The Digital Revolution is driving massive change in the way we do business in our industry. We may be bewildered by its impact, or unsettled by the pace of change. But we can’t hide from it – and nor should we, argues Rudee Bertie.
The digital revolution – transformation in our homes and offices
When I entered the freight forwarding and logistics industry, our technology of urgency was the telex machine. (‘What’s a telex machine?’ I hear those millennials ask…) The fax machine, with its ability to capture images and signatures, was responsible for the demise of the telex and in time, email heralded the demise of the fax.
In our homes we installed Betamax (remember that?) and VHS players as the video rental market boomed and then, all too soon, collapsed as technology advanced. Vinyl succumbed to the march of the cassette and then CDs, mini discs and DAT. One by one, all fell away, replaced by downloads, then live streaming on limitless data packages.
The world of voice communication hasn’t been immune from the march of technology either. From call centres on industrial estates to omni-channel, multi-country contact centres; from crackling lines and Bakelite telephones with dials to Trimphones and buttons; from analogue to digital; from fixed-line to mobile; from mobile to smart phone; from 1G (did we ever call it that?) to 4G and beyond, in little more than a generation.
In our offices we’ve ploughed through typewriters to departmental computers and workstations, through desktops to laptops, to palmtops, and on to tablets of all sizes and an explosion of digital devices to suit every need; we’ve gone from flat-text to WYSIWYG, from two dimensions to three, and on to virtual reality and artificial intelligence. And from there, who knows where?
The march of eCommerce and the cashless transaction
Technology has changed everything about communication and entertainment, and it’s changed everything about shopping and acquisition too, from the ways we order to the ways we pay and take delivery. Ah… money. Notes and coins, and even cheques are things of the past, so we’re told, as first digital transfers and plastic then cashless payments moved money from buyer to vendor.
Alternative payment methods capable of underpinning the explosion in global eCommerce are abounding. We’re entering the era of crypto currencies, with Bitcoin and its thousands (literally) of imitators, on blockchain technology. Blockchain has the logistics industry in its sights – and make no mistake, this technology, though still in its infancy, (or perhaps in its wild-and-crazy adolescence), has huge potential for sending, receiving and securing both data and funds (see our post on Blockchain here).
Who would have contemplated twenty years ago that the smart devices that fit into our pockets today would have the capabilities to send email, record sound, capture images and video, download, make and listen to music, watch TV and movies? Who would have imagined we would be paying for a taxi ride with the touch of a fingertip, or for a coffee by simply passing our device somewhere near a reader? Who would have foreseen the way we shop, transfer money, compare prices, switch on our home central heating, order food, check out hotels and book flights, from these clever, unassuming devices?
There’s no escaping it; technology drives progress, demands process re-engineering and forces change… and more change.
One thing is certain, the world does not stand still for long. And with every change, there are winners, and there are losers.
Freight forwarding and 3PL – are we a laggard industry?
When it comes to technology, freight forwarders and supply chain service providers have been accused of being laggards, slow to adapt to new ways and take advantage of digital advancements. I’d say we’re guilty as charged, and it’s meant that we’ve been left behind, caught out by the advance of technology – more than once.
An example: Before the advent of the fax machine, business organisations used to courier important or urgent documents round the world for their signatures. Express courier operators networked literally hundreds and thousands of packages, mostly documents, across the globe – charging handsomely for their service. Traditional postal services profited from the endless circulation of paper documents too, in the days when it was acceptable for it to take several days, or even weeks, for a simple piece of paper to reach its destination. The fax machine put an end to this large-scale movement of physical documents, offering overwhelming advantages to businesses in terms of speed and cost.
And here’s another: When music was delivered on records and movies on video cassette, we had a job to do. We were responsible for mass transportation, line haul and customs clearance for vast volumes of physical consignments. But where are these consignments today? Modern streaming technology has totally changed the way sound and visual media is delivered to customers, decimating that business segment – forcing us to find new lines, to fill the gap.
We must make the future our business – today!
Technology has driven change, and consumer demand continues to drive technology. eCommerce, for example, is an area of rapid growth and change. We all need to understand it and grasp its opportunities, or be left out of possibly the biggest transformation in global logistics in our lifetimes. Logistics has a much bigger role to play in faster, more convenient delivery of #eCommerce orders, in boosting online shopping in both the #B2C and #B2B worlds.
I believe we’ve hardly begun to tap into the opportunities. But you’re probably asking, where do we start?
Most, if not all, office and media formats can be enabled via smart phones, tablets, computers and laptops. We all have these devices today – children and even toddlers are accustomed to their user-friendly interfaces. I believe we must embrace App-based technologies and look for ways of incorporating them into everyday standard operational procedures, just as they are embedding into every other aspect of life.
At CCL, we think forward, and that’s driven our development of App-based tools like CC Collect, to support easy collection of taxes and duties on eCommerce consignments. I believe we must keep abreast of the technologies that are coming up, particularly the ones likely to create seismic change in our industry, like Blockchain, for example.
And I know, if I’m thinking of something, there’s probably someone out there already doing it. That gives me the impetus to take control and move forward with what can sometimes seem like far-off or ‘blue-sky’ thinking. But every new service, every technology advance, every improved process, every positive disrupter… begins with a vision.
I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to be aware, be constantly challenging the status quo, and become the architect of change, not its victim. I challenge you today, examine your segment of the retail supply chain – or take a step back and look at the whole process, end-to-end – and ask yourself these questions:
- How is cutting-edge technology impacting our organisation, our business, our customers?
- Are we embracing new developments, or standing in their way?
- What technologies, what changes in the way things work, could we be taking advantage of?
- How are we preparing to change, in order to stay ahead?
- What support or advice do we need, to maximise the opportunities that technology offers?
I was having a conversation with a father and son, just the other day. The father and I were reminiscing about the good old days when life seemed so much easier to navigate. The son, on the other hand, had no idea what we were talking about when words like microfiche, telex, DAT and dial-up email came into the conversation. He’s 23 years old, and the internet has been around since before he was born. But it goes to show how far we’ve come with technology and digital alternatives, since the heady days of the 1960’s and 70’s.
In case you hadn’t guessed by now, I’m firmly in the pro-technology camp, and I want to see our industry do better at embracing technology and learning how to use the many recent digital developments to our advantage. And there are certainly advantages, if only we are prepared to adapt our attitudes, as well as our business processes.
It’s not easy, but it is vital, to continue to serve our clients effectively, maintain competitive edge and do business in a rapidly changing world.