The future of intralogistics is here, powering your business to the next chapter
The adage of the customer always being right has changed a little over the years since technology started playing a significant part in all our lives and in industry.
These days, instead of customer satisfaction, most retailers and their suppliers are all talking about quality of “customer experience”. That’s an affirmation that keeping business moving forward needs more than just concentrating on ensuring a single transaction proceeds “well enough”. Today, customers’ experiences are a continuous process comprising of marketing messages delivered in a timely, preferred way, a possible purchase, a special offer, perhaps a product being returned easily, a cross-sell, and so on.
That’s partly down to the rise of technology, but specifically it comes down to the consumerisation of technology, where every person now carries a smartphone, and uses apps that with a few taps of the screen, can organise a taxi, arrange a meal delivery, schedule a personal trainer, check the road conditions and dozens more besides. That fluency with technology has led customers to expect the same type of seamless service they get from the Amazons of this world in every other interaction they engage in.
That puts massive pressure onto retailers and service providers (and public sector bodies too, like the tax office and the local council), and their entire supply chains. Therefore, companies in logistics or pure B2B operations like warehousing or distribution are significantly affected. As the new levels of expected service percolate up to the warehouse operations companies, how can companies ensure that they are not the flies in the ointment of the overall customer experience?
As is often the case, the cause of the ramp-up in expected levels of service — technology — is also the solution. Below, we consider three vendors in the warehousing, supply chain, and logistics space whose next-generation solutions are helping companies digitise and advance.
So what are the specific technologies that are getting established that can help companies operate in ways congruent with omnichannel retail, same-day delivery, build-to-order, last-minute fulfilment, and all the other fast-moving requirements placed on them?
Losing the business partnerships?
Perhaps the first step is an attitude adjustment. It’s important for warehouse operations businesses, logistics, and distribution companies to start thinking in terms of customers. That’s because the concerns and demands of the end-users (or consumers) become your concerns, by proxy. Retailers supply demand, and the supply chain’s role is therefore only a step away from customer-facing. Solutions to change warehousing procedures for the better, therefore, must be based with the end-goal in mind, not the next step.
Losing the hype factories?
If we were to believe the marketers whose messages we consume every day, everything now, from stationery to soap is “powered by AI”. In close to 100 percent of cases, it’s simply not true. The intelligent refrigerated storage unit, the smart building management system may both be running code that’s cleverly constructed to change somewhat according to conditions and variables (if the room is warm, set the fridge unit to run harder), but AI it ain’t.
AI or machine learning is starting to develop a role in the analysis of “big data” in some workplaces, but usually only in particular use-cases, where the data ingested is standardised. AI management of a system as complex as a supply chain is many years off — there are simply too many disparate systems involved which need interconnecting and their data homogenising.
That’s not to say AI can be written off, but for now, the best thing for supply chain professionals is to deploy any technology with a view to its future compatibility with other systems coming online in the next few years. Look for interoperability, standardisation, and open data schematics.
Losing the frontiers?
At a time when the UK seems to be putting up barriers to trade in its exit from the EU, businesses need to begin to think globally. The broader economic picture presents many opportunities for retailers (e-commerce, food and produce orders online, omnichannel retail strategies across many verticals) and therefore their logistics, warehousing, and distribution elements.
Markets in places like India, Brazil, and mainland China are opening, in some cases as a result of national government policies driving trade and commerce. Technology too is playing a considerable role: in India, for example, there are potentially 829 million smartphone-toting consumers coming online by 2022.
Locally in the UK, Chinese companies now realise that local order fulfilment from warehouses near arterial routes can solve the extended shipping times that have put off many UK and EU customers from dealing directly with the Chinese mainland.
Whether Brexit is seen as a boon or a bust is not relevant. By deploying the correct technologies and adopting differently-focused processes (plus a little of that attitudinal realignment), supply chain professionals have many new options on the table to keep their businesses thriving on a global scale.
At TechHQ, we’re looking at three suppliers of the type of technology available today (with an eye to tomorrow) that are proven to create the types of results modern supply chain elements need.
The consumerisation of technology is leading to massive upheaval in the supply chain industry, from the smallest courier service to the global warehousing and distribution giants. Deploying the same kind of always-on, technologically-savvy solutions that fit right in is Dematic, the US-based global intralogistics provider with 200 years of specialist experience in the sector.
The company’s significant investment in R&D means that as a solution provider, it can be relied on to come up with the type of practical solutions for businesses that create leaner and more efficient processes — and the winners, at the end of the day, are the end-users or consumers. That means users of Dematic solutions can offer the type of service that today’s retailers are required to provide: omnichannel, connected, fast, and always-on.
With a range of products that optimise storage, transport and processes in the supply chain industry, Dematic technologies are helping forward-looking companies to change and adapt to this more agile, customer experience-oriented marketplace. From AI that can predict demand fluctuations so you can scale and adapt proactively, to solutions that ensure the maximum use of finite warehousing space, Dematic is the company that’s keyed into the industry’s future.
Austrian multinational Knapp offers a considerable range of solutions for just about every element in a supply chain. Its massive industrial robots aid heavy industry all over the globe, while the software platforms on offer help control, and attenuate handling, packing and production processes in warehouses, distribution centers, loading bays, and pallet distribution centers.
IoT (the internet of things) is a particularly exciting area in the industry, and some of Knapp’s products shoe it is something of a field leader. From logistics-oriented vehicle tracking devices reporting GPS positioning data in real-time, to roboticised, automated warehouse vehicles, Knapp can help optimise processes and find capacity in even the busiest facility.
Technology designed to enable cross-docking, for instance, helps companies make significantly better use of limited space, plus there are people-centric technologies like semi-automated, aided order picking hardware and software, too. Also on the list of this vendor’s extensive range of products is software that’s designed to help with “traditional” warehouse staffing — specialist solutions that go beyond the standard HR solution’s abilities.
You can read more about Knapp here.
Like many suppliers or vendors in this market space, High Jump (a US-based company with offices across the states, and with an outpost in Shanghai) can be operated in the cloud using a SaaS model (software as a service). That’s increasingly attractive for warehouse companies that wish to avoid the upfront cost of deploying a new, overarching management system. The emphasis is placed on OPEX as opposed to CAPEX, and the OPEX sum can be written off quarterly (typically) in the UK, against tax.
However, many rely instead on on-premise deployments as either internet connectivity cannot be guaranteed, or because of security or governance concerns. Whatever the case, the High Jump solution can be deployed in either use-case, giving companies the flexibility of choice.
What will also be refreshing to the C-suite will be the integration capabilities of the High Jump solutions. Rather than having to tear down existing technologies (especially software), the solutions are designed to integrate with the rest of the IT stack. That is typically a larger ERP system, or bespoke, or specialised pieces of software used in specific market sectors. One prime example is in environments with heavy reliance on IIoT (industrial internet of things), which tend to use legacy networking protocols and software.
Integration with these is, of course, absolutely necessary, as many of the devices and machines that IIoT is installed on are designed for extended lifespans and cannot be replaced for the sake of new software.
To learn more about High Jump, click here.
*Some of the companies featured are commercial partners of TechHQ