character of possible technology tools that might become valuable in that context. The committee believes that this will help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) in the development of their cybersecurity strategies.
Many kinds of IT are used by the freight transportation industry. The various modes (air, truck, rail, pipeline, and water), to varying degrees, use specialized, sector-specific technologies, but the ultimate goal is to get the shipment from its origin to its destination, which may involve multiple modes. The challenge is to get the shipment to its destination on schedule, with the appropriate degree of tracking en route; to minimize delays in transferring from mode to mode; and to do all of this at a competitive price without damage to the product shipped.
For most companies, transportation is a strategic asset. Large companies today are likely to have sophisticated models of their operations, known as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. ERP systems may include scheduling modules for manufacturing plants, which would allow the company to automate major portions of the decision processes in transportation or other aspects of the value chain for that plant. The use of such modules (in finance, logistics, manufacturing, human resources, or supplier management) helps the company improve the way it does business by increasing efficiency and reducing human error.
Freight transportation planning and operation decisions are often assisted by software that is designed to help analyze and determine how, where, when, and in what quantity materials should be transported. These systems also compare different carriers, modes, routes, and freight plans; include supply chain management software; and rely on sophisticated algorithms to analyze options and generate solutions that increase profitability. These applications can respond in real time to problems and emergencies—for example, by instantly rescheduling if a machine breaks down.
For any mode, freight operations can generally be categorized into the following tasks, each of which can be assisted or improved by the use of IT:
Matching a load with a carrier. The cargo owner, or shipper, must identify and engage a carrier—truck, train, ship, air, or a combination of modes. Freight brokers, agents, and freight forwarders may be involved in this task. The technology involved can span the range from telephone and fax on the low end to Internet-based load bidding. If a multimodal shipment is involved,