From the technological point of view there have been many attempts towards automation of information sharing in business processes, with pilots deployed also in the transport logistics market. The trend about business-to-business interoperability and information exchange has attracted particular attention already some years ago. Numerous projects, platforms and solutions have been developed for that reason, where attention was mainly on how two business entities can collaborate better through exchange of information and integration of their processes. This resulted to applications in the transport with functionalities such as e-invoicing, Proof of Delivery (POD), Electronic orders and payments, Track & Tracing solutions - automatic update of status in order delivery, etc.
To deal with the above, on a European level, a high number of projects have been launched in the FP6 and FP7 projects focusing on of Interoperability (FiNEs, 2011a), including: interoperability as a science and integrated framework (e.g. INTEROP, ATHENA); platforms and tools dealing with document exchange and various aspects of security (GENESIS, ABILITIES, TRUSTCOM, etc.); architectures and tools for interoperability (FUSION, COMMIUS, etc.); community-based interoperability (DBE, etc.) and many other areas that deal with enterprise application connectivity. Those concepts have also been considered within past and existing projects belonging to the Transport administration, planning and execution is the core subject of the FREIGHTWISE and e-Freight integrated projects.
Despite the significant research efforts, ICT systems used by the different actors involved in freight transport are far from being seamlessly interoperable. “Islands” of interoperability can be found working in specific sectors and to address specific management and monitoring tasks: e.g., the TAF/TSI standard for efficient communication across railway networks, and the e-Maritime standards for sea to port communications. Most of the communication between logistic operators, and between these and their customers, still rely on paper, e-mail and fax-based transmission of unstructured data. This makes administration and monitoring of freight transport services more difficult, especially in complex inter-modal chains, with consequent drawbacks in terms of reliability and accessibility of this type of services for the final users.
This situation impacts negatively on the market adoption of multi-modal solutions, as testified by the failure of modal-shift policies. Also, the take-up of low-carbon freight transport services, will have to rely on largely automated administration and monitoring procedures carried out by interoperable ICT systems.
By 2030, the concept of “one-stop-shop” (Cane, 2011) will be extended to cover all administrative tasks from booking, to reporting to payment of freight transport services, regardless of the various modes and commercial actors involved in carrying out the service. From the user viewpoint, this will mean being able to access a “cloud” of logistic information services, with the following characteristics:
- Service definitions and basic information related to booking, reporting and payment of services will be easily accessible, compatible and composable across different service providers and transport modes.
- Actors involved in multi-modal transport chains will collaborate in order to provide reliable and up-to-date information to improve the overall service level, through which there is a mutual benefit and an improved customer satisfaction.
The following Table lists the main improvements and consequent benefits expected in the above scenario:
Main ICT-related challenges
To fulfill the expectations outlined in the above scenario, three main challenges will have to be met through ICT-related actions:
- Shared semantics for freight transport booking, monitoring and payment
Regardless of the transport mode and of each operator’s information systems, the “one-stop-shop” for multimodal services requires common definitions for the basic elements that characterize a transport service. These include, e.g.: common route and transported good elements, delivery and payment terms, handling, monitoring and security requirements.
- Federated open platforms
Since multi-modal transport by default involves actors from different chains, catered by different service providers-platforms, those platforms will have to provide the necessary interfaces for easy identification and use where necessary. Federated open platforms will help on this need by providing the necessary directory services, enablers for integration with existing service providers and also composition and easily adoption capabilities. This will allow for all possible freight logistics actors to identify, compose and use services in the context of the ecosystem they operate.
- Intelligent objects networks
In the foreseen open and collaborative environment information comes not only from the logistic companies’ systems but also from objects, sensors, vehicles and many other possible sources. On the one side, it is expected that administrative procedures will be largely automated through the direct interaction of intelligent objects, e.g., load units communicating their status and contents through interaction with the local infrastructure. On the other side, context-detection and aggregation of locally available information will allow more sophisticated monitoring. In such an interactive ecosystem decisions may be influenced by many external factors such as weather, actual position of the vehicle, possible accidents in the route and other unexpected situations.