Comment: Digital dexterity key to growth in transport and logistics

Jim Hilton, Director Manufacturing/Transportation & Logistics Marketing Strategy, at Zebra Technologies says digital dexterity is key to the future success of the transportation and logistics sector
COMMENT, Technology, Digital, Transport, Logistics

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The pressure on transportation and logistics (T&L) companies has never been greater. Technology and the internet’s reach have exponentially shifted the expectations of consumers, the new generation of whom expect information instantaneously. The World Wide Web has opened opportunities for smaller retailers and disrupter brands and shifted power from enterprises to consumers who are only a mouse-click away from buying from a competitor.

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Aggressive competition and the rise of online-only brands have driven the retail industry to adopt new delivery and returns models. In fact, many uses offer free, same or next day delivery to boost sales conversion rates. In Zebra Technologies’ Future of Fulfillment study, 78 percent of respondents expect to provide same-day delivery by 2022 and 39 percent expect to deliver within two hours by 2032. Add in more convenient options such as click and collect and free returns, and what was once straight-forward logistics becomes highly complex.

What was previously carried out with manual pen-and-paper-based systems, now requires a distinct minimum level of technology to run. Without intelligent databases, 24x7 connectivity and smart, ruggedized devices, stock would get lost, workers confused, and management would not be able to monitor their real-time operations. It is staggering that many enterprises still manage omnichannel fulfilment logistics manually.

Taking the First Steps

The T&L industry has modernized at an unprecedented rate. For traditional players, this involves a significant investment and a complete mind shift. Warehouse and inventory management system modernization is critical and Zebra’s 2024 Warehousing Vision Study reports on the forward-thinking fulfillment strategies companies are focusing on to keep up with the growth of the on-demand economy. Both automation and worker augmentation solutions will be a key focus for decision makers’ plans during the next five years. The scale of this transformation is a daunting but a necessary one.

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Partnerships will be key, both in terms of technology providers and businesses that offer complimentary services or infrastructure. As mergers continue, new business models will emerge, such as shared networks, research and collaboration on shared platforms for shipment sizes or greater IT connectivity. From a technology perspective, employing a team of industry specialists who provide a holistic view of which devices, procedures and strategy developments should be in place, will prove invaluable.

Mobilizing the Workforce

Zebra’s Future of Field Operations report revealed a huge focus on mobilizing the workforce, with 62 percent of respondents committed to expanding the use of mobile technology to all staff in the next year – a number set to rise to 97 percent by 2023. Meanwhile, the use of handheld mobile computers with built-in barcode scanners is forecasted to grow by 45 percent, mobile printers by 53 percent and rugged tablets by 54 percent.

Enterprise mobile devices and rugged tablets enable field operations teams to be more effective. In fact, 85 percent of companies surveyed praised the resulting increase in employee productivity and efficiency. Teams equipped with barcode scanning handheld mobile computers can quickly and accurately carry out inspections in real time. In parallel, ruggedized tablets allow fleet managers data and information access throughout their journey.

The use of mobile devices reaches far beyond scanning, with growing numbers implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR). Currently, these technologies are relegated to smaller use-cases, most widely used on mobile computers and tablets. However, increasingly people are looking at how smart glasses can be integrated. By using smart glasses, workers can navigate warehouses, manage stock levels and quickly define tasks, all completely hands free. This is a significant improvement compared to order pickers using paper or a scanner to hand select products and physically place them on carts.

Agile and Sustainable

Working toward cutting carbon emissions has never been more important for modern businesses and the T&L sector is not exempt from this pressure. Heavy goods vehicles, such as lorries, produce around 27 percent of CO2 emissions and five percent of greenhouse gas emissions on European roads.

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Technology must be harnessed to work toward achieving a greener future; failure to find a solution is simply not plausible. An example of how to streamline deliveries and therefore reduce the number of trucks on the road, cutting down on emissions, is Zebra’s SmartPack. The solution assists warehouse dock workers to ensure outbound vehicles are efficiently loaded to reduce air gaps and spaces in trailers. It’s a pressurized, time-constrained portion of a logistics workflow, so enlisting a technology solution to enhance efficiency, quickly and accurately represents a huge return on investment (ROI). SmartPack also allows warehouses to monitor truck loading in real time, giving supervisors a clear snapshot of worker productivity and potential improvements.

Beyond workflow enhancements, companies that make themselves digitally fit and scalable will ultimately be most attractive to investors and customers. To operate the full spectrum of T&L modernization is very complex so getting help in the right places is crucial. In the on-demand economy, power lies with the consumer; enterprises must move quickly to keep up with user demand, or risk being left behind.

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