Why Appointment Automation is Critical, But Also So Challenging

Lindsay B.
Lindsay B.
April 24, 2023

Why Appointment Automation is Critical, But Also So Challenging

If you’ve worked in port logistics at any point, you know the challenges that come with manually booking appointments: checking holds, finding appointments within delivery windows for warehouses, snagging an appointment fast enough to avoid demurrage fees, setting up the jobs on a load board, etc. At larger ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach, there is added complexity due to required information, constraints due to things such as dual requirements, time slots, and error responses varying across terminals, making it a full-time project for a multi-person team. 

So how can the process be improved? Automation seems like the obvious answer for any manual process and it certainly has a lot of benefits. But if it’s so obvious, why isn’t everyone doing it? Read on to find out.

How Does Automated Appointment Booking Improve Port Logistics?

  1. Improves Efficiency and Decreases Fees: Automated appointment booking ensures that importers can book drayage appointments quickly and easily, with fewer errors or misunderstandings. Say goodbye to worrying if your trucker missed a viable appointment or available dual transaction due to manual error -  and possibly covering up their mistakes. This can help improve the efficiency of the supply chain, reduce delays and fees, and increase throughput. Automation ensures that the "ideal" appointment is booked as soon as a container becomes available, allowing for the earliest possible delivery to the warehouse, or ensuring outgates can be booked to align with the warehouse’s receiving schedules. 
  2. Saves Time: Automated appointment booking eliminates the need for manual scheduling, reducing the time spent coordinating with drayage providers. Automated systems can also work around the clock to move containers, allowing importers to save on pre-pull and storage fees as well as eliminating the need for 24/7 staffing.
  3. Enhances Communication: Automated appointment booking can facilitate communication between importers and drayage providers, allowing for faster and more effective resolution of any issues or concerns that may arise.
  4. Enables Better Planning: Automated appointment booking can help importers plan their logistics more effectively, allowing them to optimize routes, increase duals, reduce costs, and improve overall supply chain performance. 

So if automation has all of these benefits, why isn’t everyone doing it? The short answer, it’s still really challenging, complex, and requires human oversight. 

What Makes Automated Appointment Setting So Challenging?

  1. Complexity of the Drayage Network: The drayage network can be complex, with multiple stakeholders involved, including ports, terminals, carriers, and shippers. Coordinating appointments among these stakeholders can be difficult, especially when there are limited time slots available or unannounced and unexpected changes.
“Required information, time slots, gate hours, and error responses vary across each of the terminals - all of which can be changed without warning - so the task of automating appointment bookings for a single port becomes a full-time project for a multi-person technical team.” - Tyler, Dray Alliance Product Manager
  1. Lack of Standardization: The drayage industry lacks standardization in appointment booking processes, procedures, and systems. This can create confusion and increase the risk of errors or miscommunications requiring human oversight and monitoring.
  1. Resource Constraints: With the complexity of the drayage network and lack of standardization stated above, there are multiple moving parts that need to be monitored and appointments may need to manually be rescheduled. Smaller drayage providers may lack the resources or expertise to provide the necessary human oversight and implement automated appointment booking systems. This leads to limited adoption of such technologies. 
“With some automation, the appointment setting process is simplified, but still not perfect. For example, if 20 containers discharge at once for one importer and they are all set to outgate on the same day. [A human is required to step in] to manually rebook the appointments over multiple days to avoid overwhelming the warehouse and use the first delivered containers as duals.” – Dray Alliance operations team member
  1. Limited System Integration: Many drayage providers use different appointment booking systems that are not integrated with each other or with other supply chain systems. This can make it difficult to exchange information, share data, or collaborate effectively.
  1. Resistance to Change: Some stakeholders may be resistant to change, preferring to rely on traditional methods of appointment booking rather than embracing new technologies.

How does Dray Alliance address these challenges and make automated appointment booking seamless?

Dray Alliance provides the dual benefit of offering a tech-enabled approach to drayage with a dedicated operations team for all of our clients. Our proprietary automation allows our operations team to avoid resource constraints and benefit from less manual work, freeing up time to focus on the areas that benefit our customers the most such as:

Dray Alliance Appointment Automation Dashboard
Easily track and see all events and appointments within our dashboard
  • Assigning duals and chassis
  • Monitoring jobs for holds and rescheduling as needed
  • Avoiding demurrage and detention fees by scheduling optimal appointments
  • Securing appointments faster and reducing time/work spent scheduling them 
  • Integrating via EDI or API with other supply chain systems like a drayage TMS

The bottom line is that appointment setting is complex. At Dray Alliance, we use tools developed in-house and a dedicated operations team so your team can focus on what matters most. We tailor our appointment booking automation to optimize container moves, taking pickup and delivery location, hours of operation, distance, empty return locations, and more into consideration. We then take it one step further with our dedicated Operations team. We utilize our own software to improve our own internal processes while also providing human oversight to meet customer needs and ensuring the next move is the most efficient one.

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