Due to COVID-19, there has been a massive disruption in the supply chain that’s wreaking havoc on many industries. Logistics companies being part of that supply chain need to turn to new technologies and applications to work more with data to gain insights into their facilities to not only improve performance, for preventive maintenance reasons, but to avoid significant downtime. Let’s dive into the top trends the logistics industry is tapping into to help the supply chain and avoid further disruptions.

Cloud-based systems

Data security isn’t just a priority for logistics, however right now the overall supply chain industry is moving toward cloud-based applications. On-premise data centers usually operate on a mixture of technologies that are outdated making them easier for hackers to exploit. According to a report by market research firm, Clutch, 64 percent of enterprises believe cloud infrastructure is more secure than legacy systems. A data warehouse management system like Snowflake allows organizations to have a heightened sense of security that on-premise systems just don’t have. Cloud providers provide rules, privileges, and provide role-based access to increase security and have annual audits. Many cyberattacks within the logistics industry fall victim to ransomware. It’s critical to have software in place that has proper cybersecurity measures in place and that it is managed properly especially as more logistics companies digitize. Logistics companies are massive, all it takes is for one human error to cost an organization millions. Top warehouse data management systems like Snowflake also partner with organizations to offer threat detection, anomaly detection, threat intelligence and vulnerability management services in addition to the Snowflake’s security data lake.

Digital Twin

Digital Twin technology has been around for many years, however now with recent developments, the logistics industry has big plans for digital twins. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s define “digital twin” since it does have many definitions depending on the use case, but in simple terms, it’s essentially a virtual representation of a real physical asset while also representing that asset’s behavior, and provides value by collecting data, analytics and response to changes. So of course this can mean many things depending on what asset you’re talking about and when it’s put into practice. Before, the price tag attached to implementing digital twins for the logistics industry was too great. Now that these costs are decreasing, this technology is becoming a lot more attractive since the benefits are clear.

For example, with packaging and containers alone, there’s a lot of challenges to overcome with the design, monitoring, and managing of these materials. With Digital Twins, there’s the possibility to identify ways to reduce waste, costs, and increase efficiencies and sustainability by predicting and modeling a digital twin using more of a sustainable material and testing/modeling how those materials would react in transit.

Digital twins of shipments can also be created. Using both use cases for packing and shipping can mean massive improvements and protection of the materials in transit-especially with high-value products that are more vulnerable to be compromised under harsh conditions. How would this be done? It’s already a common practice for sensitive shipments to have sensors in them to collect valuable data, but the digital twin would allow the data to be used in different ways.

Arguably the whole logistics infrastructure including warehouses and distribution centers would benefit from utilizing digital twins to increase process efficiencies tracking equipment, personnel and inventory to help predict future situations- especially as e-commerce grows.

Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools make a lot of sense for the logistics industry as well and there is rapid adoption occurring across many industries. There’s many repetitive admin and operations tasks involved that are critical to the business such as invoicing and transport planning, but take a lot of hours for humans to perform that may also fall victim to human error. Microsoft’s Power Automate is their RPA tool for these repetitive tasks to increase efficiencies and so stakeholders can have their valuable human resources elsewhere within operations. With a tool like Power Automate many end-to-end business actions can be automated for logistics management. Different process flows can be created based on certain triggers which cause certain automated actions to perform such as employee attendance, job assignments, and checking delivery status of certain items or if delivery failed. Not only that, but vehicle health management, customer relationship management, monitoring and reporting are all key tasks that can be automated with RPA. Gartner reports that by 2024, organizations will lower their operational costs by 30 percent combining hyper-automation technologies with redesigned operational processes-that’s big.

Augmented Reality

A technology that isn’t only just cutting edge for the industry, but also extremely useful is augmented reality. There are now apps out there such as the Power BI for Mixed Reality app to  help personnel make data-driven decisions by providing hands-free access to their Power BI dashboards and reports in real-time instead of having the worker stop what they’re doing to find the data they need. This app allows users to access Power BI dashboards while using Hololens to interact with reports and dashboards on top of a real-world environment. The app also has voice commands and has the content follow you around in a “docking belt” or the user can pin it to a certain location within your view so you can either reference other reports or continue working. These wearables make operations workers more efficient and optimize overall performance. While augmented reality has been known for more recreational use, it’s been growing within the industrial and supply chain space to optimize operations and to take advantage of real-time data. According to Forbes, AR statistics for this year reveal that AR companies are focusing towards industrial applications (65 percent) rather than custom software.

Advanced Analytics and IoT

Applying IoT sensors to track assets means loads of data is at your fingertips to improve efficiencies, but now there’s been a closer look into getting real-time insights into making the whole supply chain more visible to act on that data including traffic patterns, weather, or road and port conditions. According to MarketWatch, the global connected logistics market is expected to reach more than $72 billion by 2024.Integrating tools and software to connect like Microsoft’s Power BI can allow critical data to flow through custom dashboards outlining data such as shipment costs, locations, volumes, and even mapping out route details between two locations. Collecting this data can mean a massive reduction in costs and improve operations based on the actionable data collected. We’re not in an age where logistics companies can continue to operate blindly and work reactively. These data analytics tools allow key stakeholders to collect and analyze data to act proactively before operations shutdown or break. These data dashboards are also mobile-friendly allowing easy access to this data wherever you are and in real-time. Using Microsoft Power Apps is also a powerful platform to optimize delivery routes and efficient deliveries and is a low-code solution for those who may be intimidated by implementing these new data tools and apps.

Using predictive analytics is one of the most valuable insights in logistics in order to address things like supply and demand, thereby accelerating delivery times and reducing bottlenecks in operations.

According to a Statista report last year, the top three biggest challenges to logistics providers in last-mile delivery were reducing logistics costs (35%). This is followed by making on-time deliveries (21%), and responding to last-minute changes. Taking advantage of these advancements in technology directly addresses these big challenges within the logistics and supply chain industry and will help propel it forward.

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