis is on using advanced learning tools in a variety of adaptations, three senior industry executives told Intermodal Insights.

"ID Systems, with our PowerFleet for Logistics platform, is applying machine learning to better understand the data from our telematics devices and sensors to improve the information our customers use to make better decisions," according to Norman Thomas.

For BlackBerry Radar, technology is used to report bare or mounted chassis status, with algorithms and without additional hardware sensors, said Plaat. Products are tailored to an intermodal market that demands durability, easy installation and collection of valuable data that providers can convey to their customers, he added.

Allen Thomas said the company’s eModal app and other technology are being deployed to enhance productivity, both for drivers and customers whose freight is being moved.

"Certain terminals will be enabling drivers to 'check-in' before departing for the facility, ensuring the transaction (and container) remains available and the exact arrival time can be logged for faster processing," he said. "We are also launching this year an electronic gladhand to enable entirely remote daily rental and asset tracking via mobile app."


The suppliers cited other specific examples of what already has been achieved. BlackBerry Radar made an agreement with Canadian Pacific Railway to provide intermodal availability and usage data for chassis to the railroad and its customers. In another example, the supplier’s technology is being used to improve yard checks and location data for specific trailers and for pool equipment.

At PowerFleet, a freight camera’s commercialization last year enhanced visibility of both the asset itself and the freight inside, Norman Thomas said. The camera also captures percentages of loaded cargo in the box, as well as any load shifts en route.

One major question mark in the future is how to deal with the costs related to developing asset tracking and freight visibility capabilities.

"Cost is always an issue in the transportation business," Plaat said. "It’s something that you can’t escape. That being said, so too is reliability and support. These are the same things expected of the customers we serve."

To meet those needs, at BlackBerry cost effectiveness and utilization are a focus, as well as the ability to tailor products to specific customer requirements through customization or add-ons to core products.

Norman Thomas said suppliers bear the brunt of product development.

Cost remains a significant factor in technology adoption by intermodal stakeholders. While we would like to have greater financial participation in the development stage, the development cost is still borne by technology providers.

"The smart and hyper-connected end-to-end supply chain is not yet reality, but we can be sure it is coming towards us."
Sue Rutherford

He also explained that there are other key factors to be addressed as tracking technology proliferates.

While cost remains a significant factor, other factors influence adoption such as installation and maintenance ease and cost, customer data integration capabilities/resources to effectively use the data provided by asset tracking systems, and a willingness for users to share and benchmark their experience so that other fleets considering adoption can benefit from their experience.

Speed Thrills

Orbcomm’s Rutherford stressed speed.

Supporting the industry to scale at speed with intelligent IoT is now a primary challenge for the technology supplier community. That includes innovative approaches to enable faster device installation, fast-tracking IoT eco-system development, and collaboration to define and deliver on new analytics use cases. As we have been discussing for several years now, interoperability and open standards are crucial enablers for IoT adoption as part of digital transformation.

Advent emphasizes ease of implementation.

"Resistance to change and adopt innovations within an organization remains an issue in some cases so we are laser focused on reducing complexity and risk to try these solutions first-hand," Allen Thomas said.

Plaat focused on the process.

"Change management is the key factor for companies looking to deploy asset tracking and any technology. It’s a powerful force for those companies that are brave enough to embrace it."

He offered these examples of managing change.

"You no longer need to send someone out to the yard twice a day to count and reconcile the trailers in your yard. You no longer need to call your customers to get the status of your container; you now know when it is empty and ready for pickup. You can now leverage mileage to schedule your chassis maintenance, versus treating every chassis the same."

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