Yards are a choke point between transportation and warehousing — and wherever you have choke points, you have a higher risk of inefficiencies that drive up labor costs, detention fees and delivery commitments. Missed appointments, dock scheduling mix-ups, crowded yards with insufficient parking, dropped trailers — all have cascading effects up and down the supply chain. The net result? Higher expenses. Delays. Dissatisfied customers.

Bottom line: yards are hard. And in this economic environment, hiring more people to streamline yard and facilities management is a non-starter. But these are not intractable problems. The solutions, as with so many supply chain industry inefficiencies, lie in digital transformation, process reengineering and collective action — of all the links in the chain, yards are one of the least digitized.

But first, a closer look at the issues.

The distributor I spoke with manages around 80 different facilities across the country. Problem number one: they are all unique. Some yards have marked parking spots; some have unmarked. Some have automated, gateless check-in; some direct the drivers to check in with the shipping office. Some have rest facilities; some don’t. Some yards adjoin production centers; others adjoin warehouses.

Problem number two: yards are getting more and more congested. Because of a widespread driver shortage, companies are deploying more drop trailers — meaning the driver will arrive, park their trailer, and then leave with their tractor for another job. So, the parking spots are getting more and more occupied with drop trailers, meaning lot capacity shrinks while finding the trailer with the highest-priority inventory becomes even harder.

Problem number three: appointment scheduling is a mess. For various reasons, many drivers show up unexpectedly and at the same time. A robust, automated appointment scheduling system that connects and streamlines communications between yard workers, shippers, carriers and drivers can alleviate many problems, but it’s not a panacea for these more systemic issues.

The SSC was formed to simplify the integration of systems across the fragmented ecosystem between shippers, carriers and intermediaries and create a more efficient appointment scheduling process. This past October, the consortium endorsed a universal standard for an API (application programming interface) that eliminates the need for multiple interfaces and allows carriers to interact with just one. It’s an important initiative that will help integrate yards into the digital supply chain ecosystem, and we’re energized to contribute.

In addition to this type of much-needed industry collaboration, I would recommend that shippers and distributors take three additional steps to alleviate yard chokepoints.

The returns on these kinds of efforts will be swift and tangible. Greater digitization and automation alone — by creating a digital audit trail and a “single source of truth” — can take a huge bite out of detention fees and constant squabbling between supply chain partners about who is at fault for any given delay.

Yes, yards are hard. But the problems are solvable — if we act together, continue to automate, and rethink the old and ingrained ways of managing facilities.

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