As a college-educated computer scientist, Bastian Späth understands how IT solutions are developed from the ground up. For more than 15 years, he has spent every workday collecting requirements, finding ideas, developing designs, setting up projects and getting them safely across the finish line.
Logistics platforms connect the supply chain
Logistics platforms are matchmakers: they connect processes, link participants within the supply chain, provide transparency and thus improve planning.
In recent years, there have emerged a profusion of platforms that digitalise and accelerate processes in logistics. They provide information, simplify communication and standardise interfaces. That makes them essential tools for logistics companies navigating today's market. As hubs where stakeholders can share data, these smart solutions efficiently integrate the logistics chain without any need to re-enter data.
What is a logistics platform?
A logistics platform is usually an internet-based software solution that acts as a data hub among all the stakeholders – from shippers to logistics service providers. Its accepts data from individual process steps, processes it, presents it for everyone to see and distributes it. Platforms step in at these points in the process and save user companies the time and expense of setting up numerous bilateral interfaces. They are part of the shared economy. Due to their ability to quickly and efficiently connect different players, they lay the foundation for real-time communications across the supply chain. That process supports and improves planning in various application areas. In decentralised logistics networks, it is common for the platform sponsor to be the organisation who reaps the greatest process benefits from an accelerated, closed information chain.
These open platforms generally contain a web-based IT solution that provides higher-level cross-company control functions without being tied to the operational systems of the individual companies involved in the process. They may process data from telematics systems, transportation management systems (TMSs) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Their user interfaces typically provide information on the current process status, which some of the participants import into their own operational software through interfaces.
Where are logistics platforms used?
The purpose of logistics platforms is to easily link as many users as possible and efficiently update them on status changes. This is why platforms are particularly common in the transport sector, where the individual steps of service delivery are divided among different players that are also economically independent units:
- Arrangement of transport
- Pick-up of goods – pre-carriage
- Handling of goods
- Main run
- Delivery of shipments – on-carriage
This process directly or indirectly links up to six participants in a business transaction who exchange transport data with each other: sender/shipper, freight forwarder, up to three transport service providers and the consignee. They are all interested in different aspects of the transport's progress and so require different types of information. Logistics platforms provide this information through various software modules.
How do logistics platforms work?
Logistics platforms typically provide an efficient communication interface for exchanging order data among the connected parties. They close the information chain and, as open systems, provide powerful connections to the connected logistics partners' systems. The data within the platforms always reflects the current state of the process and is enriched accordingly. To do this, the systems process real-time information at a single point of truth, giving logistics planners more latitude for action: the live information lets planners run plan vs. actual comparisons and proactively manage activities. In transport networks, for example, the delivery time slots are agreed using platforms and the delivery receipts are provided for customers and shipping partners.
Digital logistics platforms improve transparency
By connecting players, improving planning, enabling end-to-end processes, logistics platforms are key to further optimising logistics processes. They also reduce operating costs for each process player since they represent shared infrastructure. They eliminate data re-keying and make it easy to connect mobile apps. As a result, IT solutions have become the essential tool for horizontally integrating logistics chains.