11 January 2018

Top 3 Logistics Trends to Watch in 2018

Just like the previous few years, 2018 is set to be another big one as the logistics industry continues on its high-speed trajectory of change. As always, there has been a lot of noise about the future of technology and which new phenomenon is going to change our lives this year, but what really should we all be focusing our energy on?

The Internet of Things (IoT), driver-less cars and drones are all trends that have been discussed at length, offering the promise to disrupt and improve the industry we work in. However, the impact so far has arguably been minimal, largely because adoption and implementation has also been limited.

Nevertheless, with that said, there are some significant trends that we are keeping an eye on this year and we’ve shared our thoughts on these below:

Trend #1 Gathering and Using Business Intelligence

Logistics managers are now, more than ever, relying on Business Intelligence (BI) technologies to find real meaning in their logistics data and then using it to take action to boost efficiencies and optimise processes.

If you’re not familiar with the term, then BI is essentially a collective term referring to the access and analysis of information and performance. In many ways, it’s the first step in any form of company-wide data processing and analysis; and a key enabler for two new trends – AI and block chain – which also feature in this article.

BI is a move on from the traditional Transport Management Software (TMS) tools, as instead of just extracting data, what BI does is extract and present information in a more visual way. It’s also an approach that requires the joining-up of data silos; a task that sometimes get overlooked.

Regardless of how a business does it, by embracing BI companies will gain more granular visibility to their transportation processes AND spend so they can manage and control it more effectively. It’s a trend that really shines a spot light on the importance of having an integrated CRM system that not only records information effectively, but that can be easily accessed and shared with other parties too. It also opens up many more data insight opportunities as outlined below.

Trend #2 Artificial Intelligence and Logistics

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been used in supply chain applications for some time and yet there is even more urgency now for companies to effectively leverage its potential. A study by Gartner for instance, suggests that the level of machine automation it set to double in the next five years, while the quest for gathering more and more data has already begun.

What do we mean by AI?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is essentially the processing of enormous amounts of data, and then putting it to use. There’s so much information in the logistics chain now that to get any meaningful sense out of it, AI is required. By applying algorithms, the ‘processor’ is able to analyse and digest the data and then act, respond and intervene as required. AI can even learn from past behaviour allowing businesses to make more informed recommendations using predictive analytics and this is key to efficiency-building.

One outcome of using AI will be more automation; for instance, this could be AI-enabled robots that not only automatically restock empty warehouse shelves, but also predict when they will run low. Though perhaps this might be a little way off for many, one immediate benefit from all this data analysis is the real-time knowledge and complete visibility of warehouse stock, plus movements in and out. In fact, one of the biggest growth areas where AI will make a significant difference to the bottom line is in intelligent forecasting systems and offering value-added services more easily and at a decreased cost.

But why all the hype?

AI has got everyone excited because it has the ability to not only increase efficiencies and service clients at a lower cost, but it can also create a more agile business model that is both flexible and scalable in response to changing market needs.

Logisticians have, up until now, only been able to predict based on (sometimes out-of-date) inventory levels and static (as opposed to live) sales data. With AI however, logisticians can get a much more accurate picture of exactly what is happening and this means forecasting will no longer be just an estimation. AI therefore offers the potential for considerable efficiencies, while customers could also benefit from more reliable stock information, time-savings and a greater customer experience overall.

Trend #3 Block Chain and Logistics

Block chain is another trend to hit the logistics world and it’s a process that’s anticipated to kick-start a revolution in next-level transparency. Though it’s a trend in the very early stages, the benefits are potentially unlimited and that’s why it’s on our 2018 watch-list.

But first, what is block chain?

According to the Economist, “a block chain is a distributed database that maintains an ever-growing list of records called blocks. The information in a block cannot be altered retrospectively as each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block.”

Block chain technology will enable customers and businesses to see every part of the supply chain, from pick, pack and despatch right through to the final mile delivery. It will create what essentially is a control tower of information, giving logisticians 360-degree visibility, and all in one centralised portal. It will improve not only connectivity but also efficiency and security too, and for many companies, it will also be the first significant utilisation of the IoT.

Successful pilot schemes have proven block chain to be an excellent way of connecting partners and distributors in the logistics journey due to the transparency it brings, as well as its comprehensive security assurances. In recent months the industry has, after all, fallen victim to some quite serious cyber-attacks which saw many providers unable to serve clients, so block chain is potentially one way many will safeguard themselves.

With substantially streamlined processes and greater visibility, the knock-on cost savings for businesses will also be vast. Furthermore, given that block chain even integrates with legacy systems; there’s no need for any replacements and the interface is easily adaptable to existing systems too. The business case for connecting block chain really is quite compelling.

Final thoughts

What these three key trends make clear is that the development of the fundamental basics during 2018 should be high on every business’ priority list. Without it, there is a risk that many companies will soon fall behind; losing their competitive edge to others who are able to harness the power of these data trends.

As a leading high-speed logistics specialist, we are already investing heavily in our own next-generation technology platform called clever, to maximise the potential that data can bring. Our system offers multi carrier capability, full visibility across transport networks, plus a complete audit trail of all movements and conversations – plus many other features – all of which will help optimise processes, improve efficiency and safeguard customer excellence.

To find out more about how our Powerful Technology is helping companies differentiate and enhance their logistics solution or drop us a line to discuss your requirements in more detail.