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Technology in Logistics and its impact on the businesses

By Richard Gifford, Chief Information Officer, Wincanton plc [LON: WIN]

Technology in Logistics and its impact on the businessesRichard Gifford, Chief Information Officer, Wincanton plc [LON: WIN]

Technology in logistics has become increasingly prevalent and its effect on the industry has been manifold. Businesses are expected to use it, and not praised for doing so. It has fundamentally changed the way businesses work, be it by transforming the supply chain, changing the ways in which suppliers meet their customers’ needs or how they strategise for the future.

Internet of Things

Data is the new major asset in logistics. One of the many ways this data is collected in the evolving supply network is through the massive growth in connected assets and products. This connectivity, forming the Internet of Things (IoT), generates and communicates much more information from the supply chain than we have seen in the past. Through cloud-based technologies, increased network connectivity and the ubiquity of sensors, the IoT has developed considerably in recent times and is no longer just a concept or a technology reserved for agile start-ups and asset-rich multinationals.

"As the supply chain evolves to become a more connected network, sharing accurate and timely information between partners will also be a vital component for achieving success"

There is also an expectation that manufacturers and retailers must now employ a host of technologies to ensure the supply chain is fully connected, whether it is order tracking and inventory management, or a full Warehouse Management System.

As these systems link with others across the business - sales, transport, returns management or a combination of these - firms need to consider whether logistics companies have the capabilities to connect seamlessly with their own technologies.

Businesses are seeing the true benefit of investing in their IT infrastructure to support the integration of massive amounts of IoT data to make sure they meet customers’ expectations.

A variety of systems and data repositories needs to be able to communicate with each other and allow all data in the network to be viewed together. To enable this, investments in IT foundation and platforms to properly collect, analyse and distribute data from sensors throughout the supply network is vital. If executed properly, the investment can open up opportunities for new business models; something progressive firms recognise and are actively pursuing.

What further benefit will this new technology and investment bring in the future? Firstly, it has the potential to add an unprecedented level of supply chain visibility. Real-time information collected from assets and products throughout the supply network leads to immediate decision-making, increased accuracy in forecasting, and more efficient asset deployment. Secondly, it will allow businesses to learn more about their customers, anticipate their needs, and provide a more tailored service. And finally, in the case of food products, the combination of IoT and Blockchain will ultimately provide the most complete view of their origin as they traverse the supply chain from end-to-end, giving us a new level of confidence in the quality of what we consume.

As the supply chain evolves to become a more connected network, sharing accurate and timely information between partners will also be a vital component for achieving success. IoT, as a technology on the cusp of mass adoption, has the potential to be a game-changing technology for the network to achieve this aim.

Easier and faster

There has been a step-change over the last year in the way emerging technologies are becoming faster and easier to deploy. Logistics and our customers’ needs now move incredibly quickly and our service must evolve across the life of a contract – all driven by the ever-increasing expectations of the end consumer. The days are gone when continuous improvement was enough to meet a customer’s need to drive down cost and improve efficiency as customers are increasingly looking for logistics firms to go beyond this and push a new approach to rapidly deployable innovation, which supports their ambitions.

Wincanton is focused on growth and we are supporting this through scaling up, modernising existing systems and solutions, exploiting their capabilities to support our customers, and by looking for innovation in all we do. In each of these areas, we have major programmes of work underway. We are also investing time and effort in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which are becoming mainstream for a modern business such as ours.

For decades the logistics chain has been a relay race – suppliers pass the baton to manufacturers who pass it to logistics companies who pass it to retailers. The reality in a world of connected data and advanced technology is that it actually looks more like a network than a chain, as a fundamental shift from a linear way of thinking to a networked and systems-led way of working is becoming the norm. Businesses need a networked view of data through the cycle - only then can they achieve the lightning speed and flexibility that is expected and demanded of modern logistics.

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