Reduce touch points to enhance customer satisfaction
Digital transformation can democratise information through enhanced access, but it requires constantly evolving business processes and applying technology at considered and effective points
The e-commerce era is well and truly underway, yet logistics companies are battling to keep pace with the explosion in digital consumption. The resistance to digitisation, coupled with the often-piecemeal nature of internal technological systems, has long meant that the logistics industry has had to make do with ad-hoc workarounds, partial visibility and delayed decision-making capabilities.
To match the expected speed of contemporary commerce, many logistics companies require an ‘Update’ - substituting legacy methods with a modern interoperable infrastructure that allows the industry to operate with greater visibility over their data and bring actionable insights into the hands of decision makers.
However, with this change comes a great number of questions. How can logistics companies better manage employee productivity and enhance customer experience through these digital transformations? What about the ownership and security of this information? Is it possible
to have too much information in the decision-making process?
Answers to these questions and more were considered in an interactive workshop on digitisation between supply chain leaders, run by Reuters Events: Supply Chain in partnership with Slync.io. The following summarises the thoughts expressed during that conversation while keeping participants’ anonymity safe to protect the open and frank conversations that are part of our roundtables.
Time and again, the word ‘digital’ is bandied about in the modern logistics space, yet it is often spoken without a clear awareness of what the term involves. Our discussants concurred that logistics, a traditionally conservative industry, had not only been slow to engage with digital transformation, often blighted by myopic decision making that is ill-suited to sustainable, long-term digital transformation. It was noted that in the past there was a clear lack of understanding of the value of digital transformation which had been seen to be a painful, cost-intensive endeavour. However, with the rise of e-commerce and speedy, efficient logistics operations no longer being a nice-to-have but a must-have, participants discussed that we were going through a seminal moment for a technologically nascent, and manual dependent industry.
It was noted that the dependence on manual processes and human interaction opened up large opportunities for error, namely in data entry tasks. Targeting automation on these repetitive tasks would cut down on time-consuming jobs and would most importantly increase the accuracy of these functions; freeing employees to focus on other tasks that drive the business forward. While the value of this is clear for all to see, the process of implementation is difficult especially in large organisations that span the globe with tens of thousands of employees. The key crux of the conversation was focussing in on the how, given that we all understand the why.
A key challenge in the implementation of these kinds of projects is overcoming the barriers of existing software stacks, namely the use of multiple disparate systems from multiple different vendors that do not “speak” to each other. A move towards tighter integration between systems was highlighted as a must. Greater interoperability would allow companies that use 10+ software systems to bridge disparate data flows and achieve the clear benefits of targeted process automation.
Moving beyond interoperability challenges, our panellists converged upon a simple, industry-wide problem — different stakeholders currently produce different data for the same event. This presents a problem, even once the interoperability challenge can be overcome.
Our discussant mentioned a need for a distinct solution that facilitated multi-party interaction, coalescing varied sources of data into a single portal and standard format, through which visibility for the customer and oversight for the operator, could be more easily managed. However, this is easier said than done. The primary challenge in achieving this solution has been the lack of a single ‘ground truth’ for data and an accepted format for information sharing. Experts in transportation asset provision and freight forwarding agree that standardisation might not be possible in a highly fragmented, global industry, where the exchange of information and communications between parties still relies heavily on email, phone calls and spreadsheets.
Whereas other industries have managed to consolidate competing practices and formats either by regulation or by dominant players in the market aligning, the dynamics of the logistics industry were seen to be an impediment for building interoperability and it was feared that it would be difficult to bring different agents and participants together to agree on shared formats which might then form the backbone of a unified approach to information sharing. The high cost in time and resources is an additional impediment to change for logistics organisations who, by their very nature, depend on constant uptime and reliability of their systems in order to keep freight moving. Rather than replace existing systems or force industrywide compliance, some in the panel believe a new set of technologies can help bridge the gap between structured and unstructured data to enhance productivity while augmenting the workforce’s ability to collaborate with customers and carriers and quickly identify and resolve exceptions.
Crucial to this was tailoring the customer experience to the user, especially with respect to data access. The UI/UX design world is improving constantly, and logistics is uniquely placed to institute new, time-saving user interfaces and experiences as it further digitises. Organisations ought to be looking to save time where manual interaction with digital infrastructure is still required, and to only surface useful information at key decision making points, rather than saturating the operator with extraneous information. This is especially important where customers have access to an order management system — they may only need visibility over the last mile, or much less information about a specific event, and a dense, rich information view would be unproductive for decision-making.
A number of our workshop participants emphasised the risks involved with increased transparency in the supply chain. In particular, our experts noted that increased access to information can lead to either paralysis of choice, or unexpectedly negative incentives for the end customer. Attention was drawn to the fact that some consumers seemed to be more price insensitive when given information about delivery times, and would opt for a more expensive provider if it meant faster delivery. If it is the case that an over-abundance of information has the potential to influence purchasing habits to the detriment of sales, businesses must recognise the importance of presenting the right information at the right time in order to encourage customers to respond positively.
On the other hand, it was also noted that greater information may lead to a greater feeling of control among certain demographics, building trust and loyalty for a brand as younger consumers value the oversight real-time data gives them over their purchase. Thus, our participants suggested the problem was best articulated as one of delivering information, requiring progressive disclosure, rather than just mirroring internal information externally.
Indeed, some suggested that customers should always have access to data, arguing that the logistics industry requires almost total transparency. To this effect, one discussant noted that they had begun to open up more radically to customers, providing information even if it laid their mistakes out in the open, as they had found it had led to a greater sense of trust and helped to improve processes more effectively than when kept behind closed doors.
Resolving these issues requires taking a step back and outlining clear horizons for approaching organisational change, both in the short and long-term. However, while scrambling to catch up is never an ideal situation, it was stressed that the innovation paralysis that comes from an industry-wide bystander effect is just as dangerous a position to be in.
Managing change in a rapidly evolving industry is no small task, but our panel proposed that digitisation might best be started from a gradual (internal) iteration upon cost optimisation processes, a side of logistics that is ripe for automation. By working outwards and digitising these core processes, businesses might be able to create a ripple effect outward in their operations, buffering the transition to different modes of working.
One clear takeaway from our discussion was the fact that bolting on digital changes without careful scrutiny of the underlying business processes can be hugely detrimental, merely delaying inevitable bottlenecks. Automating a bad process will only lead to a bad result. Instead, our experts felt that constantly evolving business processes and applying technology at considered and effective points was the key to effective change management.
Furthermore, some discussants were hopeful that a gradual shift would occur as customer demands grew more intense. As the consumer becomes ever-accustomed to greater visibility from larger players such as Amazon, our panellists felt that the industry would be pushed to catch-up in order to keep up.
To this end, collaboration with those technology providers driving forward new, innovative, standards in the industry was a noted boon. Setting up your organisation to orchestrate with a number providers and technical solutions early on helps ensure you can solve offline problems whilst the industry adapts.
Slync.io is a SaaS operating platform for global shippers and logistics service providers that delivers higher productivity and process efficiency through intelligent automation. Logistics Orchestration® is an end-to-end service offering that revolutionises costly back-office processes in global logistics operations. Slync.io connects disparate systems, ingests structured and unstructured datasets, orchestrates teams, and automates processes seamlessly together delivering unprecedented levels of efficiency for logisticians.