Recent years have seen massive uptake of key technologies and information and communications technology (ICT) solutions across the logistics sector in India. Companies are increasingly deploying smart solutions such as tracking systems and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to improve business efficiency and enhance customer experience. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, blockchain and augmented reality, among others, are increasingly making inroads to the sector and are redefining the way logistics companies carry out warehousing and supply chain management (SCM). That said, lack of trained resources poses a big challenge, creating hurdles in the widespread adoption of these solutions. Rajkumar S., Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Sequel Logistics Private Limited, discusses the evolving technology landscape, challenges and the future outlook for the sector…
How have ICT requirements of companies in the logistics sector evolved over time amidst growing digitalisation?
Digitalisation is making a huge and significant impact on our logistics industry. Digital interfaces are becoming increasingly critical to logistics planning, execution and monitoring and in the overall management of shipments and its underlying processes. Further, it is helping internal teams to take timely and credible actions, to better manage clients’ information requirements and to be more effective in managing our internal processes. We are already using ICT to empower our clients, by providing them access on their mobile devices to engage and transact, book shipments, track status, receive invoices and make payments. The dependence on the traditional call center to obtain routine and basic information is substantially reduced.
At Sequel, we approached the digitalisation initiative in two stages – first was to capture transactions through various IoT technologies (sensor hardware), and second was to put all that information on an integrated platform and interlink using algorithms to automate alerts and initiate actions.
How are technologies such as blockchain, IoT, AI and ML transforming the sector? Can you highlight some of the emerging use cases?
Reliability (security), scalability, speed and commercial viability are the key factors that we keep in mind when exploring and adopting these new technologies. Initially, we started with the simple barcode, which was scalable and commercially viable. However, it is less secure and easily replicable. Then came RFID solutions, which covered most aspects that a barcode could not. However, issues with reliability and viability crept in. In our view, Bluetooth technology, in conjunction with the smartphone, seem to be the most promising of all technologies that have come about thus far. Bluetooth technology is commercially viable and its use cases range from remotely operated locks to tracking devices, fuel sensors, and live temperature monitors, to name a few. Bluetooth technology locks that we use in our vehicles can be opened only when the vehicle is inside the destination’s geofenced area. Access control to the lock can be set for designated persons, at a designated geo-location and between a specific time range. Blockchain technology helps in improving the traceability of certain precious and critical shipments. Despite the overload of data, it is important to not lose sight of the common thread and to be able to trace back events, if the need arises.
What are the key ICT solutions deployed by your organisation?
As mentioned, our ICT solutions entail choosing and deploying the right set of end-point sensors/IoT devices; and powerful software, which can assimilate the information and provide meaningful information to internal and external stakeholders for better and faster decision-making.
Also, while we initially started using ICT only for shipment management, very soon we realised that to orchestrate and control the overall performance outcome of our organisation, we need an integrated information system. For example, for pickup and delivery of shipment there are multiple actions, coordination and resources that are required to be synchronised, which get complex in a scaled-up business such as ours. As we could not find ready-to-use software for our specific requirements, we built and deployed our own software application from scratch. Right now, we use our application for everything, including CRM, sales management, people management, fleet management, security, inventory, finance and other core operations.
What are the challenges faced while deploying these new-age technologies? How do you plan to address them?
We now live in an age where numerous technologies, both as hardware and software, are accessible and available on a standalone basis. However, the key challenge (which is also an opportunity), is the organisation’s ability to stitch together an integrated solution, using the right technologies in the right places, without making it very complex for end users and customers. Hence, our approach has been to “out-source” the hardware, and “in-source” the software, so as to leverage our strong domain expertise.
What technology trends are set to disrupt the logistics sector in the near future?
As mentioned, a lot of progress is happening on the Bluetooth technology front. The use cases across the board are limited only by our imagination. Similarly, blockchain technology is set to immensely help our logistics sector in managing and running a coherent and compliant business process.