For almost a decade, technology has been a primary focus for transportation and logistics companies. It had been an industry that desperately needed to replace years of disjointed and fractured practices. Now fiercely competitive, 3PLs (third-party logistics companies) are racing to streamline the supply chain through greater efficiency and real-time visibility, ditching the old paperwork-heavy processes that cost all parties too much time and money. In the supply chain, innovation is the name of the game.
When COVID-19 turned the world upside down, the way goods moved was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Unexpected panic-buying behaviors by consumers emerged, with essentials like toilet paper and other frequently purchased staples vanishing off grocery shelves as fast as a puff of smoke on a windy day. The world of logistics could not keep up.
During the most challenging time the industry has ever known, Choptank has not only kept its focus on providing the services it customers expected, but on improvement and innovation of them as well.
Business Intelligence at Choptank
Choptank's business intelligence department was developed early on to work solely on freight tech innovation as part of its overall business strategy. Making customers' jobs easier while keeping America’s freight on the road, on-time and in good condition is, after all, a top 3PL's primary function.
By developing the company's own proprietary software platform, Orbit TI, Choptank has put everything a shipper needs in one place, with easy access to load information, real-time tracking, downloadable documents and more. The product is continually being enhanced. Recently added is a carrier portal where carriers, not just customers (shippers) can log in, view loads and book them without having to make multiple phone calls. Within this new feature carriers can browse loads, get recommendations based on location, and plan multiple loads that make sense together.
During the pandemic, when so many companies were laying people off, Choptank continued hiring, including in its business intelligence department as the team was making so many impactful changes. Within the past month, Choptank brought on board a new data scientist as well as a new project manager.
One of the unique products within Orbit TI that helps logistics managers plan better, and one that other 3PLS do not usually offer, is the “Capacity Utilization” tool. This metric pulls data from a shipper’s load information and tells them what percentage of available space each truckload shipment is using. If patterns emerge, for example, where certain shipments are using only 60% capacity utilization, the shipper can focus on adding more to these loads.
Another exceptional feature that helps shippers be more efficient is the “Start/Stop” information Orbit TI provides. This display shows shippers where their freight deliveries may be getting bogged down with longer than usual dwell times. Dwell times are when a carrier gets held up at the receiver’s docks waiting to unload or waiting for paperwork, etc., putting a huge drag on supply chain efficiency.
There is also a newly introduced cold LTL (refrigerated less-than-truckload) freight-matching application on Choptank's website as an interactive map. In real-time it displays where there is available pallet capacity, by state. Access to this type of market information is extremely helpful for customers when arranging the movement of their LTL freight.
Several months ago, the business intelligence (BI) team also launched a feature within Orbit TI, called Orbit Pay, that now allows shippers to pay invoices online with a click of the mouse. This saves Choptank's accounting department the tedious and time-consuming task of billing customers and then processing the paperwork once funds are received, as well as minimizing errors in billing. It helps shippers by eliminating the time it takes to send payment through snail-mail, which may hold up future shipments if payment is past due.
The BI team has been adding a number of new tech features that benefit both customers and internal staff, such as an automated API quoting tool. This feature allows customers to get immediate quotes for shipments on any lane, at any time, using Choptank's portal or direct computer-to-computer connections. A new internal LTL optimization tool automatically plans LTL routes and truck counts based on loads, allowing us to help quote faster and more efficiently. Other internal tools have been created to keep track of work distribution across departments and individuals for operations, something that is particularly important for visibility during remote work.
Information Technology at Choptank
Innovation at Choptank does not belong solely to the company's business intelligence team. During the pandemic, Choptank's IT team rolled out several large-scale, innovative investments as well. The first one involved designing and installing a new Meraki-based Next-Generation firewall security solution, creating a fully mesh VPN network among all six regional locations.
Another new innovation during this time was the rollout of a client-to-site VPN solution, effectively migrating all on-premises users to a remote, work-from-home solution. When the pandemic hit, it only took about ten days to successfully give the company’s 400 employees the ability to work from home. That was lightning fast in the grand scheme of things.
IT also implemented the Microsoft TEAMs video teleconferencing solution to address the challenges of staying connected while working remotely. Choptank’s award-winning training department followed up by providing online instruction to make sure all employees were comfortable with the product and proficient at using all the features within the platform.
Other innovative upgrades were made, such as migrating the company's mission-critical TMS (transportation management system) application from a legacy, on-premises server architecture to an Azure cloud-based solution.
The largest accomplishment for IT, however, was “forklifting” (a technical term meaning to completely pull out and replace all at once, as opposed to phasing something in by stages) a legacy Avaya telephone solution and installing a new, company-wide, fully redundant cloud-based Ring Central solution for more than 400 users, including all regional locations. Choptank averages 10,000 inbound and 12,000 outbound calls daily.
The pandemic proved to customers that Choptank is a resilient company, and no matter what challenges come along, it puts its customers' needs first. Choptank's steadfast commitment to continual improvement through innovation and technology makes it an ideal choice for freight and transportation managers nationwide.