With Uber Otto’s self-driving truck completing the first commercial trip this past October, we are prompted once again to think about technology and why it is essential for companies, in all industries, to innovate and evolve just to stay in the game with new industry players. In logistics, a field not known for its innovation, things are finally starting to change.
For many years now, members of the transportation industry in the United States have been content utilizing technology to track shipments in transit, invoice customers immediately upon delivery and use scanners and emails as an effective method of data sharing. Nevertheless, technology in logistics should go further than the simple use of a Transportation Management System (TMS), an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system or even a Warehouse Management System (WMS); all wonderful tools that help with process standardization, metrics, and data control but do little to keep costs down if you lack know-how or do not use all of the systems bells and whistles.
Companies in the transportation industry, and even those outside of it, are realizing than there isn’t a “one size fits all” type of system out there and they are taking it upon themselves to develop technology that will not only make their operation more efficient, but also will curb head count and provide a return on investment. The use of “Cloud Technology” as a tool for storing and sharing data instantly without the capital investment in hardware and server rooms is one of the easiest steps to take into a new era.
Augmented reality, a technology that superimposes a computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data into a user’s real view of the world—think Pokemon Go—brings to light the possibilities for the use of such technology in supply chain. Just imagine a pick-and-pack operation where warehouse employees not only have their pick orders right in front of their eyes, as soon as your customer hits “enter,” but they can also see an image of what the standard pack should look like and the shortest route through the aisles to complete that order. In consolidation centers, the same technology can be used to configure the best way to load a container by capturing with smart glasses an image of the product you have, using the technology to calculate the weight and dimensions and have it spit out a visual load configuration at the point of loading, thus increasing cubic volume, reducing loading times, and possibly damage claims.
When you ask shippers for a forecast, most will give you a vague idea of what their month or year will look like, but when you compare it to reality you realize that their forecast is no more certain than your guess of what the season will look like. Utilizing “Big Data” for demand and capacity forecasting can have a huge impact in seasonal pricing, optimizing equipment utilization, and providing prime shipping times as well as honing dock utilization. When you consider all the information being gathered all the time by the multiple devices a person uses throughout the day and how little of that information is currently used to make strategic decisions, you will see the impact Big Data can have for those companies that can to go under the iceberg and analyze relevant information in a matter of minutes. Utilizing said information to think outside the box is what has marked Amazon, Uber, and Google as major tech players. Who would have thought that warehouse space could be bought on a peer-to-peer marketplace where you can share excess warehouse capacity or buy commercial storage for a couple of days or hours and use it as a fulfillment center? Or that you could use ground-based robots to make last-mile deliveries to consumers?
It is well known that technology does not move at the same pace in every country, and the use of drones, robots, and autonomous vehicles seem years away of being the choice du jour to support supply chains everywhere. There are still regulatory barriers, safety issues, and other challenges that need to be addressed before this can happen, but one cannot make the mistake of falling behind on technology efforts or assuming it will never happen. Technology has the potential to significantly improve delivery times and reduce costs in the long run, the question is, what can you do now that will create a stable platform for tomorrow? Is it time for you to invest in your own technological development department or will you go with one of the many companies offering made-to-order tech solutions?