Viewpoint: Improving the human/technology connection

By Michael Levans · February 1, 2014

We use our February issue each year to peer inside the nation’s four walls to get a better view of how materials handling equipment and automated distribution systems are evolving to become even more closely tied to overall logistics and transportation operations.

In fact, we kick off this month with the findings of our annual Warehouse & DC Equipment Study, a survey conducted by Peerless Research Group (PRG) designed to reveal the current and future spending plans logistics professionals have for warehouse and DC equipment, automation, and software—purchases traditionally aimed to tighten the knot between distribution and transportation and improve overall supply chain operations and enhance shipment visibility.

In today’s retail environment, one can easily argue that the two functions are now unconditionally tied, and that the seamless integration of product delivery—fulfilled through multiple channels—and DC management is literally the foundation of any successful e-commerce business. In the meantime, manufacturing operations are gearing up to deal with similar multi-channel challenges brought on by the changing nature of sourcing and procurement.

And while the integration of transportation and DC operations improves each year with the growth of omni-channel distribution and e-commerce, our latest Warehouse & DC Equipment Study tells us that today, there is more emphasis on the relationship between the technology and the workforce tied to the equipment.

This year’s findings make it clear that it’s in the improvement of this “marriage” that respondents believe they’ll see the next big bump in productivity.

“We see activity levels in warehouse and DCs increasing considerably,” says Editor at Large Josh Bond, who put this year’s findings into perspective for us (page 26). “This growth is due to readers continuing to do more with less, truly optimizing their existing facilities instead of building new—and they say they’re doing this with data-driven improvements like improving tracking and picking, inventory management, and better overall labor management through the technology investments put in the hands of the worker.”

In fact, hidden in this data surrounding planned equipment and technology investments is the imperative to increase the productivity of the human worker that uses the technology. According to Bond, this bodes well for the next spurt in U.S. productivity growth.

We can only hope that the discussion revolving around the improved human/technology connection won’t be lost on the floor of the upcoming Modex 2014 trade show in Atlanta (page 76S). If you’re one of the 50,000 warehouse, DC, and logistics professionals walking the aisles to visit the more than 750 equipment and technology vendors, keep asking yourself how these investments will integrate with your most important asset: your workforce.

“The DC worker is now, more than ever, being considered an integral part of the equation, not just a body that services some piece of speedy technology,” adds Bond. “The impact on labor management is a factor in nearly every buying decision highlighted in this year’s survey, and we’ll only see that growing as the race to do more with less remains a constant.”


About the Author

Michael Levans
Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at [email protected]

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