How Innovative Technologies Can Redefine the Logistics Industry Post-COVID-19 Even as the lockdowns ease up now, much of the supply chains remain disrupted as organizations are still in a reactive stage trying to recover first

By Vaibhav Khandelwal

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Supply chains were rudely broken and thrown off-guard when the movement of goods came to a standstill as the lockdowns were imposed following the Covid-19 pandemic. Even as the lockdowns ease up now, much of the supply chains remain disrupted as organizations are still in a reactive stage trying to recover first. At the same time, those organizations and supply chains that did survive the lockdowns and even worked through it, share that technologically driven systems were the key to their robustness and their survival.

Even as the lockdowns are easing up, some social and economic aspects such as in-restaurant dining and customers stepping out in public places for shopping are likely to remain affected, with people preferring to order food and other stuff online. Online grocery shopping will continue to gain momentum as customers will prefer not going to crowded stores, markets or mandis. In such a scenario the importance of logistics and delivery increases many-fold and hyperlocal logistics requirements will be high. Post Covid-19, logistics will continue to play a significant role in fulfilling basic customer needs.

Brands and companies need to be mindful of changed consumer behavior in the wake of the pandemic. Agile and innovative companies will emerge leaders as they will be quick to experiment, evaluate, implement, monitor, and optimize processes and resources and employ new technologies to mitigate and meet the changing market conditions. Companies can look at improving their agility by deploying new technologies such as automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, algorithm-driven systems, open and easy access to information, and data sources.

Remodeling supply chains using technology

During the lockdowns and after, the supply chains have been the most affected. Therefore, there is a burning need for corporates to remodel their overall supply chains. There needs to be a rethink on the supply chain operations and the system upgradations for real-time digital tracking of orders, automatic tracking and alerts, route optimizations, and enhanced navigational abilities. While devising new systems, companies also have to be mindful of protecting and supporting the people working in the logistics systems.

There is another pressing need for technological adoption in the industry. The very nature of the logistics industry exposes it to maximum risks. The industry is, therefore, experiencing a paradigm shift in the very foundation of its operations—the new pillars of the logistics industry are contactless deliveries, location tracking, and early spotting and segregating the risk—all of which can be managed only through technological integrations.

Adopt Technology in supply chain and logistics

With the disruption in the normal routines and displacement of personnel, supply chains will experience a high degree of variability in the human resources—whether drivers, warehouse workers, and others. Technology alone, like blockchain and robotics, can ensure continuity. Real-time visibility and tab on operations by integrating logistics, inventory levels, demand forecasts will enable system agility and faster decision-making including financial forecasting and resource planning.

Safety and security

Automation and robotics (RPA, or robotics process automation) in packaging and warehouse will reduce human contact. This is not to eliminate human interventions but to assign no-value-addition processes to automation and robotics. Robotics has much to offer in this field. Similarly, contactless deliveries will conform to social distancing and also eliminate the need for human contact, thereby, minimizing the possibility of transfer and spread of infections. Contactless pick-up, delivery, and payment options by QR code scanning or clicking an image and then digitally signing the image should be the norm for the safety of delivery partners and customers.

Active location tracking will help identify the proximity of delivery partners to containment zones and quick avoidance of the same while suggesting further route optimization due to this disruption. Location tracking helps a lot of stakeholders—first, from the delivery partners' perspective and second, from the customers' standpoint—we can trace the communication and the touchpoints. Live tracking and integrations with last-mile delivery software enable route optimizations while successfully avoiding containment zones.

Predictions, forecasts, and even new business opportunities

Through AI integrations, organizations can cull out insights from unstructured real-time data to help predict disruptions and vulnerabilities. A study of real-time data is also useful in spotting idle capacities which can be utilized for engaging in new business opportunities. No matter what the nature of goods—grocery, medicines, food, couriers, etc.—demand for the exchange of products is never-ceasing. On-demand delivery management software can help cater to multiple requests

The very foundation and growth of the e-commerce industry have been steeped in technological advancements and also heavily dependent on strong logistics and supply chain integrations. But now the same need pervades the non-eCommerce sectors also. Their supply chains also, therefore, need to become more pragmatic, dynamic, responsive, and interconnected through the usage of technology. Companies have to design and build their future supply chains with risk management firmly in mind. The voice of caution though, here is that even though speed is the need of the hour there should be clarity in the implementations of both processes and technology. The idea is not to replace human acumen, rather a healthy marriage of optimal "human+machine' operations/solutions.

Vaibhav Khandelwal

CTO and Co-Founder Shadowfax

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