Smart delivery or dystopia?

I was reading a report the other week on a speech made by historian Yuval Noah Harari about how, in a world dominated by data, the omnipresent force of algorithms is having an effect on disempowering individuality.


His view was that if Amazon or Google kept turning up suggestions better than your own, then if you wanted to stay ahead of their algorithms you needed to know yourself better than they did, which could be a challenge for many. His apocalyptic concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) superseding humans got me thinking about how industry really feels about the cloud, big data, IoT and smart devices in the supply chain?

Does it welcome them as the panacea to help them see and control everything, or does it fear the prospect of a dystopian environment?

Our view, is that data without context or filters is just data, the skill is filtering the metrics into something meaningful or predictive. Having spent over 30 years at the coalface of the supply chain we feel that investing in the bigger picture and gaining far greater visibility of your assets has to be better, particularly for preparing yourselves for huge shopping spikes like Black Friday and Christmas. We know that Black Friday was all about buying in-store while last year’s sales were largely online, which illustrates how customers today want to buy from anywhere, anytime and anyhow, whether their own free will told them to or Google!

But in order to achieve true omnichannel capability, visibility of inventory is essential. We know that using location devices, RFID-tagging and other multiple capture technologies are improving product tracking but what logistics providers and retailers are starting to realise is that technology in isolation is not the answer, it’s how it meshes together to address fundamental operational and communication issues too. Having greater visibility of the health and performance of mobile devices like printers, handhelds and scanners could make real gains in productivity, either in store or in your distribution centre. And this is where I return to Yuval’s concerns about AI superseding humans and where we fundamentally disagree with him.

Being able to capture metrics from your fleet of printers, scanners and handhelds and interrogating them could help you predict, for example, when the batteries are about to fail. While this may seem relatively unimportant on the grand scheme of things, in the ecosystem of fulfilment it could represent the difference between a sale or a non-sale. We’ve been incorporating asset tracking and printer management into a number of client sites for some time. Having technology is all well and good but it’s human intervention that makes it work effectively so by additionally combining our proven solutions with Zebra’s AVS and OVS platforms we are now enabling more customers to better manage their fleet.

We can help them view not just the location, condition and usage rate of mobile computing devices but also the mobile environment and infrastructure in which they sit. Being able to see the big picture is what it’s all about; hardware talking to software and the cloud. It’s this total connectivity that gives retailers, manufacturers and logistics providers sight of inventory from distribution centre to store. Such 360° visibility could help you minimise the amount of delivery trucks you have running empty; it could help store managers optimise staffing levels and promotions; it could facilitate proximity marketing using beacon technology.

But ultimately, it’s about control, enabling you to better manage your assets, empowering you to improve productivity, reduce your costs and create an environment for sustainable growth.

If that’s a dystopian future then I say bring it on!

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