The Future of Last Mile Logistics

The Future of Last Mile Logistics

Last mile logistics is the Holy Grail for courier and logistics companies. Ensuring that parcels and packages get to the right place safely, on time and efficiently. This is a particularly tough nut to crack when you have large informal settlements that don’t have clear roads and street numbers, let alone physical houses that are easily identifiable.

That’s where a number of companies are trying to disrupt the logistics space to provide mapping / co-ordinates for the most rural of locations where a street number simply doesn’t exist.

Three Words

The concept of what3words is quite simple; define three unique words that don’t necessarily have a bearing on the location which measures 3m x 3m. That divides the world into 57 trillion equally sized blocks.

In other words; the three words for the Department of Home Affairs in Randburg are: ‘without pool holdings’, and for Table Mountain, it’s ‘hunchback linen ironing’. The words have been intelligently distributed so similar addresses are kept apart. This ensures that every address is easily navigated to and doesn’t end up confusing people even further.

The trick is that you need to think of the world as  57 trillion 2x dimensional blocks for this system to work flawlessly (or floorlessly: pun!). What happens however, when we move to a three dimensional space? That could be quite interesting. How does a highrise building with 20 floors work? There could be 20x floors worth of people all occupying a two dimensional 3m x 3m space that only sees them as one location.

That might a flaw or a lack of information on my part for What3Words; and there is obviously a lot of value within What3Words; from logistics to health and even governmental. There strong point is certainly in giving users the ability to define their space by 3 simple words, which can be translated into any other location reference that one prefers.

That’s just one of the logistics disruptors; other disruptors include:

Mapping and Routing Logistics

Arguably the bane of any last mile practitioner.

Assuming I know where all my delivery points are; how do I get my delivery vehicles out and back as efficiently as possible?! The answer lies in traffic and route optimisation. Utilising sophisticated algorithms and traffic data, deliveries can be processed and organised to ensure that as little time is spent between deliveries and collections. Time on the road in the logistics world is time lost.

With sophisticated and accurate data points being pinged almost constantly, and reporting back on their location and speed, logistics companies are able to take advantage of near-real-time mapping of traffic flows. Highlighting accidents and slow bottlenecks; with enough reaction time, advanced computing can interpret these notices to make smart routing decisions.

Drones and AI

The disruptor that keeps on giving! AI is a particularly disruptive force; but in the logistics industry it is especially so. Automated vehicles; drones and other bots might have the ability to automate the entire logistics value chain with little to no human intervention.

This makes for some compelling supply chain debates; but even more so in the ethics department when we start to contemplate “if” things go wrong, who gets blamed? The logistics company, the supplier of the drone, the tech guy who coded it?

Further to that, the socialist debate is even more fascinating as we contemplate the potential reallocation of human resources who used to be route planners, drivers and delivery people. If they are no longer doing these labour intensive jobs because of automation, where else in the logistics value chain can they find employment and enrich their lives?

These are the questions that logistics companies and practitioners are having to deal with. As we progress as a people and become more digitally enabled; there are bound tobe more and more complexities and machine orientated tasks that take away the dull and the mundane from humans and give it to machines who do repetitive tasks perfectly without getting tired!

Upstream disruption

All of the disruptions we have mentioned up to now have been downstream logistics disruption. These are essentially client facing disruption. Imagine these disruptive forces trained upstream of the logistics value chain. When we start talking about the disruption of the supply side of the value chain. How can we better optimise the supply and warehousing of goods to blow JIT (Just In Time) practices out of the water!