Google's new tools should help your packages arrive on time

A pair of new tools from Google Cloud and Google Maps helps logistics companies and retailers better optimize delivery routes, keep track of shipments, and manage delivery fleets.

Google unveiled a pair of new tools on Thursday to help logistics companies and retailers optimize their shipping and keep up with the high customer expectations that come with e-commerce. 

The logistics space represents a huge opportunity for tech companies, and for Google in particular. Many fleet operators have workflows desperately in need of an update -- with some relying on just pen and paper. Even before the pandemic, retailers and shippers were hard-pressed to keep up with the growing demand for same-day and next-day deliveries. Tech vendors have offered solutions like platforms for crowd-sourcing drivers, as well as deploying autonomous deliveries with rolling robots and drones. Now, pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions have made logistics operations all the more challenging. 

Google, meanwhile, has clear advantages in this space. Its sophisticated mapping tools are already widely used, and its cloud and analytics tools can make use of all the supply chain and logistical data available from delivery operations. 

With that in mind, Google is launching two complementary tools that provide an integrated suite of mapping, routing, and analytics capabilities. First, the Last Mile Fleet Solution on the Google Maps Platform focuses on delivery execution. It provides tools for drivers and optimization tools for fleet operators.

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Example illustration of fleet tracking built with Last Mile Fleet Solution.

Google

Meanwhile, the Cloud Fleet Routing API from Google Cloud focuses on the route planning phase of delivery. It allows operators to perform advanced fleet-wide optimization, so they can allocate the right number of packages to the right delivery vans. It's natively integrated with Google Maps routes data, allowing it to solve simple route planning requests in near-real-time.

With this pair of tools, fleet operators can ensure they have accurate addresses, optimized routes that adapt to real-time traffic conditions, and deliver-time windows, Google Maps-powered navigation, shipment tracking, and visibility into real-time route progress. 

Both solutions are being made available to all regions of the world in which Google Maps Platform and Google Cloud operate. Google already has customers using these solutions across most continents, according to Hans Thalbauer, managing director of Google Cloud's Global Supply Chain & Logistics Industries business. 

"Delivery is a function that spans industry verticals, so Last Mile Fleet Solution and Cloud Fleet Routing API really have broad applicability," Thalbauer said to ZDNet over email. 

Key segments that could benefit from these solutions are logistics providers (including global carriers, regional carriers, national postal services, and upstart last-mile carriers) as well as retailers that stand up their own delivery services (including e-commerce marketplaces, traditional brick-and-mortar, and grocery). The size of the overall logistics industry, Thalbauer noted, is about 10% to 12% of global GDP.

Meanwhile, Google already has a strong foothold in the industry. Five out of the 10 largest logistics companies in the world are using Google Cloud today, with customers including UPS, DPDHL, JB Hunt, CN Rail, ONE, and others.

As Google rolls out these new tools, its biggest competition often comes from customers' existing workflows and tools, Shalin Mantri, group product manager for Google Maps Platform, said to ZDNet.

"We don't believe that our solutions will fully replace all the applications that companies have built," Mantri said, "rather, we've designed them to augment those applications with the scalability, quality, and smarts of Google Maps and Google Cloud."

Last Mile Fleet Solution is now in public preview for companies that directly manage or own their delivery fleet.  Cloud Fleet Routing API will be generally available in Q2. 

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