Global transport systems have become more complex and interconnected. The conveyance of people or freight from one point to another using a variety of forms of transit has gained more attention recently. In intermodal transport systems, transfers between modes of transport are frequently made at a specially built terminal. According to Konings et al. (2008), intermodal transportation is a phrase that refers to the transfer of passengers or cargo between two means of transportation. The phrase has become more often used to refer to the movement of freight and containers via a series of modes.
Although intermodal transport has significant economic and environmental benefits, particularly over long distances, it is currently underutilized and faces numerous challenges to adoption. Notably, the transportation industry is influenced by contemporary trends such as digitalization. Automation and digitalization are crucial elements that, if implemented in developing countries, can positively impact intermodal transport, making it seamless, efficient, and competitive.
Digitalization and Intermodal Transport
Digitalization is among the century’s greatest scientific, technological, economic, environmental, and social issues. Despite its current relevance, digitalization has a long history ranging from the digitalization of publications to the automation of production phases resulting in fully integrated factories to the creation of applications that automate everyday tasks (Kine et al., 2022). This evolution has also historically catalyzed technological innovations capable of reshaping entire markets. With transport at the core of business interactions, digitalization plays a crucial role in determining how people and commodities interact and the extent to which they develop effective supply chains. As a result, it is critical to understand how digitalization has the potential to resolve the transport sector’s fight for a greater level of connectivity between diverse forms of intermodal transport.
Supply chain systems have attracted much attention globally, with stakeholders looking to enforce connected systems that not only cut costs but also minimize time wastage. Abramowicz et al. (2020) note that information systems (ISs) are the bedrock of successful digitalization, which is accelerating at a breakneck pace. One of the most significant results in creating and managing information networks is undoubtedly the shift from independent systems to seamlessly engaged solutions that connect sources, suppliers, and clients. These completely integrated ISs enable the functioning of complicated supply chains, the success of which is contingent upon the availability of pertinent data (Abramowicz et al., 2020). Since data collection and management are vital for any exchange, the application of information management systems can be a feasible solution for the overload, delay, and product loss challenges facing many intermodal freight systems globally.
Information availability on cargo delivery status and the estimated arrival time has been a major issue of concern in supply chain logistics. Along with the suppliers and manufacturers, later buyers profit from this information’s widespread availability. They can be informed of anticipated production and delivery schedules. Here, providers’ increasingly reduced delivery times serve as their unique selling feature in a competitive industry (Bubnova et al., 2018). Particularly for intermodal supplies, information on the response time is subject to significant qualitative change based on the degree of connectivity of the ISs and the available data and applications. The future of intermodal transport is tied to the reliability and connectivity of all systems involved.
Intermodal transportation has always been complex, and it remains so now, but globalization and digitization may provide a tipping point for effectively mitigating its challenges in the future. Altuntaş Vural et al. (2020) record that automation will have a significant impact on intermodal transportation, reducing the many challenges facing global supply chain systems. Although developed and developing economies may encounter similar challenges regarding intermodal transportation, developing countries are often limited in financial and technological aspects, worsening the intermodal transport limitations experienced.
The Impact of Technology Adoption
Intermodal transport ICT encompasses information and telecommunication innovations, sensors, space-based systems, cloud computing, internet platforms, and intelligent systems. These technologies are used in decision-making, administration, and implementation of ports, logistics, and monitoring. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the use of enabling technologies can significantly improve intermodal freight transport (IFT) performance (Gronalt et al., 2019). The digital revolution and automation of intermodal transport systems are still in their infancy in low-income nations.
The conventional paper-based method of exchanging information and documentation between stakeholders continues to exist. The use of reliable details and traceability of commodities is not widespread. Port activities are not fully automated and continue to rely significantly on human processes and personnel (Konings et al., 2008). The reliance on human effort is responsible for major delays in IFT. This also contributes to low economic development in low-income countries. Therefore, there is a greater need for automation and digitization of IFT systems to place developing countries in competitive positions.
Low-income countries can improve IFT by embracing enabling technology such as radar and. A study by Kine et al. (2020) evaluated the deployment of technology integration in low-income nations and analyzed the challenges and possible benefits of technology adoption, with a particular emphasis on public transportation. The results were synonymous with the report by Altuntaş Vural et al. (2020), which concluded that if developing countries could apply technological solutions to their IFT systems, most of the delay and loss challenges could be effectively minimized. It is crucial to understand that adopting transport digitization techniques requires a significant investment, which some nations may be unprepared to make. In addition, the fear of failure has been a significant factor in developing countries’ resistance to full automation. This can be handled by benchmarking on developed economies that have made important strides in IFT automation and the benefits accrued to such nations.
Transport management systems (TMS) are some of the vital tools that have enabled some developed economies to minimize intermodal transport costs and increase efficiency. TMS platforms with end-to-end track and trace features enable firms to be more precise, automate some portions of the process, and streamline others. Bubnova et al. (2018) assert that this technology enables us to digitally travel with deliveries in real-time, which is becoming increasingly critical as commodities move across several modes of transportation. With correct implementation, TMS systems tend to connect suppliers and end-users, further dealing with uncertainties and the risk of loss.
Knowing where things are at every step of the route allows users to make smart decisions for their businesses and bottom lines. According to Konings et al. (2008), it is critical to have a solid and easy-to-use interface for handling data collected during an intermodal operation. Initially, accounting professionals used to agonize about intermodal transportation logistics, compiling invoices, statements, tariffs, and other data from several sources, which was physically demanding work. However, with the usage of TMS, data can now be easily gathered from a variety of sources and consolidated into a single, user-friendly interface (Konings et al., 2008). The development of cloud solutions also aids in information storage and access since all involved parties can view the data at their convenience.
Barcoding and RFID technologies are used in conjunction with smartphone apps, which read codes using cameras and scanners, enabling workers to gather and submit data on the fly. The Track n’ Trace innovation is an essential tool that allows users to get the information they need wherever and whenever they need it from supply networks. Data is transferred to the cloud and thereafter accessible remotely via the user interface as needed. The usage of barcoding in conjunction with a TMS streamlines the process of acquiring data from numerous sources while also providing users with current information and updates (Abramowicz et al., 2020). Intermodal transportation is a powerful, reliable, and recommended mode for long hauls, and barcode and RFID technologies are crucial element in the set of technological tools that makes it possible. Container surveillance and barcodes have made IFT more efficient and dependable than ever before.
Factors Limiting IFT Digitization and Automation in Developing Countries
It is critical to evaluate the background of IFT to comprehend the technology’s potential use in low-income countries. The standardization of the transporters to be used for freight transportation and the maximum amount of goods that can be transported vary. The ease of interconnection between forms of transportation, and the size and capacity flexibility of trailers are all dependent on the strength of the infrastructure (Konings et al., 2008). Low-income countries have the insufficient infrastructure, which includes low road densities and poor road quality. As a result, certain technologies cannot be deployed properly. These countries likewise have relatively limited road and rail connectivity, underutilizing the train intermodal transit.
In developing countries, a restricted selection of trucks with minimal installed technologies predominate. Internet connectivity and access are necessary for the operation of digital technologies. High-income countries have a well-developed ICT infrastructure, with over 80 percent of the nation using the internet, compared to 20% in most low-income nations (Gronalt et al., 2019). Domestic intermodal transportation is primarily employed in high-income nations, while it is rarely used in developing economies, where global intermodal transport plays a larger role.
In high-income countries, the primary reason for freight transportation is environmental impacts, whereas, in low-income countries, the primary cause is the presence of impediments such as highlands and water sources, as well as economic constraints. The interconnectedness of countries in relation to the physical networks and regulatory frameworks is crucial to the successful adoption of international IFT (Konings et al., 2008). Multinational collaboration exists in the context of developed countries, such as those found in Europe. This is not the case, however, in low-income countries. Inadequate interconnection and coordination will adversely impact the efficiency of any technology or structural modifications integrated into the system.
Global transport systems have become more complex and interconnected. Although intermodal transport has significant economic and environmental benefits, particularly over long distances, it is currently underutilized and faces numerous challenges to adoption. Notably, the transportation industry is influenced by contemporary trends such as digitalization. Intermodal transport ICT encompasses information and telecommunication innovations, sensors, space-based systems, cloud computing, internet platforms, and intelligent systems. Automation and digitalization are crucial elements that, if implemented in developing countries, can positively impact intermodal transport, making it seamless, efficient, and competitive.
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Konings, R., Priemus, H., & Nijkamp, P. (2008). The Future of Intermodal Freight Transport. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.