Delivering Transformation: Why Logistics and Emerging Technologies Will Always Travel Together

Palak Patel

4.27.2018

The logistics and supply chain industry is like the modern economy’s final execution phase. The promises millions of businesses make are only as good as what these businesses are delivering upon. Now is when the rubber meets the road, which presents some interesting challenges.

Emerging technology has long played a pivotal role in the evolution of the logistics and supply chain industry. But perhaps more than ever before, new capabilities like AI and robotics are sparking a new race — one that’s not quite a spectator sport. Here’s our take on what’s happening in the logistics and supply chain industry, what we believe will be the most important tools moving forward, and how businesses can stay ahead of the digital curve.


New Models + New Experiences 

Achievements in supply chain management and logistics are becoming more attractive in the mainstream largely thanks to extraordinary feats like Amazon’s massive network of fulfillment centers, which allows Amazon Prime to make two-day shipping a reality for more than 90 million subscribers in the United States alone.

So, who’s pushing the envelope right now?

From new delivery models to freight tracking, AI data analysis, and everything in between, there’s no shortage of tech-driven solutions that reimagine consumer experiences, while making businesses as informed, efficient, and in-control as possible.  

Companies like Marble have offered a glimpse into the future of food delivery with their autonomous delivery robots. Chicago-based FourKites — a startup that tracks freight shipments in real time — has grown exponentially with IoT- and AI-driven products centered on real-time, end-to-end freight tracking for large enterprise businesses. Target even acquired San Francisco-based software provider Grand Junction last year to invest in its same-day delivery capabilities.

Within the whirlwind of change, where does one begin?


Making Existing Resources Work Smarter for You

With such rapid new innovations and advancements, it’s easy to act hastily and begin adding solutions by hiring new talent or introducing new software, protocols, ideas, or paradigms. However, this is often the wrong mindset from which to start. In general, the place to start is right under your nose. You already have the resources you depend on. You’ve already mapped the best routes. The best routes already exist. The patterns are already being made. The answers are there. You just need to wait for them to reveal themselves.

The best examples of this mentality are how third-party logistics brokers like Coyote Logistics and C. H. Robinson revolutionized freight management over the last 10 to 20 years. H. Robinson and Coyote struck gold in developing a solution to a problem that had plagued the industry for years: empty backhaul trips, called “deadheads.” A full truckload of product would move from one location to the next and, when unloaded, carriers and even company-owned trucks would drive empty hundreds of miles to their next pickup. Fuel was burned and time lost with no dollars to show for it. 

Coyote — which UPS acquired in 2015 — solved this problem by using proprietary software systems to track thousands of deliveries, syncing empty drivers with nearby pickups to grab next. As a result, enterprise companies get faster service and rates are lowered because of greater visibility and competition for pickups. Greater accountability across the board means promises are kept and passed down to the consumer.

Amazon’s Kiva robots are another great example of how to get the most value from resources at hand. They are not only the cornerstone of Amazon’s remarkably efficient inventory management and fulfillment processes, but have also continued to develop new models and strategies for Amazon and other businesses to follow. The Kiva units’ continuous, iterative improvement and learning are just as valuable as their ability to pull product.


AI: The Best Time to Start was Yesterday

This maximizing-resources mentality is why AI solutions are proving invaluable to any digital strategy in logistics and supply chain management. Optimized routes may be staring at you but are buried in legacy thinking and data saturation. The warning sirens that lead to proactive equipment maintenance are sounding off, but it’s impossible to hear them if you deliberately ignore. Capabilities like machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing are changing the world because they allow us to uncover answers and insights that we’ve always been looking for and at speeds we never thought possible. 

The point is, sometimes the answers you’re looking for are already there. You just need the right people and technology to make them visible, actionable, and in lockstep with the rest of your business.

In an industry whose backbone is still the open road, you won’t cover much ground without your foot on the gas.


Want to know more?

Solstice hosted a panel of cross-vertical experts to lead an executive briefing on the current state of AI and its impact on the customer experience; here are six key takeaways from the interactive discussion. You can also read about our AI practice area here.