Logistics Technology

Using Geofencing to Automate Logistics, Timekeeping, and Shipping

Published by in Logistics Technology

The average American loses just over $250 worth of things in a year.

We are bad at knowing where stuff is on a small scale and we’re not great at it on a large scale either. Shipments often go missing at sea or on route to their final destination.

On top of those losses, we lose man hours, productivity, and all sorts of intangibles just by operating inefficiently or without a backup plan. Geofencing seeks to sort some of that out by making it easier to track things and people.

Today, we’ll look at how geofencing works and what it can do for a logistics-based business right now. We’ll also talk about the future of geofencing—as a heads up, it’s basically already here.

What is geofencing?

Geofencing is a way to capture location in a broader way than a pinpoint by including an area around a set of coordinates.

If you look up your house on an online map, for example, you’ll be given an address, a blue dot, or maybe a shadowy outline of the actual house. While those all represent your house, there are plenty of places that aren’t included in those representations that you might refer to if you say, “I’m at home.” You might be in the backyard or in the shed or on the porch.

Because digital representations of location rely on specific points, they don’t automatically capture those grey areas.

Geofencing is a way to use points to “draw” areas on a map and then name those areas—”Central Park” or “MIT’s campus,” for example.

An example of a basic geofence from MIT

After you’ve set a larger area with geofencing, you can start automating tasks. For example, if you want to have your phone buzz when you get to MIT’s campus, you could have that happen whenever you enter the polygon above, instead of having to go to a specific coordinate on campus.

Most modern mapping programs already incorporate geofencing to some degree. If you look for Arlington, VA in Google Maps, for instance, you’ll get a shape that outlines the area.

Arlington, VA in Google Maps

The power of geofencing is that it gives us the ability to set boundaries around spaces and to receive updates when those boundaries are crossed.

Let’s see what that looks like in action.

Geofencing for logistics

Logistics is one of the industries that benefits most from geofencing, as it deals with a range of different location scales. For instance, you may need to find a single item in a warehouse—very detailed scale—or you may need to know when a truck enters Canada—very broad scale.

Geofencing allows you to move up and down that scale with ease.

  • For shipping, using geofenced areas to define delivery areas allows you to easily notify on-site staff when a truck is approaching. This means you can free up resources and docks before the truck arrives, which allows you to better manage everyone’s time.
  • You can also use geofences to replace timecards, tracking employees as they enter and leave a worksite. That gives you access to automatic reporting with less room for human error or deception.
  • You can also geofence something as simple as a truck route, allowing you to receive notifications if the driver deviates from the planned path, which could indicate a delay in delivery time.
  • At the smaller end of the scale, you can geofence a warehouse. Valuable assets or shipments can be tracked and any time they move outside of the warehouse, a manager gets an immediate alert. That helps cut down on both theft and accidental loss.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and geofencing

The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a major part of how logistics work gets done. As more and more containers, ships, people, warehouses, and trucks are put online, more data is available to logistics providers. That allows them to make more informed decisions earlier in the shipping process.

As systems become integrated, the value of geofencing is going to increase. By tracking shipments and people as they move, you can adjust temperatures based on a shipment’s contents and building access based on a person’s clearance level, for instance.

Imagine a shipment coming in that needs to be refrigerated. The truck enters a geofenced area, alerting the warehouse that it’s on the way. It can also automatically share the details of its shipment and the current temperature inside the truck—BlackBerry’s Radar already does a lot of this.

The Blackberry Radar in action (Source)

That information can then be used to route the truck to the correct dock, adjust the temperature inside the local storage unit, and alert the right number of employees to go to the dock for unloading. While the truck is on-site, you can track the driver’s downtime and get alerts if they leave the warehouse.

Once everything is unloaded, data from the warehouse can be analyzed to find a new shipment that matches the requirements of the truck and its planned route. All of this could happen without any “planning” on your side.

Using software for geofencing

The strength and flexibility of the software you use for geofencing is going to determine how useful the product is. PitneyBowes, for instance, offers a geofencing solution for localized marketing that can set fences based on travel time.

So instead of setting up a half-mile wide bubble around Macy’s, Macy’s could set a fence that includes every point on the neighboring streets within a five-minute walk. That allows for more a more efficient capture of what people would count as “near Macy’s.”

If you just need to track employees coming into a site, you might be able to use a pretty basic geofencing solution. All you need is the ability to make your own static geofences, which you can then set around your site or warehouse.

Employees need to use mobile apps to track and relay their locations, so you’ll probably need to have a mobile device management system in place—which you already have, right?

If you’re going to track assets moving across the country, a more advanced option is necessary.

Capterra’s construction blog has a rundown of six geofencing options that could be used in logistics and shipping. If you need more to choose from, our fleet management software and trucking software directories have plenty of great options.

Geofenced futures

Geofencing is the future, not just of logistics, but of our personal lives as well. Advertisers already use it to deliver hyperlocal marketing, giving you coupons or tips based on where you are in a city.

The tech forward among us are using smartphones, GPS, and smart home devices to adjust temperatures, lights, and other household features on their commutes. You can see when your kids get to your street or turn on the outside lights if you’re arriving on your bike after sunset.

Geofencing is incredibly powerful, and we’re just seeing the beginnings of that power now. For more insight into GPS, geofencing, and the IoT, check out our field service and logistics blogs.

Looking for Logistics software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Logistics software solutions.

About the Author

Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is a former Capterra analyst.


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