by Ryan Goh, Vice President & General Manager, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific
The year ahead looks to be an exciting one for the logistics industry in Asia. The Asia-Pacific (APAC) e-commerce sales is expected to overtake sales in North America and Europe in 2016, with the logistics market supporting the region’s e-commerce transactions forecasted to hit US$175.24bn next year. With such growth comes both business opportunities and increased pressure on logistics players to be nimble and adaptive in order to meet evolving supply chain demands.
With the logistics industry playing a vital role in empowering Asia as the world’s foremost economic juggernaut, logistics businesses need to leverage the latest technological trends and developments to achieve top-notch service quality amid greater challenges, time-pressures and ever-increasing customer expectations in the modern supply chain. Here are three key trends to take note of:
Warehouses — Driving competition differentiation
The Warehousing 2018 whitepaper by Zebra Technologies revealed fundamental shifts in warehousing over the next few years. Once viewed as cost centres, warehouses and distribution centres are now perceived by organisations as assets with potential for differentiation and growth. To achieve their full potential and keep pace with increased fulfilment demands, warehouses must maximise efficiency and productivity for greater synchronisation and agility.
According to the same study, more players are expected to pursue flawless fulfilment, as order picking and filling remains a top investment priority due to their relatively high costs and greater chance for errors. A key enabler for flawless fulfilment in warehouses is technology. Upgrading technology in the warehouse increases visibility of assets and data, which in turn delivers quantum leaps in efficiency, productivity and profitability. Besides enabling visibility, technologies such as RFID and barcodes can offer efficiencies that can bring real business benefits. Such benefits include time-savings from automation and the enablement of more informed decisions with real-time stock updates and smart inventories.
In order to determine the optimum workflow and the best technology for the job, organisations need to begin with an in-depth analysis of their current setup. As processes evolve, the technology used must keep up as well. Logistics companies must embrace a broader, more intuitive and flexible hardware and software portfolio. Organisations would do well to leverage technology keys that offer increased flexibility, automation, integration and real-time access to the Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) with purpose-built, yet adaptable, solutions that are resilient in the face of changing demands.
IoT takes off
While the Internet of Things (IoT) is not a new concept or trend, the technology has continued to mature and grow in importance. In a survey of global businesses conducted by Forrester, over 80 per cent agreed that IoT will be the most strategic technology initiative for their organisation in a decade. APAC is leading the IoT charge, with 70 per cent of APAC respondents indicating that they had already started implementing IoT solutions, compared to 60 per cent or less for European and North American firms. The results are already speaking for themselves, with a different study showing that globally, over 80 per cent of companies have increased their revenues by investing in IoT, at an average increase of 15.6 per cent.
Research firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, more than 20 billion connected “things” will be generating data that goes beyond textual to include sensory and contextual information. Faced with a massive amount of data, logistics companies would have to overcome the key challenge of gaining meaningful insights from the data and making it actionable for business strategies. The ability to leverage such insights has game-changing consequences from greater operational efficiency in warehousing operations and freight transportation, to enhanced customer service.
IoT has empowered logistics companies to keep track of goods and items at all levels of the supply chain; on top of this, customers now expect the ability to track the progress and location of their shipments. Through enterprise asset intelligence – which allows companies to keep track of the assets, such as employees and shipments – logistics companies can ensure an optimal flow of operations and give their clients the best customer experience possible.
For example, enterprise asset intelligence can help to prevent shipments from being delayed, or worse, going missing. In addition to this, the analysis of data derived through enterprise asset intelligence enables a wealth of business optimisations, such as the planning of optimal routes, resource allocation, as well as the prediction of business opportunities, demands and risks, and how to best deal with them. Businesses will continue to expand their IoT capabilities as they experience the benefits that enterprise asset intelligence will bring to both their top and bottom lines.
Wireless Infrastructures: The Unsung Digital Heroes
Technological trends such as IoT and enterprise mobility rely heavily on something that many companies have unfortunately neglected, perhaps because of its literal invisibility: their wireless networks. The rise of mobility and IoT is now making companies evaluate their current wireless network capabilities to assess their capacity to support the implementation of current, as well as future digital solutions.
In a study conducted by Forrester in Europe and the United States, almost half of retail, hospitality as well as transport and logistics businesses surveyed were operating on “overwhelmed” wireless infrastructures. More than half said that they were planning to refresh their wireless infrastructures within the next 12 months, to accommodate present needs as well as to prepare for the new devices and services they would be using. Here in APAC, the Wireless Broadband Alliance has estimated that the region will account for two-thirds of all carrier-grade Wi-Fi hotspots (high-performance networks designed to enable new business models) installed.
The installation of robust wireless infrastructures enables the flow of realtime data, which in conjunction with IoT and enterprise asset intelligence, allows businesses to get a complete picture of their business operations. Wireless networks are the invisible glue which connect devices to each other as well as the internet, and their importance cannot be underestimated. With the multiplicity of nodes that need to be serviced, businesses will turn to the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard to meet the additional coverage and bandwidth demands being generated.
2016 will let companies see their present clearly, control their futures
In response to the evolving demands of the supply chain, logistics companies are constantly on a quest to increase operational efficiency and develop innovative solutions so as to achieve flexibility; visibility and sustainability – three of the biggest pressures facing the supply chain today, as suggested by analysts . 2016 will be the year where the latest technologies allow businesses to wrest back control through increased visibility, in the midst of the exponential growth of business processes and all their minutiae – allowing the region to continue its tremendous economic momentum.