Can drones be taken seriously in the supply chain?
Drones have the potential to revolutionise supply chain and logistics, so much so that behemoths Amazon and Walmart have already been trialling warehouse and home delivery projects for well over a year.
It is expected that drones will speed up and reduce costs associated with traditional supply chains, deliver an additional source of data gathering and provide added convenience because they are not restricted to postcodes.
From a technology perspective, the capabilities of drones are improving day by day – advancements in autonomous piloting, ‘sense and aware’ technologies and increased battery life mean that delivery drones are now very much a potential for the future.
However, a lot of preparation is still needed before drone delivery in everyday supply chains becomes feasible. Before drones can be commercialised, we will need concrete legislation that outlines parameters of how they can be used. Only once an enabling policy framework is in place can the drone market fully develop.
The UK is slightly ahead as certain guidelines around the use of drones already exist; the Civil Aviation Authority’s ‘The Drone Code’ requires drones to be flown in direct visual line of sight of the pilot; away from congested areas, aircrafts and airports; at least 50 metres from people, vehicles and structures; and under 400 feet.
These stipulations, alongside other barriers such as current 20 kilogram weight limits, fears over hacking and adverse weather, mean that drones are not commercially viable just yet. There is also concern over whether drones will be used to complement existing jobs in the supply chain or replace them outright.
Despite some stumbling blocks, the market is projected to reach $5.59 billion by 2020. To make these expectations a reality, it is likely the government will call for companies to register to operate drones and that organisations will need to prove they have a strategy in place that complies with legislation.
As drones show promise to be the next disruptive technology within the supply chain, businesses would do well to start investigating strategies now to see if they would fit their business model. My advice is to start seeking help from experts to understand the technological challenges, practicalities and limitations of using drones as part of your supply chain processes before dismissing altogether or indeed going all in too quickly.
Trish Young is UK Head of Business Consulting – Retail, Consumer Goods, Travel & Hospitality at Cognizant
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector