How digitization is transforming global logistics
The digital revolution has brought change to industries of all kinds, and global logistics is no exception. With increased expectations from consumers for faster, more efficient management and transport of goods, logistics companies have turned to technology as a competitive differentiator to exceed service level goals.
Whether in the form of connectivity, predictive analytics, faster processing speeds or smarter hardware, virtually every link in the supply chain can digitally connect to the other links at each point in the process. Logistics organizations are realizing with increasing urgency that they can’t afford to slow down for the delays created by siloed systems and teams.
There are several major technologies currently making an impact on the ability of logistics providers to achieve better business outcomes across the entire supply chain.
Internet of Things
Internet of Things (IoT) is the ability for devices or objects to share data and connect to the internet. Anything from automobiles to refrigerators can be manufactured to have built-in connectivity and the ability to communicate with other devices to send, store and utilize data.
Logistics organizations all over the world are recognizing an opportunity to use IoT to their advantage through intelligently connected supply networks and systems. IoT-enabled processes reduce the risk of accidents and inefficiency in tasks that pose a greater chance of human error. IoT also pairs connectivity with machine learning (discussed later in this article) to fuel faster, smarter processes and a fluid supply chain.
The result is lower operational costs and higher revenue. How? Through the implementation of repeatable, scalable processes that require very little human intervention and that can be further streamlined over time. Does this mean that logistics professionals are working themselves out of a job by digitizing their supply chain organizations? Certainly not. Instead, they are freed from mundane, repetitive tasks to focus on strategic goals that have a more significant impact on the organization.
Digitization is evolving traditional logistics roles to create new, strategic opportunities for the workforce. After all, just as technology is evolving, the workforce is too. Instead of viewing digitization as a competition of “robots versus humans,” modern logistics organizations are recognizing the need to protect themselves against labor shortages and keeping up with the demand for increasingly rapid order fulfillment while simultaneously attracting new talent with specialized skills.
Blockchain is one of the newest technologies to hit the digitization strategy. To define it in simple terms, blockchain is a distributed database containing “blocks” of information, which is transferred via a secure timestamp that cannot be altered. In other words, a blockchain allows a multitude of people (or systems) to enter data or records, which can only be updated or amended by an approved source. It is built to ensure the highest degree of accuracy and security possible.
For that reason, blockchain is an ideal technology for shipments that require who must adhere to rigorous certifications and standards. The traditional bottlenecks of third-party compliance checks are eliminated since all information is hosted in a public ledger, digitized, and protected from the risk of security breach or fraud.
As organizations adopt blockchain, they will naturally become more efficient, thanks to real-time tracking updates and the replacement of hardcopy documents with a smaller, more secure digital footprint that is far easier to manage.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Although machine learning and artificial intelligence are often used as interchangeable terms, they differ slightly. AI is the overarching idea of machines completing tasks or processes in an “intelligent” or human-like way. Machine learning is the concept of giving machines direct access to data and allowing them to create efficient processes and solutions on their own, using data analytics and algorithms.
While the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for several years, it is only recently that organizations have begun to put it to practical use. As AI becomes more accessible and affordable, logistics organizations are using it to harness big data, increase operational efficiency and lower cost.
As with technologies like IoT, AI reduces the need for human touch in many day-to-day delivery and warehousing processes. By using predictive analytics, which gets “smarter” over time as more data is collected, AI works in tandem with machine learning to mitigate risk and prevent the mismanagement of resources.
Predictive analytics can accurately forecast demand patterns, optimize route changes, and prevent potential bottlenecks along the supply chain that must be addressed before they have the chance to become an issue.
Many traditional logistics organizations are not suffering from a lack of data. The opposite is true. They collect massive quantities of data at each point in the supply chain but are unsure how to put it to good use. AI and machine learning collect both structured and unstructured data, weigh it against trends and patterns in the organization and anticipate business needs in time to make an impact.
Without artificial intelligence, organizations rely heavily on historical data, which must then be analyzed and dissected. By the time a potential risk or problem is recognized, it’s too late to change course. AI manages big data in quantities beyond the scope of human capability to identify efficiencies and solve problems before they can negatively impact operations.
Digitization will continue to change the face of logistics
Digitization is empowering global logistics companies to view big data as an critical asset. It has never been easier for logistics teams to drive intelligent decisions with real-time data instead of stale, historical information that may already be irrelevant before it is even analyzed.
In today’s competitive logistics market, efficiency is a competitive weapon. The supply chain operates in real-time and data analytics must follow suit. By employing new strategies to digitally connect all points of the supply chain and supercharge processes with intelligent data, digitized global logistics companies will continue to drive down costs and maximize efficiency.