When it comes to information, the ideal speed is zero
The big consulting companies are paid well to come up with new business plans, not to invent catchy labels for those strategies. So I don't hold it against the GartnerGroup if 'zero latency' doesn't trip lightly off the tongue because the concept does offer a powerful organizational tool for any time-sensitive service industry such as trucking.
Latency, in technical terms, is the time it takes for a computer to respond to some kind of input. In consulting terms, zero latency is the concept of delivering information throughout a company as close to immediately as possible. That means data being entered by hundreds or even thousands of sources is available to everyone else no matter what the geographical, technical, or organizational boundaries.
Gartner's basic premise is that speeding up any business function automatically minimizes costs and maximizes revenues in a variety of direct and indirect ways. Examples are easy to find in trucking: faster dispatch decisions mean higher equipment productivity, reducing the time it takes to get a proof of delivery means shorter payment cycles, and so on.
Zero latency extends that concept to your entire operation by making information captured by one area quickly available to anyone else that needs it. One way or another, dispatch needs to know if maintenance has placed a truck out of service, and maintenance needs to know when a vehicle is scheduled to back off the road. Customer service needs to know if a vehicle is down, and managers need to know whether those breakdowns are isolated events or part of a trend.
Similar inter-operational communications take place at dozens of levels within any fleet, and it extends out to your customers as well, whether you're a private fleet or a for-hire carrier, whether you're carrying freight or providing field service.
In most fleets, everyone eventually gets the information they need, but the more you cut the time it takes to get it, or what Gartner calls 'the information float,' the quicker you'll be able to react and minimize service problems or maximize equipment use. In theory, it sounds simple enough.
You already know, of course, that it isn't that simple in practice. You've already built up a variety of communications channels to handle those chores. If you're like most companies, departments have developed their own solutions over the years, and those individual solutions don't 'talk' easily to others. Even if you've had the foresight to establish an integrated management system, communications between the various modules can still be far from straightforward and legacy information systems are probably lurking in hidden corners because they service a function the integrated system doesn't.
As Gartner is quick to point out, 'The challenge of implementing zero latency lies in surmounting the technical and organizational boundaries between different operating systems, different database management systems, different programming languages, different applications designs, and ultimately, different departments.' More importantly, how do you approach the ideal of zero latency without scrapping the systems already in place and losing their valuable accumulation of data?
The widespread use of PCs and networks for those PCs is one step toward the goal of universal and instantaneous access to information, but it's the Internet and browser technology that finally make zero latency a realistic goal for businesses of all sizes. The Internet removes compatibility issues, simplifies communications enormously, and makes it far easier to deploy and maintain software applications throughout your operation.
In a time-sensitive industry like trucking, zero latency can bring huge competitive advantages to the fleets that figure out how to put it into practice. And as supply chain logistics continues to catch on, those fleets able to supply the right information with the least delay will become valuable, iF not indispensable partners.
As attractive as zero latency seems, it also brings some new business risks.