How pandemic has paved the way for innovations in logistics

The driver carrying mission critical logistics truck was very tensed, he had the onerous task of supplying oxygen to a hospital; save life! His speed was as per norms, GPS tracking at control tower demonstrated that there was no harsh breaking. However, the Fatigue Meter readings were not encouraging, the driver was showing signs of restlessness, yawning; a tell-tale sign of NEAR DANGER. The control tower gave a signal to park the vehicle at the designated rest point, rest for an hour then move to the destination.

This is the role technology can play in today’s logistics, not only ensure visibility but save lives!! The role of innovation is clearly visible with the invest of devices like a Fatigue meter which read the behaviour of driver. During the pandemic, such innovations and automation got accelerated at an unprecedented level, not witnessed before in the logistics Industry in India and globally.

The Indian Logistics industry has undergone an end-to-end transformation in the last one and a half years – from first-mile delivery and warehousing to handling and last-mile delivery. There has been a significant uptick in the adoption of WMS (warehouse management system), on-demand warehouses/fulfilment centres, Big Data analytics, self-driving carrier trucks, and the use of automated vehicles and drones in the last mile delivery. The industry has also witnessed the mushrooming of fulfilment/warehousing aggregators, which provide on-demand, flexible and cost-effective warehousing solutions to businesses on a pay-per-use model.

Another trend that has emerged during the pandemic is increased automation of in-house operations to reduce manual processes by automating repetitive, time-consuming tasks. When it comes to last-mile delivery, drones, autonomous vehicles, delivery robots are proving to be efficient solutions to logistics disruptions while saving both delivery cost and time. While automated last-mile deliveries are still in their trial/pilot phases, continuous developments in the mobility tech and self-mobility sectors are likely to fast-track their commercialization in the coming years. With both start-ups and legacy companies bringing new innovations, along with the government sharing the approval for permission-compliant drone operations, we expect more logistics players to incorporate these technologies into their operations.

Similarly, tech-based intervention in the last leg of delivery is the use of GIS-powered devices to ensure on-time deliveries and improving the efficiency of last-mile logistics. Customers do not see the supply chain process before the last mile – they likely only remember how the goods reached their hands.

Further, the spotlight has shifted on analyzing customer data using digital analytics, machine learning and chatbots that help to make better decisions using the actionable insights. Companies that are capable of deriving insights from data are likely to invest essentially in their own last-mile solutions, since it is going to be a critical differentiator. Some of the technological developments that have taken place in the industry in recent years are focused on driver safety. Deployment of driver apps with advanced features such as fatigue measuring meters, has enabled logistics companies to detect any potential fatigue risks. These technologies are designed with data analytics engines and smart sensors to analyze pertinent data (number of miles covered, stops taken in between) and monitor physical signs of tiredness to send warnings to the driver for taking rest.

The Government of India has been instrumental in fostering innovation in the logistics segment, and it has launched several initiatives to accelerate digitization across the industry. Some of the recent examples include the launch of SDLE (Secured Document Logistics Exchange) and GHG calculator to enhance logistics efficiency, bring down the overall cost incurred by the industry, and promote multi-modal logistics with a focus on sustainability. Other than that, the government, in association with TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), has recently introduced the Sustainable Urban Freight Coalition (SUFC) to facilitate sustainable urban freight solutions that will help achieve India’s vision of decarbonization of the transport and logistics sector by 2030. Other notable initiatives aimed at driving innovation in the industry are Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and process automation applications such as Vahan and Sarathi, among others.

If there is one lesson that businesses can take from this unprecedented event is that tech-driven innovation is the only way forward for players in the logistics and supply chain industry – to sail through the disruptions and capitalize on new opportunities in the post-pandemic world.

-Vineet Agarwal, Managing Director, Transport Corporation of India

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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