People focused technology innovations to power the supply chain

In the 40 years since Keith Oliver coined the term ‘Supply Chain Management (SCM)’, an explosive growth in, both, SCM, and new technologies, has transformed the way in which people move, and receive goods and services. Yet, few things have disrupted SCM like the advent of e-commerce, which now includes warehousing, inventory management, transportation of goods, home delivery, and much more. Along the way, globalisation, increased product complexities, competition, and rising customer expectations have led companies to constantly adopt advanced technologies to transform their supply chains. 

While completely digital or automated supply chains are not yet an absolute or ubiquitous reality, present-day supply chains are beset with the same problems they have faced for decades – poor visibility, mistrust between functions and stakeholders, biased behaviours, and delayed decision making. Thus, the modern supply chain essentially remains a human endeavour. Consequently, e-commerce companies are steadfastly pursuing technology-enabled but human-centric innovations aimed at implementing safe, efficient, and resilient supply chains.

One aspect is to design technological approaches that are human-ready – one that works with people, rather than around or against them. For example, last-mile delivery strategies have evolved from long wait times to 2-day and same-day delivery. In adapting to this evolution, technology has been used to vastly improve efficiencies, such as product visibility and selection, packaging, shipping and movement of goods. However, the deliveries continue to be made by humans, who are regularly subjected to a multitude of physical and environmental factors, as they go about their routines. Companies are thus adopting technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) to support in freight monitoring and fleet management. With sensors, GPS devices, speed governors etc, companies can not only track the journey of an item, but also determine the safety of driving. This can then be used to provide feedback and better coach drivers. for example, Amazon has recently initiated a pilot project on long-haul trucks to monitor breaking speeds, tire maintenance, fuel consumption etc., in order to provide safe driving feedback to the truck drivers ferrying customer packages across cities.

Another aspect has been to design technology to help people in their regular activities. While the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the shortfalls in our traditional supply chains, it also led to a sudden increase in awareness on workforce safety, reliability, and security.  Thus, e-commerce companies have utilised developing technologies, such as CCTV, mobile barcoding and machine learning, to ensure physical distancing in warehouses, promote and augment the health of supply chain workforce. Additionally, in some warehouses infrared cameras and proximity sensors were employed to check and prevent two employees from walking or working too close to each other (not less than 6 feet apart). Technology was also employed to periodically remind employees to wash hands, and in the form of in-house vaccination slot reservation portals.

Further, e-commerce companies have also adopted technology in the onboarding and training of new associates and partners. Gamification is increasingly being implemented to optimise learning and development, over the traditional training formats. Gamification turns routine, onerous activities into fun, appealing, and interactive ones, thus improving the efficacy of messaging, and ensuring learning and content is engaging.

Notwithstanding technological advancements, people will continue to remain the most valuable asset in an organisation. While every organisation has a unique culture, people-centricity should be the driving force in developing and optimising technology. Thus, it is not only a natural progression, but also the right  path to tread for organisations to ensure their business, as well as innovations, are people focused. Technology must factor in the human element and enable them to perform tasks with greater efficiency and ensure safety. Knowing that the company cares, creates a sense of belonging in employees and partners, while also creating a positive brand association for customers. People-centricity is no longer optional and is soon turning in to a must for sustaining an organisation’s quest for viability in a competitive market.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.