Supply chain execution goes mobile
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Written by Claire Umney of AEB International
There’s a new kid on the logistics block - more and more supply chain managers are using their smartphones to manage their tasks. So far they have mainly used them to improve information flow around the supply chain, e.g. for transmitting tracking data and reports, or sending alerts as soon as a process deviates from the schedule. In most cases, the mailbox is still the supply chain manager’s main tool.
SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT HELPED BY MOBILE APPS
But Smartphones – such as Blackberry, iPhone and tablet devices - are, well, smart, and are capable of running complete operating system software. They provide a platform for applications, or “apps” - computer software designed to help the user to perform singular or multiple tasks. Some of the most popular applications are location-based (e.g. social networking or fitness-related applications), and those that use maps and transportation information.
These functions - control, tracking, messaging and timekeeping - are also very useful for supply chain management (SCM) and execution and have greatpotential for enhancing productivity, improving responsiveness to customers and reducing employee downtime. That’s good news at a time when customers’ expectations go beyond real-time tracking. Shippers of perishable goods, for example, require temperature controlled environments for their cargo, so the temperature needs to be tracked and recorded throughout the journey. The range of potential Smartphone applications is seemingly endless – from basic visibility and traceability via order and warehouse management solutions through to transportation management systems.
Let’s take the example of an express delivery. The driver arrives at the customer’s premises. He dials his logistics telephone server and types his delivery round and branch number into his Smartphone. Once the delivery is complete, he uses the phone again to record the delivery status. The system confirms his entry and delivery time and processes it. All details are immediately available on the respective platform via the logistic company’s interface, and all relevant partners in the supply chain can access it.
Smartphones could also prove an ideal solution for various areas of the freight forwarding industry, where subcontractors tend to change quite frequently. It wouldn’t make sense to issue them with expensive equipment to ensure live data accompanies each delivery, but the subcontractor could simply use the client’s Smartphone application and telematics solution to ensure uninterrupted supply chain information flow.
THE APP STORE FOR SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
And because Smartphones have a camera, they can also serve as a more user-friendly version of the barcode scanner, reducing costs further (particularly for SMEs). But that’s not all. Built-in GPS and audio headsets mean that pick rates in the warehouse can be calculated via iPhone and pickers can be quickly navigated through the warehouse using voice instructions.
Smartphones are easy to use, so theoretically they seem ideal for operational SCM activities. But their scope of use in operational supply chain environments remains limited so far. For example, they’re not yet perfectly equipped for certain warehouse operations, where more ruggedized equipment would work better. Additionally, they can’t be integrated with all systems, such as the navigation system of a truck. There are also growing security concerns over data manipulation on smartphones, due to the increasing amount of business-critical data stored on typical handsets.
Malfunctions can bring additional drawbacks. Most Smartphones are targeted at the consumer market and are not suitable for a number of logistics requirements. Damaged hardware would delay processes and be a risk to supply chain execution. Chances are, there will soon be special Smartphone versions for the sector, perhaps similar to the more sturdy mobile phones known as rugged mobiles.
These are some reasons why Smartphones probably won’t ring in a logistics revolution, if you’ll excuse the pun. So what’s the future of Smartphones in the supply chain? They’re likely to get a lot faster, and it will soon be possible to use them for operational research (e.g. on the cheapest carrier), or for performing specific tasks such as screening business partners against restricted-party lists. Apps will also enable supply chain executives to react quickly to operational issues, make informed decisions based on up-to-date information and take appropriate actions. There are other options, such as carrier management or freight cost control. SCM apps will improve our ability to manage supply chains from just about anywhere, as long as there is a Wi-Fi or mobile signal. The supply chain of the future is likely to be very mobile (and smart) indeed.
Cainiao Network Launches Customer-Centric Logistics
As the logistics division of the Alibaba Group, Cainiao Smart Logistics Network has decided to provide its Southeast Asian customers with unsurpassed service during its annual shopping festival. Based on customer feedback surveys, the company will expand its real-time customer service support and speed up delivery times. ‘By expanding and deepening our services, we aim to provide a stronger logistics infrastructure that can bolster the booming eCommerce sector, support merchants’ expansion into new markets and diversify retail options for consumers’, said Chris Fan, Head of Cross-Border, Singapore, Cainiao Network.
Who Is Cainiao?
According to TIME Magazine, Cainiao ‘is far from a typical logistics firm’. The company controls an open platform that allows it to collaborate with 3,000 logistics partners and 3 million couriers. This means that merchants can choose the least expensive and most efficient shipping options, based on Cainiao’s real-time logistics analytics. The company’s goal is to ship packages anywhere in the world in under 72 hours—and for less than US$3.00.
For countless small business owners around the world, from coffee-growers to textile-weavers, this could change everything. Usually, it costs about US$100 to ship a DHL envelope from Shanghai to London in five days. Cainiao aims to change that. Said its CEO Wan Lin: ‘The biggest barrier to globalisation is logistics’.
What’s Part of the Upgrade?
Throughout the Tmall festival, Cainiao’s logistics upgrade will be divided into four critical segments:
- Real-time customer service support. Cainiao has launched a direct WhatsApp channel for customers to receive logistics updates and ask questions.
- Expansion of air freight parcel size and weight limits. Packages can now be up to 30 kilograms or 1-metre x 1.6 meters to help ship large items such as furniture.
- Daily air and sea freight connections. Shipping frequency will almost double to seven times weekly to maintain resilience and efficiency.
- Compensation for lost or damaged packages. Customers will be reimbursed up to RMB 2,000 (US$311).
Where is the Company Headed?
From June 1st to June 20th, the finale of Tmall, Cainiao will ensure that its customers feel confident in the company’s ability to deliver their packages. Despite global shipping delays due to COVID, the show will go on. Said Fan: ‘This series of customer-centric logistics upgrades reaffirms our goal of pursuing value-added services to enhance customers’ shopping experience while mitigating challenges posed by external factors’.
Furthermore, Cainiao has recently expanded its Southeast Asian operations, achieving revenue growth of 68% year-over-year. In Malaysia, the logistics operation has partnered with BEST Inc. and Yunda; in Singapore, the company has partnered with Roadbull, Park & Parcel, and the Singapore Post. And if its recent measures help retain and grow its customer base, the company will be well-poised to lead the industry in resilient and customer-centric global logistics. ‘COVID-19 made everyone realise how important the logistics infrastructure backbone is’, said Wan. ‘And it gave us a peek at what Cainiao should look like in three years’.