The automation of e-commerce implies more than just exchanging payments and documents digitally. The operational ingredients for a fully automated delivery supply chain are appearing all around us.
Not that long ago, we were telling young logistics candidates that their career-starter jobs in warehouses and transportation were secure from being shipped overseas. The proliferation of close-to-market distribution centers and retail store order picking, as well as the growth of third parties and web-based service providers, is increasing employment in the short run. However, several key functional areas are now in the target sites of software and hardware providers for full automation.
“We need smart people to run the supply
chains of the future. They will need career
paths and lots of room for creativity.”
In logistics, the human jobs are becoming human interfaces with Artificial Intelligence (AI). The results are double-digit reductions in personnel at newly redesigned distribution centers, retail stores, and increasingly, ships, trains and vehicles.
Distribution centers that require picking and packing are rapidly automating to save money, increase accuracy and reduce disruptions from high employee turnover rates. With robotic carts picking the orders, the packing part is still mostly human. In recent years the inclusion of dimensions in product descriptions is enabling automatic box selection and, in some cases, packing as well. Autonomous warehousing is safer, more productive, and less expensive to operate.
Transportation is undergoing a much more visible metamorphosis. In all the noise about autonomous vehicles being in (rare) accidents in the media, there is some amazing news. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is issuing a report that states that over a three-year period, automatic safety features, now standard, have greatly affected safety.
“Smart” cars have reduced the incidence of cars hitting pedestrians by an astonishing 30%. Rear-end collisions, a major factor in insurance costs, dropped 50% after these first-generation autonomy vehicles, called “driver assisted,” hit the roads. Now we see the insurance companies telling automakers and government that they must move quickly to save lives—and reduce claims. Autonomous vehicles will be much safer that human operated ones.
The four functions at companies along the supply chain that are being most affected now are procurement, recruiting, training, and dispatch. Each has seen massive investments in AI to replace tedious repetitive tasks that make up a good portion of the day for professionals in these special fields. I tell my students that they need to be managing the process and technology, not out on the floor being handed things by robots.
Let’s look at training. I have been heavily involved in online education the past few years. The results we’re getting in colleges, grad schools, in-house certificate programs and regulated content such as HazMat, have been very positive. More training, less down-time, better record keeping, and more interesting product for most learners, at lower cost.
In a gig economy, certificates will be the “coins” we pick up in those online games so popular with Gen Z. Smart companies will want “career path” apps that will walk people through the experience and training that they need in a particular profession. The app will stay with them during their career, marking key achievements—perhaps with some crypto coins.
We need smart people to run the supply chains of the future. They will need career paths and lots of room for creativity. Are you ready?