When is peak season for your business? While the answer depends on your industry, products, customers, and other factors, chances are that most organisations across the board would have a different answer today than five or certainly 10 years ago. The new normal for many businesses is waves of peak throughout the year. Why? The explosion of e-commerce and the increasing importance of customer experience have dramatically changed buying patterns and delivery expectations. And behind every rand spent, people in the transport and logistics industry are working diligently to ensure each step of the supply chain runs smoothly.
One of the biggest challenges transport and logistics companies face is the evolving retail cycle. Traditionally, we could expect peaks with Christmas and then Boxing Day. Now, retailers have embraced a steady calendar of events. Sales begin long before Christmas with Black Friday, Cyber Monday… and the post-holiday sales roll into other sales events like Back to School.
From a logistics perspective, the peak is smoothing out and many organisations aren’t coping well with the requirement for a constant level of scalability. What options do businesses have? Expand drop-shipping or parcel capabilities? Scramble to find extra drivers? Use a gig-economy model for unexpected peak periods? Or simply work longer hours in an attempt to cope with the increasing demand?
Fortunately, there are solutions that can help improve operational efficiency and the smooth flow of goods to put businesses in a better position to deal with peak periods. Let’s explore three.
1. Improve visibility.
Closing the gap in visibility starts with determining goals and assessing your ability to meet those goals. Businesses are wise to consider: Does an existing system meet current and future needs for all necessary modes of transportation? Does it interface well with other systems and can you easily add future interfaces? And most importantly, does the system accommodate your business process? If a business can get this foundation right, it will be starting in a good place for all of the other details. Most supply chains use a variety of logistics service providers, transportation service providers and other partners. As soon as the chain of custody of a particular order or shipment transfers to another party, the degree of visibility changes. As a result, many companies have deployed or are considering a multi-party supply chain “Control Tower” through which all activities are coordinated and controlled.
2. Optimise – and then optimise again.
The “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude toward supply chain management only works well for so long. Particularly for peak times, there is a clear opportunity to be constantly reviewing and refining processes and procedures that are not optimal. This starts with having quality data—and putting it to work. For example, if a vehicle breaks down on route to make a delivery, often companies would call on the nearest driver to step in. While that driver might be closest, adding an additional drop off could impact a number of deliveries down the line. Instead, the use of data and analytics in this situation can identify the best available driver to step in, with minimal impact on other orders. There are many other examples of opportunities to optimise, with far-reaching time and cost savings.
3. Mobile solutions provide benefits from first to last mile.
Mobile capabilities can help to streamline daily processes and manage shipping spikes across multiple industries, whilst improving customer experience and satisfaction. With active messaging, dock staff can manage and move products faster through the warehouse, and mobile solutions even have the ability to group together multiple packages for a single customer shipment. Further cross-dock capabilities allow for a guided loading process while simultaneously building a manifest for the driver through item scans, and provide real-time item tracking on freight movements. This visibility allows sellers to closely monitor inventory levels and respond to issues and opportunities immediately.
Businesses can no longer plan for peak to start in October – with market forces fuelling peak after peak throughout the year, now is a good time to consider where to gain efficiency in your supply chain. It’s never too early to plan ahead.
Neil has over 15 years’ experience in project management and solution implementations in the supply chain and logistics industry. Neil has been closely involved in the implementation of a number of Transport Management Systems across various industry groups. Following various logistics-related positions within AECI and Barloworld Logistics, and some time spent as a management consultant at Accenture, Neil joined Transnova to lead the Pre-Sales and Implementation teams of the business.