There are several tools behind the setting of national logistics policies. Digitalization strategies such as freight portals (single windows) and port community systems provide crucial support to the decision-making process. The most common strategies involve the following:
- F.1. Electronic documentation. Complex business processes support the transaction-rich environment related to freight distribution, which conventionally generates large amounts of paper documents. Many internal business processes have been digitalized (e.g. inventory management), leading to productivity improvements along supply chains. The fast growth of the data handled lend to the setting of electronic data exchange protocols, within the branches of corporate entities, but the requirements to more efficiently convey information between the actors involved led to more open standards such as EDI. Blockchains are an evolution of this concept by enabling the setting of digital ledger systems that are unalterable.
- F.2. Freight platforms. Creates an exchange market for logistics services, which improves the interactions between the providers and consumers of logistics services. Transport assets and facilities should be more efficiently used, with, for instance, fewer empty backhauls. A freight portal also enables the participation of small and medium-sized firms since the barriers of entry are less cumbersome. The main risk involves the creation of a two-tier market if large providers of logistics services do not take part or are using their own platforms. Port community systems represent a specific freight portal generally used through the jurisdiction of a port authority. It makes available logistical information among the actors involved in port-related freight distribution, which should promote competitiveness in port-related services and coordination between the major actors. Its efficiency is mainly derived from the integration of customs procedures with port terminal operations, with the transactions taking place under a single window. It is possible to track cargo and transport assets. A risk in implementing port community systems is related to cybersecurity since commercial and customs transactions can be the object of fraud.
- F3. Automation. Automation can involve vehicles and terminals. Vehicles such as trucks, delivery vans, trains, and ships can be equipped with sensors reporting a wide array of attributes related to their operations (location, speed, engine condition). Routing and navigation are particularly notable forms of digitalization as they enable much improved operations considering existing constraints such as congestion and the temporal availability of terminal capacity. A more complex step in digitalization involves vehicle automation. Infrastructure includes the physical support of transportation activities such as roadways, terminals, and distribution centers. They can be equipped with sensors to monitor their use and condition, which allows for more effective traffic management systems to optimize their scarce capacity. Terminal automation, such as for ports and distribution centers, is an ongoing digitalization paradigm. Among the core benefits of automation are improved productivity through longer and more consistent asset utilization and improved safety.
- F.4. Freight tracking and visibility. Cargo or their load units (such as containers) can be equipped with various tracking and reporting devices. This can range from a simple bar or QR code that can be scanned, to RFID tags that can be queried continuously by an array of sensors providing real-time information about the location (GPS) and conditions (e.g. temperature, pressure, humidity). The development of sensor networks such as Position, Navigation, and Timing systems (PNT) and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS). This revolution is particularly relevant for the container, which is a unit that needs to be monitored along complex intermodal transport chains. Effective tracking and visibility allow supply chain managers to manage capacity more effectively and synchronize supply chain segments.