New Logistics IT Trends - Centralization and Mobile Services

by From the Top on 2013-08-22 01:50:45

Pascal SwinkelsA lot of things have been changing in the logistics sector lately, some of which have major impacts on how to do business. Currently a growing number of companies move their production facilities back from China to the US, as labors costs are steadily rising while the quality of the products remains on a lower level.

In consequence, supply chains are getting partly shorter, and products are produced in the same country where they're sold.

Hence it seems like companies are shifting towards centralized organizational structures, especially when it comes to logistical aspects.

In line with this trend, a growing number of Dropbox look-alikes is popping up, offering state of the art centralized storage. These so-called cloud storage services allow their users to store, access and organize their data online, regardless of the user‘s location or device.

Even Microsoft put a stronger focus on their cloud storage service Sky Drive. As the company‘s CEO Steve Ballmer said in an interview, “it embraces the notion of social, so you can stay connected and share information with the people you care about.“

So cloud storage is slowly becoming the new standard and it seems to be relevant to the logistics sector as it's never been before.

However, there is still a big discrepancy between what cloud service providers nowadays promise and what they in fact deliver.

What seems to be a more promising development in the logistics sector is the ability to work while being on the move. As most of the available smartphones and tablets allow Near Field Communication (NFC) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS), tracking and management has become easy to port to mobile devices. For example truck drivers can use their tablets to update the transportation status, while the warehouse officer – on his way to an appointment – checks his smartphone for the latest delivery times.

Companies like Motorola and Siemens opened new business divisions which are solely focused on achieving complete mobility in the transport and logistics sector. E.g. in their information brochure Siemens claims to “offer integrated mobility solutions that ensure safe, economical and environmentally compatible passenger and freight transport.“ (1)

As a consequence, services such as mobile fleet management systems, yard management tools, as well as numerous apps for Terminal and Distribution Center Operations are abundantly available on the market.

In case you wonder, there are many advantages that plead for these mobility strivings:

1.Most of the operators are used to mobile devices and their operating systems, which makes it more comfortable for the end-user to work with these new solutions

2.Due to the many available interfaces (smartphones, tablets), investment costs for mobile solutions are relatively low

3.In the US, 56% of all adults have a smartphone, and 34% own a tablet computer (2). Similar values ranging from 40% to 60% can be observed in European countries as well. The shift from stationary workplaces to ”mobile offices“ shouldn't be ignored. People are getting used to check their e-mails on the go, schedule meetings in between, or remotely access their work stations

4.Many available solutions are customized, hence deliver compact solutions for specific purposes, while the development costs are relatively low

5. Mobile solutions save a lot of time. However the odds are that these “little helpers“ distract us too much from traffic etc. Despite these many advantages, one could also argue that mobile solutions reduce the quality of the time spent on business tasks. In consequence, problems are not thoroughly thought out, based on spontaneous decisions, and furthermore could put us under additional stress (permanent availability).

Of course mobile solutions first need to prove in practice whether they are of use or just gadgetries. The acceptance amongst logistics professionals most probably will depend on many factors, such as functionality, usability (intuitive UI), and costs.

About the author
Pascal Swinkels, expert in the European logistics sector, is advisor and project manager for the chamber of commerce Limburg, Netherlands. His primary focus lies in giving information and support to entrepreneurs. Furthermore he is Secretary of the European Logistic Centre Limburg (ELC Limburg) and project manager for EU Logistics Hub .