Prateek Joshi, Head, IT, India Infrastructure and
Logistics Private Limited

Enterprises in the logistics space have been increasingly using information and communication technology (ICT) systems to drive operational efficiencies. These solutions have become critical for tracking shipments and gaining end-to-end visibility. Technologies like internet of things (IoT) and cloud are gaining traction amongst logistics companies for ensuring effective communication with consumers as well as within the organisation. Going forward, the industry is expected to step up its ICT investments for the adoption of technologies like augmented reality, which would optimise the collection, warehouse planning and freight transportation processes. Enterprises in this space talk about their IT strategies, emerging technology trends and future plans for upgrading their ICT infrastructure….

How are telecom and technology solutions helping improve performance and efficiency in the logistics sector? What are the key technology solutions being used?

Emerging technologies are creating strategic opportunities for organisations to gain a competitive advantage in all areas, including logistics and supply chain management (SCM). These technologies are helpful in coordinating activities to manage the supply chain. Moreover, the cost of information is decreasing due to the increased adoption of such technologies. The latest technologies being used in logistics and SCM can be segregated into three broad areas: automatic identification technology including barcoding, radio frequency identification (RFID) and voice recognition; communication technologies like electronic data interchange (EDI), geographical positioning systems (GPS), track and trace systems and information directed systems (IDS); and information technology (IT) consisting of hardware and software that captures, analyses and provides information whenever it is needed.

Moreover, the use of IT tools like enterprise resource planning (ERP) by logistics companies has given them a competitive edge by enabling a quicker res­ponse to customer needs, reduced inventory costs, improved service levels and lower logistics costs.

What is your company’s IT blueprint?

Our IT systems deliver increased efficiency, reliability and responsiveness through the automation of supply chain activities, end-to-end visibility and a wealth of business intelligence. We employ IT to provide best-in-class service to our customers by implementing ERP systems and technology. Our track and trace systems are powered by GPS technology and provide our customers with real-time information of their consignments on email/SMS/web portals. These systems are designed to generate auto notifications to various stakeholders on certain events.

Further, EDI systems with our partners and customers have helped us achieve faster and paperless information exchange in real time. By making use of data analytics tools, which give the management visibility of cross-functional data under single dashboards, decision-making is now more data-­driven. We are also exploring various auto ID technologies for seamless information interchange on a real-time basis.

What are the new IT initiatives taken by the company? What benefits have you derived from them and what challenges did you face in deploying these solutions?

With the company’s focus on diversification of business product lines and growing pressure on cost reduction, we are formulating our IT initiatives accordingly. Over the next few months, we are planning to augment our technology architecture to make it more robust and efficient by undertaking new initiatives. However, the major challenge is in terms of the changing technological landscape wherein you need to work hard to maintain the right balance between handling existing pro­cess­es and introducing new ones without causing a disruption in business. We faced technological challenges in introducing GPS-powered tracking systems as there were severe limitations in latitude and longitude mapping of the railway network in India. However, the gains realised after the roll-out were overwhelming. Today, we are able to provide our partners and customers end-to-end visibility on their shipment through more efficient fleet utilisation.

What has been the impact on the IT requirements of the logistics industry due to the boom in the e-commerce sector?

The overall growth of e-commerce has been dramatic and it will continue to be fuelled by business-to-business activity. The future, solutions that offer flexibility of use and enhance the visibility of the supply chain will be the need of the industry. Mobile devices and apps are the most important technology disruptor in the field of logistics, followed by big data analytics and cloud computing. The e-commerce boom will only increase the demand for performance by logistics service providers in terms of delivery timelines, volumes and costs. Last-mile delivery will be the focus of this demand. In India, warehouse automation is currently the most underutilised category of technology development. Local material handling and robotics manufacturers are equipped to provide high quality warehouse automation support. The adoption of this technology is also driven by the demand from e-commerce fulfilment centres.

“The use of IT tools by logistics companies has given them a competitive edge by enabling a quicker response to customer needs, reduced inventory costs, improved service levels and lower logistics costs.” Prateek Joshi

What is the level of adoption of applications such as CRM, SCM and sales force automation in the logistics industry? What is the outlook for the adoption of new technologies like IoT, cloud and big data analytics?

The need for faster and multi-device remote access of information is pushing the industry to shift to the software-as-a-service model for its information management systems, such as transport management systems and warehouse management systems (WMS). Moreover, big data and analytical tools, when used to structure the large sets of data generated by these information management systems, promise to bridge inherent inefficiencies. Meanwhile, augmented reality, automation and auto­nomous vehicles in the warehousing environment have proven to improve the efficiency and time taken for loading-unloading, storage retrieval, picking-packing, and other processes. Mobile devices such as tracking devices enable faster order and inventory management by integrating the shipment location data with the WMS, thereby letting the systems prompt and enable easy shipment detection.

Further, the utilisation of big data analytics is reflected in route optimisation based on traffic congestion data and shorter route analysis on mobile device apps such as Google Maps. Fleet management vendors are benefited across economies by these developments due to a reduction in fuel consumption and delivery timelines. Freight forwarding service providers deal with multiple stakeholders such as shippers, carriers and third-party vendors, all of whom need access to dynamic shipment information to ensure optimised transactions. Therefore, freight forwarders need to stay abreast of technology advancements. Access to information and solution systems via multiple devices and mobile devices  cloud computing drives the adoption. Further, enhanced demand forecasting and inventory optimisation mechanisms using predictive modelling drive the adoption of analytics. Meanwhile, the demand for supply chain visibility drives the implementation of shipment identification and tracking devices.