The Ti Blog: Technology without data- like a car without petrol

The phrase “future of logistics” has found its way in to innumerable reports, blog posts, tweets and news articles with increasing frequency. Here at Ti we’ve used the phrase on many occasions including as the title of our conference series.

The focus of many excitable articles appears to be the assumption that the future of logistics relies heavily on new technology e.g. drones. However, technology is almost useless when it’s used improperly and without the necessary data fed in to it. It’s a bit like buying a car but not putting any petrol in it. So, for that reason, I would argue that the future of logistics isn’t necessarily the technology- it’s the data!

Data is already used to control a huge portion of our lives without us ever really being aware- from the way our supermarkets are laid out to get us to buy more, to the shows Netflix suggests you should watch. There is a huge amount of available data out there. With data sets now available that are too large and complex for previous models to properly handle (aka Big Data), the problem for logistics providers is how surf this huge digital tidal wave of information without drowning. Therefore, perhaps the most fundamental development for the future of logistics is the creation of tools to properly capture, analyse and interpret the most vital information in the fastest way.

To see how data can be effectively utilised within the logistics industry you’d need look no further than the problematic last mile. With last mile tending to be among the slowest and least cost-effective areas of the supply chain, finding the edge in this competitive market is vital. In a recent study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Big Data was highlighted as a powerful resource to last mile providers.

As Matthias Wickenbach, Director of MIT’s Megacity Logistics Lab, said, “More and more companies are sitting on tons of data, but they don’t know what to do with it, or how to understand it.”

Previously, understanding the success of a delivery was limited to knowing when a package left a depot and when it was delivered to the customer. Now however, thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone and other technology developments, shippers can track a huge number of things and feed this back in to the planning system. This allows development of better tracking of delivery vehicles, increased oversight of route planning and the identifying of patterns in delivery times. Even knowing which customers have a habit of being out when the package is delivered can be used to create a far more successful delivery plan removing the added cost of re-delivery for the shipper.

Identifying how to best utilise Big Data in logistics is the first hurdle. Is it for optimization, forecasting, pattern recognition or predicting problems? And its not just numbers. Tweets, likes, product reviews, online feedback and recommendations can all be analysed and quantified by the proper tool.

Join Ti at our upcoming conference, The Future of Logistics, in London (7th-8th June 2016) where we’ll be discussing the place for technology and data within the development of the logistics industry. Secure your place today by clicking below

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