Digital Transformation to Carry the World Forward

Nov 10, 2022 | Defense Transportation Journal, DTJ Online

Over the past few decades, Department of Defense (DOD) logistics planners have increased operational focus on frictionless movement and efficiency, prioritizing low inventory and delivery at minimum cost as an approach to address tight budgets and the highly dispersed deployment of troops. But the lack of data standards and inability to integrate and connect with data from shipping lines, ports, terminal operators, truckers, railroads, warehouses, and cargo owners increases costs and delays the movement of cargo. To dependably achieve distribution goals, effective DOD logistics operations require technical transformation to enhance transparency, business insights, and end-to-end visibility across the extended supply chain, including In-Transit Visibility (ITV). 

Challenges Facing Modern Defense Logistics
The global transportation industry has been affected by ongoing supply chain disruption, port and warehousing congestion, and labor crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. Daily transportation operations face numerous challenges including crew shortages, cost and availability of bunker fuel, growing threat posed by cyber risk, and the drive to improve sustainability. 

To manage costs and sustain capabilities critical to national security, the DOD requires diverse, predictable, secure, resilient, and sustainable supply chains. This resiliency requires visibility, agility, and redundancy, but the lack of digital infrastructure and transparency makes our Nation’s supply chain brittle. 

Features of the DFTS

DOD’s logistics lifecycle from procurement tends to be reactive and does not directly associate actions and information from the various steps and variety of sources from initiation through completion. DOD works with thousands of vendors and suppliers, each of which provides its own range of capabilities. Innovations in Machine Learning (ML), low-energy sensors, big data, and real-time data feeds have developed to supply real-time data on assets in-transit from any point on the globe and deliver that data to any device in the world. With such disparate data, DOD experiences persistent problems tracking shipments and maintaining ITV, leading to delays in delivery and additional labor costs to research status and complete delivery. 

To better manage shipments, DOD systems need to incorporate the broad range of data from all of these sources to facilitate an ever-growing spectrum of business processes. 

In addition, climate change and energy considerations are already affecting military operations and readiness. As one of the world’s largest owners of vehicle and ship fleets, DOD’s activities to address its Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) challenges will have a significant impact as the US transitions to a more efficient, climate-friendly, and resilient infrastructure. Dependence on unstable, unreliable, non-renewable energy supplies are a threat to operational readiness. In a March 2021 Message to the Force, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated, “We face a growing climate crisis that is impacting our missions, plans, and capabilities and must be met by ambitious, immediate action.” 

To better manage shipments, DOD systems need to incorporate the broad range of data from all of these sources to facilitate an ever-growing spectrum of business processes. 

Crowley is leading a movement towards more integrated supply chains through an advanced digital platform, enabling actionable business insights and intelligence by leveraging data, ML, and emerging technologies. The company is investing to enhance supply chain planning, augment ITV, improve Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven predictive analytics, increase enroute flexibility, enhance security, and progress toward its own ESG goals. Experience dictates that connected operations driven by a digital business acumen is the core to create Supply Chain 4.0 and strengthen the national supply chain. 

Crowley is committed to a more dynamic, efficient future. As a trusted partner to the United States Government for more than 130 years, the company has supported the movement of materiel across land, air, and sea. Now, it looks to support the movement of strategic data across new platforms, enabling greater connectivity than ever before. 

Supply chains operate within an increasingly complex environment, often disjointed, with dynamic sets of variables. To maintain the dexterity necessary to efficiently operate in this dynamic environment Crowley executes as an “asset light” third-party logistics (3PL) provider that relies heavily on data and technology solutions to optimize supply chains for federal clients. This strategy supports Crowley’s extensive partnering within the small business community to spread the business equity and support DOD operations in a socially responsible manner. 

Crowley has invested in processes and technologies that have expanded its resources and expertise, and helped create stronger solutions and a better world. These investments in new processes and data-driven innovation is focused on creating a sustainable business for the company’s customers and people.

Panorama of Intel for Efficient Logistics Operations
With the advent of newer technologies, vast amounts of data are being created every day encompassing structured, unstructured, streaming, spatiotemporal, and real-time data. Crowley has been investing to develop domain-specific tools, data connectors, ML algorithms, and automated Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) solutions to integrate data from disparate data sources to solve critical logistics problems. 

Crowley has built a cognitive data engineering platform that provides improved visibility, rapid response, load optimization, better control, coordination of customs documentation, structured user-centric customer experience, ITV, and predictive insights into the origins of logistics challenges, offering prescriptive suggestions for improvements. 

The platform consumes data from disparate data sources and runs automatic data quality checks and enriches data governed and managed by AI-driven automation. The processed data acts as a single source of truth (SSOT) and can be easily consumed by any downstream applications like reporting services, ML algorithms, and users for service analytics. Each step of data processing is well orchestrated to ensure freshness and quality of data for users to discover insights with a few simple clicks. 

Case Studies
Crowley operates the DOD Defense Freight Transportation System (DFTS), moving goods and an enormous volume of cargo between suppliers and DOD sites worldwide. Crowley has been processing more than 60 million transactions a year using the platform. Aggregating over 30 million data points from multiple shippers, carriers, TMS systems, and applications. The platform interfaces with 77 government systems, 2,200 carriers, and 10 internal systems. 

The data engineering platform’s intelligent automation capability has been successfully implemented to solve critical business problems at DOD and create value with low investments across the entire supply chain. As an example, Crowley has automated and improved DOD’s Proof of Delivery (POD) processing, improving the efficiency of a critical part of the logistics process. Delay in POD submission causes a delay in the payment process, which is further aggravated when volumes are very high. Around 33,000 POD documents were being rejected due to illegible writing; this was compounded when multi-page PODs were split into individual pages causing duplication issues. Roughly 4,000 of the rejected PODs had to be manually resolved. This manual-intensive process was automated end-to-end via the platform’s robotic process automation (RPA) capability. Automation reduced the rejection rate by 80%, equivalent to a savings of 1,500 labor hours a year as well as improving the customer-to-carrier payment time by 75%. 

Crowley has been processing more than 60 million transactions a year using the platform. Aggregating over 30 million data points from multiple shippers, carriers, TMS systems, and applications. The platform interfaces with 77 government systems, 2,200 carriers, and 10 internal systems.

Data visibility has always been a challenge in the industry with data being spread in multiple systems like TMS, Billing Systems, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Electronic Logging Device (ELD), SharePoint, etc. These data silos create barriers to information sharing and collaboration across departments. Even simple questions like ‘Where is my shipment?’ cannot be answered. Crowley’s platform goes beyond just “where’s my stuff,” it can answer what the company calls the H5W for shipments: the how, where, when, what, who, and why. 

A United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) customer was experiencing challenges in the distribution of N-95 masks nationwide. Orders for the shipments were spread across multiple source systems, making it extremely difficult and time-consuming to track and report shipment information. To bring visibility to the supply chain, Crowley leveraged the platform’s capability to ingest data from multiple sources with ease and then transform it into a data mart that would provide 360-degree information about the shipment. This single source of truth helped improve the load visibility by 80%. 

Crowley’s cognitive platform can scale up as needed for processing-intensive AI/ML applications like price prediction, back-haul identification, and load optimization. This solution serves as a singular federated entity to produce business insights at scale focusing on supply chain workflows that include connected logistics, UAV, marine and aviation, global predictive maintenance, and tank monitoring applications. 

With 20+ years of experience in optimizing government transportation and distribution systems, Crowley understands the technical challenges of working with thousands of vendors, moving hundreds of thousands of shipments, maintaining data integrity, and operating in a sustainable manner. Crowley’s success is how it carries the world. Forward.

By Scott M. Hopper, Director, Technology & Consulting, Crowley Solutions

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