A “logistics digitalization expert”? What’s that? And how do you digitalize logistics?
Logistics is more than driving lorries around the countryside and loading and unloading goods. Many elements must work together to make the distribution of goods from manufacturers to buyers work smoothly. The most critical point in the entire process is where long-distance transport – typically full-truck or container loads (FTL) – intersects with local distribution of individual cargo units to consignees. When these are primarily commercial customers (in other words, in the business-to-business segment, in short “B2B”), multi-drop delivery companies are in charge of the “last mile”. The B2B segment should not be confused with the delivery of individual parcels or packets to private households – that would be the task of the postal or courier services we all know.
By contrast, part-load distribution handles palletised or other, larger items which must be taken from the depot to the consignee safely and quickly. We are living in the era of exceedingly expensive fuels, tightening emission limits, a general shortage of lorry drivers and intense international competition in the logistics sector. It isn’t hard to understand why daily multi-drop delivery trips are the least efficient portion of the transport route a shipment takes from the manufacturer to the end customer: Narrow country roads, congested city traffic, frequent stops, traffic lights, changing itineraries etc. Deploying vehicles and drivers efficiently in these circumstances to deliver every shipment quickly at the lowest fuel cost is nothing short of an art form.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO RELIEVE THE DISPATCHERS
Day after day specialised experts wreck their brains to do this artwork. They are called dispatchers. They sit in front of their computer screens in the deep of the night, often with outdated software as their only tool, trying to allocate shipment by shipment to the available vehicles and plan delivery routes so that in the end, as many goods as possible are delivered using as few resources as possible – drivers, lorries, fuel. When the depot is full of shipments awaiting delivery, and it happens that a number of drivers have fallen ill, let’s say, with COVID-19, the dispatcher is faced with an impossible chore.
Complex management tasks are among the challenges software developers and programmers love. When there’s just not enough time for humans to think the whole process through and come up with a reasonable plan, the only way out of the dilemma is the digital approach – powerful software to move things along more efficiently.
That is exactly the point where software developers are today – finding ways to overcome these kinds of bottlenecks. Because distributing goods across lorries and routes isn’t all that needs to be accomplished. The multi-drop delivery business has to overcome a long list of additional hurdles: To make the best of the available space on board a lorry you need to know the dimensions and weight of each shipment as well as the capacity of each vehicle. What is more, some consignees can take deliveries at their sites at specific hours only or need a delivery vehicle with a hydraulic ramp. There are many more constraints. To make matters worse, it often happens that the specifications received for a prospective shipment are incomplete or incorrect. As you can see, the devil is always in the details. So how do you build software that can handle these kinds of tricky situations? The answer: You use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Now it probably dawns on you that making multi-drop delivery more efficient through digitalization is a really big task. It takes people who are able to “think out of the box”, people with lots of imagination and creativity and an open mind for trying out new approaches.
The task itself is multidimensional, too: Once you have resolved the first challenge, it takes you to the next one which is tightly interlinked with it. For example, you have to account for different vehicle sizes and capacities, special constraints such as tight manoeuvring spaces right in the middle of inner-city traffic, temporary construction sites, hazardous or oversized goods, and much more. There are lots of “soft” factors in the equation. This is why the multidrop segment needs digital solutions which are capable of “thinking” and “learning” alongside the dispatcher; software designed to evolve along with the highly dynamic logistics industry itself.
It is a fascinating field to work in, and not just for software experts but also for customer consultants, talented communicators and others eager to join a team of young, agile professionals who are excited about what they do; a start-up which has just begun to excel in the market: Smartlane. After all, the logistics industry is in urgent need of powerful solutions to overcome its biggest challenges – a solution like Smartlane Transport Intelligence. The sector needs developers and consultants who are sensitive to its specific needs and fears; people who will do what it takes to help carriers tackle the digital transformation with bravado.