The next big challenge for logistics will be future-proofing the workforce


 Global logistics trends have stabilized over the past four years – but Covid-19 has accelerated some transformation, while other trends have taken more of a back seat.

The review of changes comes in DHL’s Logistics Trend Radar, a thorough analysis of what is happening now –and what is coming.

“The mega-trends that will continue to engage us are not unfamiliar: new technologies, growing e-commerce and sustainability,” said Katja Busch, DHL’s chief commercial officer.

“But some areas will evolve faster than others, so there is the need to understand the underlying trends and their impact on logistics – not least because of the impact of Covid-19.”

One of the interesting findings is the amount of investment pouring into the sector: since 2012, venture capitalists have invested nearly $30bn, with some 3,000 start-ups currently developing new products and services. Four areas attracted the most investment: big data and advanced analytics; artificial intelligence; robotics and automation; and the internet of things.

But there are likely to be others on the way, noted DHL.

“A host of other technologies has arrived on the market showing great potential, but these have yet to reach widespread use in logistics. Blockchain … has potentially game-changing benefits for leaner, faster, and more transparent and secure supply chains. However, significant cultural and technical hurdles need to be overcome for its broad deployment in logistics.”

It also cited unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drone deliveries, and self-driving vehicles as areas with legislative and technical challenges, which have not developed as fast as expected.

On the tech side, DHL pointed to the growth in logistics marketplaces, where demand and supply are aggregated.

It pointed out: “Logistics marketplaces are stabilizing on a few leading platforms, and established forwarders are entering the game with their own digital offerings, backed with robust global logistics networks.”

It noted opportunities including increased price transparency, real-time quotes, flexible sourcing, and optimized capacity utilization and load balancing. However, offsetting these advantages is the difficulty digital-only players have with service quality, data security, and integration of advanced technologies into existing structures.

Globalization, meanwhile, is “entering a new phase as emerging economies consume more of what they produce and countries in mature markets seek to improve the security of critical supply chains and the sustainability of their economies”.

Inevitably, e-commerce gets a look-in as one of the 29 trends explored.

“E-commerce is still growing rapidly and yet represents only a fraction of global consumer retail spending. Business-to-business e-commerce is expected to follow suit and dwarfs the consumer market size by a factor of three,” said DHL, adding that growth has been accelerated by the pandemic.

Sustainability has gone up the agenda, and is now “imperative”. DHL focuses on packaging, optimizing processes, and smart facilities, which “provide huge potential for logistics to become more environmentally friendly”.

But the key to all of this is the people in logistics.

“Organisations that fail to recognize the central role of people in the success of their supply chains are already running into problems, from shortages of skilled personnel to the outright rejection of promising new technologies.”

Matthias Heutger, senior vice president, global head of innovation & commercial development explained: “The next big challenge will be future-proofing the logistics workforce through training and upskilling in increasingly technologically sophisticated operations. This will take center stage on the strategic agendas of supply chain organizations in the years to come.”

Millions of employees now commute from their bed to a desk at home. After the initial euphoria of skipping smog-filled traffic jams and cramped train compartments, a new reality has dawned in which the workday blends into the rest of life, like a never-ending video conference call. Microsoft Corp. has a solution for this.

The company’s Team collaboration software is adding the ability to schedule a “virtual commute.” It won’t start your car or ride the subway for you, but it will remind users about the end of the workday, suggest tasks help workers wind down, and create a little mental space before kids’ homework, dinner, laundry, and other obligations come crashing in. 

For example, Teams will prompt users to list tasks as completed or add them to tomorrow’s to-do list, while asking workers to rate how their day went and suggesting guided meditation, through an integration with the Headspace app.

Pandemic-related burnout and difficulty separating work and personal life has become a surprisingly common concern among Microsoft’s corporate customers, according to Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela. “The thing we didn’t predict that we’ve learned is now at the top of customers’ minds is really the well-being of their employees,” he said.

Companies initially worried about employees having the right technology to work from home. “Now it’s getting to be much more about ‘hey how do I know if an employee is burned out, how do I know how they are doing — if they are working too hard?’ All of the things around the emotional well-being or the mental health of employees has risen to the top faster in a way that we didn’t really predict,” he added. 

Microsoft will also enable its workplace analytics software to help employers spot and support workers who are at risk of burnout. The software looks at things like an after-hours collaboration by an entire team and how that compares with similar teams. New features coming next year will let employers run programs that remind team members to avoid undue overtime. 

The new features will be announced at Microsoft’s virtual Ignite conference on Tuesday. One more pandemic-era tool from Microsoft: the company’s artificial intelligence software is adding a new Spatial Analysis service that will help clients map and measure physical spaces, which Microsoft said will come in handy for figuring out how to keep customers and workers 6 feet apart.