In recent years, there has been a surge in the deployment of ICT infrastructure among enterprises in the logistics space. Companies are increasingly deploying new-age technologies such as internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, which are set to disrupt the sector. The Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated this digitalisation trend, with companies making concerted efforts to deploy new-age technology solutions in an effort to sail through the crisis. These technologies are revolutionising the logistics sector and are predicted to be the harbingers of growth as they would streamline supply chains, operations and warehouse management, leading to higher efficiency and productivity.
A look at the key technologies gaining traction in the logistics sector, the impact of Covid-19 on technology adoption across organisations and the way forward…
IoT is a technology that has found multiple use cases in the sector. By deploying IoT devices, companies can not only track their shipments, but also make sure that the whole transportation process runs smoothly. Enterprises across the logistics sector are increasingly deploying solutions such as RFID tags, GPS and specialised sensors to carry out real-time tracking of shipments and consignments. These solutions are enabling them to detect any potential breach in the service-level agreement or turnaround time early on, and take actions accordingly. In fact, the adoption of IoT-based tracking solutions is enabling logistics players to fast-track their shipments. Further, the deployments of sensors along with packages and consignment is fast gaining traction. In fact, connected assets are the most common applications for IoT devices as they have higher value, longer life spans and less mobility than packages. The initial IoT use cases focused on larger and more expensive assets, such as vehicles in a fleet management system, but the logistics industry is now expanding the use of sensors to smaller and sometimes more complex assets, such as consigned products.
In addition, the deployment of IoT devices in facilities and warehouses can help monitor and improve the use of utilities such as lights and machines, thereby allowing facility owners to substantially save on costs.
Blockchain too holds immense potential and offers multiple use cases in the logistics sector. The technology solution can enable the synchronisation of multiparty logistics across the value chain, thus eliminating the duplication of documentation processes. This can help achieve an integrated end-to-end logistics system. One of the key attributes of the technology is its traceability, something that can add great value to the management of supply chains.
Using blockchain-based solutions, users can track the movement, status and quantity of their goods. Furthermore, if there is any irregularity in the shipment process, a blockchain network will be able to immediately detect it and also identify its origin. In addition, blockchain is proving to be an increasingly cost-effective solution. Blockchain enables logistics companies to track and record activity logs. This delivers an extra level of transparency, traceability and control, thus offering logistics players a greater competitive edge. Further, smart contracts on the blockchain platform are written in codes and have the ability to automate transactions across supply chains.
In view of its various benefits, several companies are now exploring blockchain. For instance, Walmart has reportedly partnered with IBM to use blockchain to digitalise its food supply chain process.
AI too has made inroads into the sector, playing a significant role in streamlining enterprise operations. By using cognitive automation, enterprises can save time, reduce costs and increase productivity. In terms of managing warehousing operations too, AI-based solutions can help collect and analyse key information regarding the functioning of key devices and machines, and help with inventory processing. Moreover, AI-based self-driving vehicles can help reduce the opex involved in transportation, thus helping reduce overall expenses in logistics. AI is also being increasingly used by logistics players for predictive demand and network planning. With the help of AI, companies can accurately predict demand and accordingly do capacity planning, thus ensuring better operational management.
AI also plays a key role in the provision of clean data, which can be used to gather insightful analysis and create better systems. Companies often generate their data at multiple points and through multiple people. Such data and figures cannot be easily improved at the source. Thus, algorithms have to be applied to improve data quality and analysis.
The logistics sector kept things in motion despite being impacted during the pandemic. It was one of the critical sectors, ensuring that people got what they needed amidst the nationwide lockdown. In fact, e-commerce logistics witnessed a spurt during the pandemic as brands worked relentlessly to ensure that customers received their orders on time. As consumers turned to e-tailing platforms for essential supplies, technology emerged as a game changer. Market reports suggest that demand for logistics services increased by 25-30 per cent from both buyers and sellers. To better manage the surge in demand, logistics players turned to technology. A key trend that emerged during the pandemic was that of contactless and OTP-based deliveries as companies took their businesses online, leveraging technology to ensure the safety of both their customers as well as employees. Further, as social distancing, hygiene and safety norms took centre stage, technology played a critical role in ensuring seamless last-mile deliveries.
According to a report by Frost & Sullivan, the pandemic has created new opportunities for digitalisation across the logistics value chain. These are expected to gain traction during the post-pandemic recovery phase. As the new normal unfolds, it is imperative that logistics providers build a robust tech-enabled delivery framework.
Covid-19 has brought in headwinds in the logistics sector, highlighting the importance of technology solutions across functions and segments. As per industry estimates, the Indian logistics market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10.7 per cent between 2020 and 2024. Going forward, a number of trends will drive this growth, including the adoption of technology.
According to a joint report published by CII and Arthur D Little, technology solutions such as geotagging, auto-capture and big data will emerge in a big way and enable collaboration, better forecasting, and traceability along the network, which could help monitor supply chains. This, in turn, will enable logistics players to better manage resources along the supply chain, thus allowing organisations to manage demand- and supply-side shocks. Likewise, AI, blockchain and IoT will help bring breakthrough productivity gains in the supply chain network. The report further noted that automation in packaging has helped industries reduce their workforce by 20-30 per cent, which has curtailed losses due to labour migration.
In the coming years, technology will be all-pervasive in the logistics sector and significantly impact the decision-making and business strategies of enterprises.
By Diksha Sharma