It seems more and more that regardless of what business you’re in, you’re still in the logistics industry. Why is that? Well, because logistics touches every other industry—either directly or indirectly. The interconnected nature of logistics also makes it a bit of a canary in the coal mine for the global economy in general.

So whether you’re in the market for a new piece of logistics software, or you’re just tracking the market trends—you’ve landed in a good spot.

In this article, we’re looking at logistics software features. We’ll round up the essential logistics software classics and some important new developments. First, we’ll start with a definition of logistics software. We’ll then cover this list of important logistics software features:

  1. Document digitization
  2. Electronic bill of lading (eBOL) integration
  3. Real-time supply chain visibility features
  4. Advanced load planning
  5. Smart barcoding systems
  6. Integrated systems and control towers
  7. Business intelligence and reporting features
  8. Predictive data analytics and forecasting features
  9. Cloud-based accessibility features

Let’s get started.

Logistics Software Defined

Logistics software is a computer program designed to help companies manage the many elements of doing business within the global supply chain. Put another way, logistics software helps us deliver the goods!

The supply chain is literally a series of links. We have raw material suppliers. Carriers. Manufacturers. Warehouses. And end users.

As you can imagine, on any given day the logistics industry comes into contact with a vast swath of the global economy. Indeed, the Harvard Business Review estimates 44 million Americans work somewhere in the supply chain industry.

So we’re talking about logistics software features today. And if you’re looking for a way to help a lot of people do their jobs better, logistics software has a lot of potential clients. That said, let’s jump into the list.

Document Digitization

Let’s begin this look into important logistics software features with document digitization. Digitized documents is a fancy way of saying paperless freight. This is an evolving aspect of the logistics industry. But it’s worth pointing out that digitized documents form the backbone of many software features we’ll discuss on this list—for example, electronic bills of lading.

Electronic Bill of Lading (eBOL) Integration

In the past, freight was a paperwork-dense industry. As such, bills of lading (BOL), proofs of delivery (POD), and other load documents require signatures to be valid. Remember, BOLs are enforceable contracts. So put another way, the deal isn’t sealed until you get that John Hancock. And unlike a picture of a paper BOL, digitized documents are the original version.

Beyond that, digitized documents become data points. And big data loves and needs a lot of incoming information. In short, that means the raw data collected in digitized documents helps other logistics software features work better.

Let’s keep moving.

Real-Time Supply Chain Visibility Features

Real-time tracking features allow for instant communication. When things are flowing smoothly, real-time features give you peace of mind. That alone may be worth investing in this feature. But beyond that, when issues arise with a shipment, real-time tracking is what catches it first. Often, a small problem can be resolved quickly, with limited pain.

No one likes big, lingering problems. So, real-time tracking helps keep problems small.

Accurate real-time data availability also helps dispatchers. When data is live, your people can react faster. Last-minute requests. Last-minute or hot orders. Even cancellations. Real-time data just makes things more manageable and less painful. No business can escape changes.

Put another way, that’s the hand-to-hand combat of the business world. But better visibility across the supply chain through real-time data features helps you take the jabs and even land a few punches yourself. Real-time data makes you a better, more resilient fighter. It’s all about efficiency. And real-time logistics tracking software helps your team react better.

Advanced Load Planning

Here’s another area where real time features can help. Advanced load planning takes into account not just the shortest distance between point A and B. A good load planning feature will also provide toll booth information, routes with truck restrictions, and border crossing times. In addition, real-time coverage of traffic incidents allows for optimal rerouting. For example, routing a truck around an accident or construction zone can save valuable time. So it goes without saying that real-time visibility features improve load planning capabilities.

Beyond that, a feature like automatic freight matching helps align uncovered freight with carriers who have capacity. Another load planning feature is cubing software, which helps maximize trailer space. After all, container space is a valuable commodity, and no one likes shipping air!

Smart Barcoding Systems

Another great software feature is smart barcoding. A barcode, RFID chip, or QR-code based system allows you to track and count inventory from a computer screen. Once tagged, this essentially creates a digital twin for your warehouse. Locate missing items. Track damaged items. Route returned items.

Look for software that integrates scans into a load document. Some smart barcoding software requires a handheld device. But now, we’re also seeing software platforms that take and integrate scans using the camera on a smartphone. Other warehouses have automated the process so that goods with an RFID simply ping out location details.

The important thing here, in my opinion, is the idea that barcoding helps create a digital twin. Put another way, software needs to turn real-world events and items into ones and zeroes in order to enlist the power of big data, AI, and machine learning.

Integrated Systems and Control Towers

Supply chain control towers aren’t physical locations like you see at airports. Instead, a control tower is a software tool for supply chain decision makers. In essence, a control tower is really a user interface—a dashboard of information.

Control towers aggregate the feast of data that supply chain systems accumulate. The idea is to distill this data down into easily digested information nuggets. It’s possible to identify and flag disruptions and then take alternate procedures to work around the problem.

But how do we get there?

First and foremost, your system will only be as good as your data. Thus, it makes sense to onboard systems that can be integrated with one another. When your systems speak the same language, this eliminates information silos. This, along with digitized documents, are two groundwork features necessary for the continued evolution and digital transformation of any organization.

Business Intelligence and Reporting Features

How good was your last slide deck? An underappreciated feature to look for in your logistics software is high-quality reporting features. No one likes a boring presentation. And a picture is indeed worth a thousand words anyway. Look for software that helps you produce powerful presentation value with dynamic graphs and charts.

Good reporting also pays forward. That brings us to predictive analytics.

Predictive Data Analytics and Forecasting Features

Forecasting applies regardless of whether we’re talking about load planning or routing. Forecasting features also help you with fiscal year operating budgets. In addition, warehouses can use predictive analytics to optimize seasonal floor use during peak seasons. Put another way, demand planning features help warehouse managers slot hot sellers closest to the door. When an item’s flying out the door, it makes sense and saves cost to move it closer to the door.

Sure, no one can predict the future with perfect clarity. But we can always forecast better. In other words, predictive analytics features help organizations position resources to be in the right place at the right time.

Cloud-Based Accessibility Features

Cloud-based logistics software systems have a number of benefits. For starters, they facilitate the software as a service (SaaS) model. That allows for regular updates and upgrades to your system. I’ve worked with systems that were so old they were no longer supported. It wasn’t pretty! But if those systems had been cloud-based, certain updates and bug fixes would have been as easy as updating an app on your phone.

Also, cloud-based features allow your people to work remotely. That allows for a degree of flexibility. When you’re trying to land good help, offering a flexible schedule may be the difference between you and an employee’s second choice.

Logistics Software Features for the Road Ahead

The logistics industry as we know it today looks very different from 20 years ago. But it’s still all about delivering the goods. When you’re out shopping for your next piece of software, keep your eyes on the future. We never know what’s coming next. Find the software features that help you be ready for anything.

This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.