With everything the logistics industry has been through in the past year, many of us are left wondering — what’s next? The current disruption from technology and other changes that are sweeping the transportation sector, however, marks only the beginning of what’s to come. And, despite its destructive impact, COVID-19 merely sped up the process by forcing companies to adapt at a much quicker rate than anyone was previously expecting.
The majority of companies in the industry have already felt the effects of these changes to some extent. While some industry insiders may be less than thrilled about this progression, others have been impatiently awaiting its arrival. As technology advances, sustainability efforts rise, consumer demands shift, and e-commerce dominates the field, shippers need to understand how trends like these will shape shipping over time.
For those finding it difficult to juggle everything at once, the present uncertainty and volatility surrounding the pandemic’s aftermath won’t last forever. Fortunately, with help from increasing automation and smarter solutions, the industry’s future holds many promises.
To get there, though, you’ll have to properly leverage the technology and resources of today as well as tomorrow, so you don’t lose the competitive edge your business needs to attract and retain customers. This means a constant focus on developing new ways to optimize your distribution, warehousing, shipping, and transportation operations.
The logistics industry, as a whole, has had difficulty with a lot of persistent problems, such as:
· improving efficiency
· forecasting accurate demand
· managing labor needs
· increasing visibility
· overseeing reverse logistics processes
· reducing its carbon footprint
· staying on schedule
· overcoming weather delays
· collaborating effectively
· receiving and communicating accurate data
Areas like these have been major thorns in the sides of logistics leaders for years, but here are some up-and-coming trends that will hopefully improve, if not eliminate, most of these challenges.
Look Out for These Trends:
1. Internet of Things
While the Internet of Things (IoT) is not exactly a novelty concept, it is expected to continue to drive major industry advances. Using the internet to link tech-enabled devices such as smart vehicles with sensors that track and communicate data in real-time allows shippers to increase supply chain visibility from end to end. For example, trucks with IoT capabilities can collect mapping, video, and driving data while they’re in transit and avoid potentially dangerous road conditions. This interconnected system will offer safer transportation and optimize the use of key assets and provide invaluable business intelligence and new opportunities for collaboration.
2. Artificial Intelligence and Big Data
One trend that will address the difficulty surrounding forecasting accurate demand is artificial intelligence (AI). Solutions based on AI predictive analysis can help shippers save money and increase operational efficiency by better preparing their supply chains for fluctuations in demand. Logistics professionals can also leverage this transportation trend to minimize carbon emissions, decrease traffic disruptions, enhance asset care, optimize routes, and increase transparency. Some examples of this trend include:
· Neural networks
· Genetic algorithms
· Knowledge-based systems
· Agent-based methods
· Business forecasts
· Driving patterns
· Routing sensors
· Traffic, weather, and location data
3. Robotic Process Automation
Say goodbye to your least favorite menial back-office tasks. Robotic process automation (RPA) is a software that reduces inaccuracies and lowers overhead costs by automating the simple stuff. RPA solutions can include anything from organizing important information to digitizing purchase orders, to processing invoices. When combined with AI and big data, robotic software processes can also help shippers analyze their systems, reveal crucial insights, and use their information more effectively. You won’t have to replace your current IT systems either because, just like a human, RPA has the ability to work with your current platforms, while you can get back to focusing on more pressing priorities.
4. Automation in Warehousing
By increasing automation in warehousing, shippers can remove the issue of managing human labor entirely and boost the productivity, efficiency, and speed of their operations. With tools like automated storage and retrieval technology, robotic and put wall picking, and automated guided vehicles, warehousing has never been more prepared to take on the future of shipping. Shippers that choose to jump on the front end of this trend can look forward to taking full advantage of how they use the space in their warehouses by improving how they store and handle their inventory.
5. Shorter Last-Mile Deliveries
With the introduction of same-day and two-day deliveries, big-box retailers like Walmart and Amazon have largely impacted the way customers view modern shipping. As a result, this shift in expectations has left logistics professionals scrambling to develop strategies that will speed up their product turnaround and reduce their delivery windows. To compete, some shippers have started integrating small-scale urban warehousing facilities closer to consumers as a way to shave off time on that critical last mile and provide more immediate pickup alternatives. Other examples of leading technology that can increase flexibility and shorten the last mile include drone deliveries and temperature-controlled smart lockers.
6. Autonomous Vehicles
When you replace the need for human drivers with autonomous vehicle software and self-driving fleets, you’re automatically lowering the risk of accidents, while also increasing productivity in the first and last mile. The positives don’t stop there, however. AVs can help companies apply a more eco-friendly approach to their logistics by providing cleaner transportation alternatives. With the aid of greener routes and efficient fuel usage, the industry can reduce its carbon footprint and appeal to consumer interest in sustainability initiatives. The benefits of this technology seem pretty self-explanatory on the surface. Still, if you factor in benefits like these and the impact AVs will have on keeping deliveries on schedule, it’ll be hard to ignore this trend.
7. Cloud-based SaaS Solutions
This trend's primary value lies in its ability to remove the pressure of assuming a lot of risk with costly investments and expensive IT maintenance off the shoulders of shippers. Cloud-based supply chain investments are often built around pay-per-use models that don’t need as much capital as other leading logistics software. They also give shippers an easy way to share data in real-time and collaborate with other industry professionals without sacrificing security. Third-party logistics providers that offer B2B cloud fulfillment and transportation management platforms give shippers the tools to automate communication and track deliveries through one convenient system that doesn’t require any additional physical space.
In a time of transition and change, shippers need to seek out the resources to better manage soaring customer expectations for personalized, immediate service. Advancing technology presents logistics professionals an opportunity to proactively address relevant industry hurdles that are only weighing on their bottom line. One way or another, these trends will have an impact on your business eventually, so by integrating them into your operations now, you can keep your company from falling behind the competition.