2019 will be the year when technology truly hits warehouses, says Chris Tozer of Ivanti Supply Chain
The last five years has seen huge advances in warehouse and logistics technology, revolutionising the way that the supply chain operates. Businesses are working tirelessly to perfect supply chain operations and meet consumer expectations such as free next-day delivery and quickly processed returns.
However, as e-commerce orders continue to grow, many businesses are struggling to win market share from online giant Amazon, and an increasing focus on innovating with technology in order to improve supply chain processes will dominate business strategy in the coming year.
Firstly, there will be a continued emphasis on the supply chain’s migration to Android as Windows CE approaches end of life. This process began in 2018 and has made migration unescapable, as firms must move to ensure their operating system (OS) remains efficient and secure. Many companies are choosing to fragment the process and shift in manageable chunks instead of upgrading their whole system at once.
Companies can make the transition smoother using technology that gives their devices the same look and feel as Windows CE, but using the Android OS.
Businesses can also expect 2019 to be the year of wider use of drones and collaborative robots (cobots) in the warehouse as they become available for SMEs and thus adopted in high numbers. Drones will work alongside employees to complete tasks such as identifying stock outs and transporting items, with the promise of eventually developing into independent, artificial intelligence enabled machines.
Along the same vein, collaboration over automation will be a key theme for 2019; cobots will enable workers to focus on more valuable and high-skill tasks while robots take care of the repetitive chores. These developments will also be seen in heads-up display technology, such as smart glasses, which can be used by workers to increase their productivity. The large amount of technology within the warehouse will also have an effect on the level of visibility that businesses have over their data; organisations will have better interconnectivity and there will ultimately be a shift away from the siloed systems often seen within the supply chain, enabling better data sharing and more informed decision making.
The increased uptake of technology within warehouses will come hand-in-hand with changes outside of the warehouse, in the form of a shift in consumer preferences from instore to online, leaving room for bricks-and-mortar stores to develop into customer service hubs, and subsequently, the need for faster delivery from hyper-local warehouses to satisfy consumer demand and expectation.
Hyper-local warehouses, as used by Best Buy in Los Angeles, would remove the large physical distance between products and customers, drastically cutting delivery times and ultimately leading to an improved customer experience. It will be the retailers who fail to embrace a smart e-eommerce strategy who will suffer in 2019.
Alternatively, they could adapt a digital strategy by deploying more technology in-store to bridge the gap between instore and online retail and offer similar levels of customer service and convenience offered to consumers online.
The customer experience begins in the warehouse so developments must be made in order to improve efficiency and accuracy – it will be the businesses that fully embrace these changes that prosper in the face of an evolving retail environment.
Chris Tozer is UK, Ireland and Italy territory manager at Ivanti Supply Chain