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Remote Innovation Is More Than Possible: Six Tips From a Tech and Digital Revolutionary

innovation

Remote Innovation Is More Than Possible: Six Tips From a Tech and Digital Revolutionary

A few years ago, Centric Consulting team member Carmen Fontana launched her first Artificial Intelligence project. The goal? Craft machine learning to predict and manage human resources conundrums, such as project staffing. The initiative involved a new-to-Carmen technology, a dual-shore team and a healthy dose of ambiguity. We funded her anyway.

Carmen was participating in Centric’s newly minted innovation incubator which allows any employee to conceive and share product and process improvement ideas. Her idea was stellar, even if the roadmap was sketchy at best.

Carmen thought if companies like Netflix, Amazon and Spotify could observe, record and learn user behavior, allowing them to continually fine-tune their recommendation algorithms far beyond the scope of a traditional Boolean (and/or) statement, then HR could do the same with staffing.

Although much about this innovation journey may sound familiar — from the ambiguity of methods to the lofty (but vision-packed) goals — there’s one core element that most likely does not:

The entire project took place remotely. And we were even able to use it to guide our weekly staffing calls.

Since its inception 20 years ago, Centric has had a thriving “office-optional” workforce, which has grown from just a handful of people to more than 1,000 employees in 13 cities in the U.S. and India.

At a time when everyone is struggling to transition to remote work while innovating, we’ve won an award while doing just that. This year, we were included in Fast Company’s list of “100 Best Workplaces for Innovators.”

As we all hunker down in our separate home offices, physically apart, the stakes around innovation are only increasing. Innovation will remain a key differentiator in the market today and tomorrow. And there’s no turning back from the changes the pandemic has brought to the workplace.

Luckily, remote innovation is something that can be planned for, managed and grown, much like every other aspect of remote work. Below is our blueprint for keeping the creative wheels turning and amping up innovation when employees aren’t always working side-by-side:

Make Extemporaneous Encounters Intentional

The right collaboration tools can create the same sort of opportune encounters that Apple and Pixar champion while also facilitating remote collaboration. Microsoft Teams and Slack, for example, provide an online space for people to talk about new ideas and track progress on innovation projects.

While working on a recent Healthcare VR project, for instance we managed all of our interactions through a Microsoft Teams space — including meetings, brainstorming chats, project management and the collection of all of our teams’ output and materials.

Start a Problems-to-Be-Solved Repository

Nothing triggers innovation like having a problem you’re itching to solve. That’s where a remote repository of problems comes in handy. The more people contribute to the repository, the better: Innovation requires a lot of ideas coming in from a variety of people.

Although you do want to collect as many ideas as possible, you also want to provide some guidelines to make sure those ideas align in some way to larger company goals or to real client or industry challenges.  A repository can be a great tool for vetting which new ideas fit the bill.

A repository can also connect a firm’s natural innovators with employees who may not have an idea to offer but are strong problem-solvers and creative thinkers. Successful innovation efforts engage both types of people.

Hold Sessions Geared Towards Innovation-Generation

Whether in-person or remote, innovation-focused sessions for gathering and testing the latest thinking, ideas and problems are key. Employees usually leave these sessions energized and excited to be part of something new.

One recent example is Expedition: Data, an in-person event to encourage and develop machine learning and data science talent. Early this spring, Centric employees worked with Microsoft and RevLocal, a national digital marketing company, to come up with innovative ways to use Microsoft’s Azure Suite and other tools to improve RevLocal’s employee and customer retention. The winning team got bragging rights and $100 Amazon gift cards.

Institute A Virtual Innovation Lab

Too many organizations focus only on getting ideas, neglecting what comes next. If one of your employees has a concept they want to explore, do they know how to go about developing it?

Centric created its Virtual Innovation Lab to guide innovators as they explore their idea and see if it has legs. The lab acts as a collaboration portal and provides tools and resources for remote teams to work through the innovation lifecycle, helping them overcome major hurdles as they mature their concept and get it to the minimum viable product (MVP) stage.

Our virtual lab essentially provides a blueprint for rapid prototyping using agile development and human experience design principles, among other innovation frameworks. The goal is to help innovators quickly assess proof of concept and proof of value. This is important. If something works, that’s great, but is it feasible from an operational standpoint? Does it actually provide value to the end users or customers? Does it solve a real problem? If the answer is no to any of these questions, your innovator either needs to pivot or kill the project.

Be Deliberate About Forming Teams

Our virtual innovation process relies on agile development, which in its purest form requires teams to be together every day. So how do we get around that as a remote company? We’re very intentional about how we put teams together.

While self-forming teams can work and come together easily when you’re in an office setting, in a virtual environment, team formation needs to be more deliberate. To do this, get to know your internal network and who has what skills, capabilities and passions. Use that knowledge to build teams that will mesh well and play off one another’s strengths. The goal is to virtually replicate the relationships and collaborative spirit that happen effortlessly in an office.

Make Transparency Your Mission

As with any effort in your organization, communication plays a critical role. And in a virtual environment, it’s easy to forget to share information or see what your teammates are doing. That’s why we’ve made transparency a key focus for our virtual innovation lab.

Transparency is not only vital for networking and team building, but it’s also necessary for defining the success metrics that matter. Innovation isn’t easy — and intentionally prioritizing transparency forces learning and greater understanding. Perfection and polish are not required (at least not until the idea is commercialized). Drive the difficult conversations now, and always try to operate in the light.

Treat Failure As Additive, Not Subtractive

Many companies are failure-phobic, and in the interest of profits, many penalize employees and divisions for losing money. But innovation only succeeds through trial and error.

To innovate, you have to embrace failure and help your teams do the same. Give them the tools and the space to test new ideas or processes. Celebrate their efforts regardless of the outcome. Organize sessions – remote or in-person –  where they share stories about their failures. We have, and it has served us well.

retail

E-Commerce’s Newfound Role in Stabilizing and Expanding the U.S. Retail Sector

Kenny Tsang, Managing Director of PingPong Payments, comments on the impact of the pandemic on the retail sector, and how global online marketplaces are providing a lifeline to businesses with thousands of new sellers.

In recent months, online marketplaces have taken a huge step forward to become the primary option for consumers with the pandemic forcing traditional retailers to digitally adapt to consumers. As these lockdown restrictions begin to ease, many businesses and retailers are increasingly finding value in utilizing digital marketplaces to support further disruption.

Worryingly, the existing retail space still lost a shocking 1.3 million jobs from February to June with data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in August[1] showing little signs of recovery for the retail industry. With retail being the primary outlet of the U.S. economy supporting one in four U.S. jobs [2] businesses utilizing the e-commerce sphere are experiencing significant growth by recording an 18 percent increase in online sales[3] this year.

Retail businesses that have been sustainable during the economic slowdown over the last few months are showing increased utilization of online marketplaces as alternatives to traditional retail services. Many who have explored, or been forced to adapt to digital avenues, are seeing the potential for temporary digital measures to become permanent as the U.S. continues to demonstrate a seismic shift in shopping habits. Online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and Rakuten are leading the way, with Amazon more than doubling its valuation so far in 2020 – gaining a staggering $570 billion in market capitalization. eBay has just reported a record eight million new active shoppers, resulting in year on year revenue shooting up 18 percent.

While these numbers may be considered unsustainable in the long term, the 565,000 new merchant signups Amazon has already reached this year suggests the significant growth of online marketplaces will continue to exceed expectations. Many forecasters are estimating the business growth of e-commerce will to continue to reach unprecedented levels in the U.S. – with 1.1 million new sellers expected to join Amazon by the end of 2020.

Accessibility has long been a question for merchants hesitant to embrace the digital market and step out of their comfort zones into new mediums. Online marketplaces that are experiencing the most growth such as Amazon and eBay are increasingly finding ways to engage buyers and sellers to leap into the digital sphere. Thousands of sellers are experiencing natural growth, and the demand for consumer confidence while shopping on digital platforms has never been higher. E-commerce platforms cannot emulate the shop floor, however, we are seeing community-based marketplaces driving international consumer merchants to offer a quality service that delivers high customer satisfaction on primarily review-based models.

Sellers should capitalize on the opportunity to adapt and strategize against the current situation while focusing on understanding how their customer buying patterns were changing, to adjust quickly to demand, PingPong Payments identified the most popular selling categories in the e-commerce space during the pandemic to be groceries, toys and games, educational material and home and garden, while swimwear, travel-related products and consumer electronics such as cameras were no longer in demand.

With more consumer-centric additions, comes more growth, and the need for personnel to respond to the demand has heightened. For many e-commerce sellers, this is unprecedented ground, and it highlights the need for e-commerce sellers to have the right systems in place to facilitate these changes. Traditionally, a bulk of merchants’ operating internationally would spend their time minimalizing cross-border payments in unknown markets that would often lead to unforeseen expenses, long shipping times, and unreliable products. E-commerce sellers partnering with the right cross-border payment companies that specialize in convenient, quick money transfers can take this hassle away while lowering costs with these systems in place.

As consumers return to retail spaces – sellers should continue to utilize the flexibility that e-marketplaces have provided for businesses over the last few months with organic innovation increasing through competition for buy share. From the supply chain to customer-centric models – digital marketplaces are providing a platform to rival in-person sales with a significant expansion focused on retaining customers.

Admittedly, there will be consumers who continue to use traditional methods of shopping, and that will remain an open market for retailers as lockdown restrictions ease. Merchants with better familiarisation of the e-commerce industry should be able to continue to put the right systems and partners in place to maintain a continuous flow of sales worldwide. With added expansion in the industry, economic recovery in the U.S. can help propel pre-existing successful retail foundations into the future.

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[1] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

[2] https://nrf.com/retails-impact

[3] https://www.emarketer.com/content/us-ecommerce-will-rise-18-2020-amid-pandemic

robots

THE EVOLVING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DRONES, MOBILE ROBOTS, AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES AND LOGISTICS

Last mile delivery is the most expensive part of the delivery chain, often representing more than 50 percent of the overall cost. This is mainly because it is the least productive and automated step. As such, many are seeking to bring automation into the last mile. In recent years, many companies around the world have been innovating to utilize autonomous mobile robots, drones, and autonomous vehicle technology.

Various autonomous robots and vehicles (sometimes called pods) are being developed around the world. These come in a variety of shapes and forms, reflecting the diversity and breadth of design and technology choices which must be made to create such products.

Drone Delivery: a Game Changer in Instant Fulfilment?

My new IDTechEx report, “Mobile Robots, Autonomous Vehicles, and Drones in Logistics, Warehousing, and Delivery 2020-2040,” covers the use of mobile robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles in delivery, warehousing and logistics—and suggests these could create a $1 billion market by 2030. That shows how far we have come since a previous IDTechEx report, “Mobile Robots and Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 2017-2037,” which analyzed the technologies that were then emerging in the last mile delivery space, including drones and autonomous mobile ground robots (or droids).

Several players, big and small, have entered the drone delivery game since then, but at the time of the 2017 report, the idea of drone delivery was sharply dividing commentator opinion, with some dismissing it as a mere publicity stunt.

Indeed, drone delivery must be viewed within the context of the emerging drone industry, which has grown to a more than $1.5 billion industry. In the ensuing years, consumer drones’ hardware platform became rapidly commoditized with prices falling.

The idea of drone delivery entered the mainstream media in late 2013. Around that time, drone delivery of e-commerce parcels was first demonstrated in parallel with drones successfully delivering medicine to remote areas. Since then numerous deliveries have been made, partnerships announced, and substantial sums invested.

Fleet Operation to Compensate for Poor Individual Drone Productivity?

Drone delivery faced critical challenges in 2017. Individual drones offer limited productivity compared to traditional means of delivery (e.g., consider a van delivering 150 parcels in an eight-hour shift). They can only carry small payloads and battery technology limits their flight duration, constraining them to around 30 minutes radius of their base while further lowering their productivity due to the downtime needed for re-charging/re-loading.

The limited productivity, in our view, is not a showstopper. This is because fleet operation can compensate for poor individual drone productivity. The unit cost of drones will be substantially lower than, say, a van, enabling the conversation of a few, highly-productive vehicles into many small drones with high productivity at the fleet level. This will require a further major reduction in hardware costs for commercial drones, but if the past is to be our guide, this will be inevitable.

Limited payload is also not a showstopper because, according to Amazon statistics, some 85 percent of packages weigh 5 pounds or fewer. Furthermore, the fall in delivery costs and time for customers is changing purchasing habits: frequent orders of small items is replacing that big infrequent order. This matches well to the strong points of drones.

The limited range is also not a showstopper even in suburban areas where customers do not live close to a distribution point. It will, however, mandate a gradual yet wholesale change in the location of warehouses with more placed closer to end customers or the use of large mobile drone carrier vans. The former is already happening in the background, while the latter has also been demonstrated at the proof-of-concept level.

Sidewalk Last-Mile Delivery Robots: a Billion-Dollar-Market by 2030?

Sidewalk robots are often designed to travel slowly at 4-6 km/hr (or 2.5-3.7 mph). This is to increase safety, to give robots more thinking time, to give remote teleoperators the chance to intervene, and to enable categorizing the robot as a personal device (vs. a vehicle), thus easing the legislative challenges.

However,  sidewalk robots are still far from being totally autonomous. First, they are often deployed in environments such as U.S. university campuses where there is little sidewalk traffic and where the sidewalks are well-structured. Many robots are also restricted to daylight and perception-free conditions. Critically, the suppliers also have remote teleoperator centers. The ratio of operators to robots will need to be kept to an absolute minimum if such businesses are to succeed.

There is still much work to do to improve the navigation technology. The robots will need to learn to operate in more complex and varied environments with minimal intervention. Furthermore, capital is also essential. The end markets are also highly competitive, imposing tough price constraints.

In general, we forecast a 200,000-unit fleet size until 2035 (accounting for replacement). The inflection point will not occur until around the 2025 period given the readiness level of the technology. This suggests both a large robot sales market and an even larger annual delivery services market provided asset utilization can be high (the services income could reach $1.6 billion by 2035 in a reasonable scenario).

Sidewalk Delivery Robots vs. Autonomous Delivery Vans

These robots, pods and vehicles are mainly designed from scratch to be unmanned. They are also almost always battery-powered and electrically-driven. This is for various reasons, including: (1) electronic drive gives better control of motion, especially when each wheel can be independently controlled; (2) the interface between the electronic control system and the electrical drive train is simpler, eliminating the need for complex by-wire systems found in autonomous ICE vehicles; and (3) their production process needs to handle vastly fewer parts, and as such could be taken on by smaller manufacturers.

Another key technology and business choice is where to navigate. Many robots are designed to travel on sidewalks and pedestrian pavements, while the van-looking pods and vehicles are often designed to be road-going. This choice of where to travel has determining consequences for the design, technology choice, target markets and business model.

Sidewalk robots are an interesting proposition. They come with various hardware choices. For example, some are few-wheeled while many are six-wheeled. Some include a single small-payload compartment, while others carry larger multi-item storage compartments. The key choice, however, is in what perception sensors to use.

Navigation Technology Choices

Mobile robots come with various hardware choices, e.g., number of motor-controlled wheels, payload size and compartment design, battery size, etc. Almost all have HD cameras around the robot to give teleoperators the ability to intervene All also have IMUs and GPS and most have ultrasound sensors for near-field sensing.

A critical choice is whether to use lidar-only, stereo-vision-only, or hybrid. Lidar can give excellent 360deg ranging information with spatial resolution and a dense point cloud which enables good signal processing. Lidars, however, are expensive and can have near-field (a few cm) blindspot. Therefore, the choice to use lidars will represent a bet for the cost of lidar technology to dramatically fall.

Most robots deploying lidars use 16-channel RoboSense or Velodyne lidars. These are mechanical rotating lidars, giving surround viewing. The technology of lidars is evolving with the likes of MEMS or OPA emerging. These could enable cost reduction but will reduce FoV (field of view), thus mandating the use of more lidar units per robot.

We project that the cost of lidars is to significantly fall over the coming years. This has the potential to put such robots on the path towards business viability. The other challenge is near-field blindspots. This is not an issue with cars, but can be in a sidewalk, where many low-lying objects can reside closely to the robot. To resolve these, complementary sensors will be needed.

The other approach is to go lidar-free, using stereo camera as the main perception-for-navigation sensor. This will require the development of camera-based algorithms for localization, object detection, classification, semantic segmentation, and path planning.

No off-the-shelf software solution exists. Indeed, no labeled training dataset exists that would allow training lidar-based, camera-based or hybrid deep neutral networks (DNNs) for sidewalk navigation. The sidewalk environment is vastly different to that of the on-road vehicles. As such, companies will need to collect, calibrate, and meticulously label their own datasets. Furthermore, the datasets will require great diversity to accommodate different light, perception, and local conditions. Deployments in many sites even as pilot programs are essential in further improving the robots and can indeed represent a competitive advantage.

The robots are energy-constrained. As such, the number of on-board processors and GPUs should be kept to a minimum, and heavy-duty computational tasks such as 3D map-making and edge-extraction should be carried off-line in powerful services. This almost always happens when robots are deployed to a new environment: They are walked around to capture data, the data is sent to servers for processing so it can be converted into a suitable map, earmarking edges, many classes of fixed objects, drivable paths, and so on.

Long Road to Profitability Lies Ahead

In general, there is still much work to do to improve navigation technology. The robots will need to learn to operate in more complex and varied environments with minimal intervention. This requires extensive investment in software development. This ranges from gathering data, defining object classes, labeling the data, and training the DNNs in many environments and conditions. It also requires writing algorithms for the many challenges the robots encounter in their autonomous operation.

Furthermore, capital is also essential. The businesses are heavy on development costs, especially software costs. The end markets are also highly competitive, imposing tough price constraints. The hardware itself is likely to be commoditized and many will outsource manufacturing once they have settled on a suitable final design. The payback for many will be having a large fleet to offer robots as a delivery service.

Future Outlook: Significant Robot Sale and Delivery Services Opportunity

Sales and delivery firms are likely to have a long road ahead of them before they reach profitability. They should improve the robots to work in more scenarios beyond well-structured neighborhoods and campuses, to extend their operation to all-day and all-weather conditions, and to extend autonomous operation with little error to nearly all scenarios to drive down the remote operator-to-fleet size ratio.

The deployed fleet size will need to dramatically increase to expand income from delivery services and allow the amortization of the software development costs over many units sold.

We have analyzed all the key companies and technologies in this emerging field. We have also constructed a forecast model, considering how the productivity of last-mile mobile robots is likely to evolve over the years. We have developed various scenarios, assessing the current and future addressable market size in terms of total accumulated fleet size. Our fleet deployment forecasts and penetration rate forecasts are based upon on reasonable market and technology assessments and roadmaps.

Consequently, our forecasts suggest, that despite the upfront technology and market challenges, the market will grow and those who plant their seeds today will reap the benefits tomorrow.

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Dr. Khasha Ghaffarzadeh is the research director at IDTechEx, where he has helped deliver more than 50 consulting projects across the world. The projects have covered custom market research, technology scouting, partnership/customer development, technology road mapping, product positioning, competitive analysis and investment due diligence.

His report “Mobile Robots, Autonomous Vehicles, and Drones in Logistics, Warehousing, and Delivery 2020-2040” covers the use of mobile robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles in delivery, warehousing and logistics. It provides a comprehensive analysis of all the key players, technologies and markets, covering automated as well as autonomous carts and robots, automated goods-to-person robots, autonomous and collaborative robots, delivery robots, mobile picking robots, autonomous material handling vehicles such as tuggers and forklifts, autonomous trucks, vans, and last mile delivery robots and drones. You can find the report here: https://www.idtechex.com/en/research-report/mobile-robots-autonomous-vehicles-and-drones-in-logistics-warehousing-and-delivery-2020-2040/706.

You can find his report “Mobile Robots and Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 2017-2037” here: https://www.idtechex.com/en/research-article/drone-delivery-publicity-stunt-or-game-changer-in-instant-fulfilment/11658.

IDTechEx guides strategic business decisions through its Research, Consultancy and Event products, helping clients profit from emerging technologies. For more information on IDTechEx Research and Consultancy, contact research@IDTechEx.com or visit www.IDTechEx.com.

logistics

Logistics in the eCommerce-Era

Plans of business expansions and holiday vacations have been shattered and ruined by the pandemic. Memories of Christmas dinner and going to the local store without precautions are engrained in our minds. The world’s behavior has shifted to adapt to the consequences of a pandemic.

Many people are experiencing losses in business, losing employment and many other effects. The global ecommerce has over 3.5 billion registered users in 2020, providing many companies to grow in a new business concept without the brick and mortar store, and additional office workers. Ecommerce business has allowed supporting businesses to grow, in particular, the logistics industry.

As one of the oldest and largest industries, logistics is predominantly owned and operated by the older generation who has operated businesses with the same routine and procedures. Many logistics companies are still practicing the traditional method of doing business, with back and forth communication to negotiate and coordinate detailed requirements. However, consumers in ecommerce era are now demanding faster decision-making and transparency. With the right technological solution to handle multiple procedures, many important tasks such as administration, operations coordination, financial background check and verification, etc. can now be handled by complex computation algorithms instead of humans.

Companies can reduce miscommunication, mishandling, minimize delinquent accounts and improve response of customer service levels by creating a logistics technology that can perform job functions, such as Customs Clearance Procedures, Sales-Marketing Cross Promotion, Driver Instruction, and Operation Procedures, Warehouse and Airline Operation Procedures, Invoice and payment reminder, and others. With one platform, all of these features to help companies consolidate all logistics functions in one place.

The logistics industry involves many various parties in running its operation such as Shipper, Domestic and International Transport, Consignee, Customs officers, Warehouse Personnel, Accounting and others. This is a full operation which needs to be administered and monitored in order to be executed properly. With the help of technology algorithm, multiple information will be able to be distributed and delivered to the right operator’s smartphone device and will speed up notifications, operations, and processes.

Another key feature is the Face/Vehicle identification processes, allowing convenience to Shippers and Transporters to better monitor pick-up and drop-offs of shipments. With integrated technology features, the logistics industry will see improved service levels and the benefits of transparent cost structures to each transaction.

The pandemic has accelerated the pace of logistics digital transformation. Many new changes are seen as a result of the world crisis, including an increase in ecommerce businesses, remote work, online mobile orders and deliveries, and other changes. In order to survive as a business that has shifted away from traditional concepts, it is important to minimize costs and make smart decisions.

For the logistics industry, most infrastructure job functions and operation administration tasks can be performed through a smart algorithm platform. With an all-in-one platform, information can be accessed on mobile devices or desktops and is available on all operating systems. Logistics in technology platforms will allow better communication, organization, transparency, and companies will benefit by being more cost-efficient, connected, and productive.

big tech

NEW PAPER “EXPOSES” BIG TECH’S PLANS FOR NEW WTO RULES OVER DATA ACCESS AND CONTROL

A paper released in July by educational publisher Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung of Brussels examines how “big tech” corporations work to use “trade” rules to allegedly rig the global digital economy to collect more data, exercise more control over people’s lives and over their workers, and amass ever more profit.

“Digital Trade Rules: A Disastrous New Constitution for the Global Economy, By and for Big Tech” was written by Deborah James of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. She claims companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft work to secure new accords at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that would allow them greater access to, and ownership of, data with minimal restrictions.

“These proposed rules are a grave threat to development, human rights, labor, and shared prosperity around the world,” says James, who is executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based center’s International Programs. “They are the very antithesis of the type of policies we need to rein in the cancerous and untrammeled growth of the power of Big Tech.”

She writes that, “When it was founded in 1995, new agreements within the WTO gave rights to the dominant industries at that time, such as agriculture, finance, services, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing. The technology industries lack such an agreement in the WTO and are seeking similar rules to these to liberalize the digitalization that is currently transforming the global economy, particularly the governance of today’s most valuable resource, which is data.”

Her report came as a group of 76 countries launched talks aimed at a digital trade agreement at the next WTO ministerial conference. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a WTO conference planned for June is Kazakhstan was postponed.

business tools

5 Mistakes Businesses Make When Selecting Business Tools

There are so many things that go into setting your business for success. One of them is ensuring you have the best business tools that offer longevity, consistency, resilience, scalability, and comprehensive real-time visibility throughout your operations. But with a plethora of different types of tools out there, finding the right ones for your business can be a challenge. Here are 5 common mistakes you should avoid to help you invest in the right tools and use them effectively.

1. Expecting Technology to Solve Process-related Issues

One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is expecting technology to resolve problems with their processes and procedures. Although technology can enhance your speed, efficiency, and profitability, it tends to augment the already available operational effectiveness. If your company is well organized and has error-free processes, technology can automate repetitive processes, save you time, and help you grow profits. If your company is disorganized and with messed up processes, technology will only intensify that incompetence.

Tip: When incorporating new tools to your business, look for those that help you optimize your existing processes or recommends better processes. If you don’t have error-free procedures and processes in place, start by developing them and ensuring your company is working on paper.

2. Not Considering Multiple Opinions

Another common mistake that many businesses make in the process of buying business tools is having an unclear idea of what’s required instead of precise requirements. It’s extremely easy to examine and invest in the best solution when you’ve a clear idea of what you expect from the system. Companies miss requirements
when they leave the selection process to only technical personnel or a small team of leaders. Depending on one individual or department’s viewpoints is extremely narrow, particularly if several departments will be using the new system every day.

Tip: Involve various stakeholders in the process of selecting your business tools even if it’s those for opening a zip file. Remember while working employees will need tools that enable them to open and compress large files. Assemble a team of staff that can champion the needs of their respective departments. Once you gather viewpoints from a variety of future users, you can now design a requirements document to guide you in the entire selection process. Apart from issues you’re aspiring to solve, a good requirements document should also include important features that new tool(s) should have.

3. Relying on Recommendations Only

While recommendations from friends can be really helpful when you’re looking for the best software solutions for your business, they can also be risky if not accompanied by thorough research. Your friends may be running a business related to yours, but they may be following different processes or using different features in the tool. When purchasing solely on recommendation, you run the risks of expecting a tool to perform functions that are beyond its capability.

Tip: The right tools should meet the unique needs and requirements of your business. So even as you seek recommendations from your peers, consider following them up with in-depth research.

4. Buying Without Trying

Most business tools come with some sort of free trial or free plan. So before making a purchase, run the tool in one or two locations and see how it’s working. This applies to even tools for opening a zip file. Remember trial mode is designed to help you assess performance (speed and dependability) and see how the application works.

Tip: During the trial mode, ask yourself, “Does this tool function and feel like a perfect fit for my business?” Your answer to this question will help you decide whether you’ll buy the application or you’ll go on with your search.

5. Failure to Invest in Future-proofed Solutions

Investing in tools to fix immediate problems is another mistake many businesses make. This shortsighted approach has left many businesses having to deal with expensive and lengthy upgrades, hectic re-implementations, and continued reliance on tools that
actually frustrates their expansion plans.

Pro Tip: Before investing in any software solution, think about the ways your business needs and requirements are likely to change in the future. Then, choose a solution that’s continuously expanding on current functionalities and incorporating new capabilities.

Final Thoughts

Businesses must ask the right questions, know the common pitfalls to avoid, and perform enough due diligence before investing in any business tools. They should invest in solutions that allow them not only to fix immediate problems but also their future challenges.

supply chain

Leveraging Digital Technology to Create a More Resilient Supply Chain

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the flow of goods across the globe, from raw materials to finished products. The pandemic has raised awareness of the importance of truck drivers, delivery drivers and warehouse workers who have kept products moving in this challenging environment. The economic ramifications have forced companies and industries to reevaluate their supply chains.

Additionally, the pandemic has vividly illustrated that today’s highly interlinked, international supply chains have more potential points of failure and less flexibility for absorbing delays and disruptions than business leaders may have realized.

To build more resilient and flexible supply chains, companies may consider several options, including bringing some critical activities closer to home, setting up backup suppliers to reduce exposure to any single supplier/country, or refining their inventory strategies. Of course, any such alteration will affect logistics and transportation.

Having the right combination of technology, expertise, people, and solutions in place is critical as companies revisit their supply chain strategies. Fortunately, leveraging supply chain technology can improve end-to-end visibility, resiliency, and efficiency within your supplier networks.

Advances in digital technology and automation are driving the continued evolution of supply chains. Some of the most impactful technologies can be grouped into three buckets:

Automation

-Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
-Configurable workflows

 

Digitization

-Artificial intelligence
-Machine learning
-Cloud computing

 

Big data

-Internet of Things

 

Companies in many industries currently employ these technologies. GlobalTranz uses these technology advances to enable and support our people.  We have used RPA to streamline many rote, operational tasks and allow our workforce to tackle more strategic, higher-value activities, particularly those which build relationships with our customers, suppliers, and partners. RPA creates a software robot leveraging a specific set of rules to automate tasks, such as document retrieval, inter-system data entry, approval processes, and gathering track and trace data. Unlike traditional custom-developed solutions, RPA can be continuously modified in a more real-time approach – especially important as the number of data sources and the sheer amount of data continues to increase.

By contextualizing data and reviewing daily processes, businesses can make complex and time-consuming processes more efficient. For example, when using RPA to gather track and trace data, you can be assured that the information is the most recent and accurate.

Before building bots to automate the collection of track-and-trace information, GlobalTranz devoted nearly 139 days’ worth of time annually, per person, to this task. Automation has enabled people to spend more time with customers and partners helping them devise strategies to address challenges brought on by COVID-19 and create a more resilient supply chain.

As companies look ahead to the economic recovery, it is imperative that they obtain greater visibility into their own facilities, their direct suppliers, and logistics partners. The crisis demonstrates the need for resiliency and accurate, real-time information that can help businesses make better-informed decisions and mitigate the costs of supply chain disruptions.

Obtaining accurate, real-time information to mitigate complexity and create resiliency requires a more digitized approach. Disruptive risks require investment in additional supply chain resilience even though the gains and the return on investment may not be immediate.

Successful organizational change, much like social change, can be influenced by the people and capabilities around us – including both stakeholders within your business and your supply chain partners – as well as how internal data and external intelligence are leveraged to make better business decisions.

How Technology can Improve your Logistics Operations

Like most other industries, the logistics industry faces a gradual transformation towards adapting to the internet age. The advent of new technologies invalidates age-old approaches and processes, creating the need for modernization. And with the logistics industry being as massive as it is, it’s understandable that it can be notably lucrative. Between risk mitigation and automation, there are many ways in which adaptive technology can benefit this $4 trillion industry. With that said, let us explore just how technology can improve your logistics operation.

The significance of efficiency

Before delving into specifics, it is vital to note the undisputed value of efficiency in the logistics industry.

As mentioned before, this 4$ trillion industry is massive, and its interconnectivity with other industries is apparent. Thus, efficient logistics operations can yield considerable productivity gains across the board. Not only can they provide a competitive advantage, but they can also guarantee better overall operation cohesion. Logistics software can greatly enhance one’s control and oversight of supply chains, increasing response times to potential disruptions. After all, customers of all industries value a swift delivery of goods and services, as well as quality customer support. Such software can augment all of those aspects, ensuring that potential challenges are easier to overcome.

Shipment Tracking Systems and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

A technology that has already caught on, albeit to varying degrees, is shipment tracking. As customers would previously be unaware of their order’s status, shipment tracking systems have rectified this somewhat. With 24/7 access to shipment status information, customers can rest assured that their order is indeed underway. Some tracking systems even offer additional information and shipment notifications for additional insights and convenience. This solution can indeed improve your logistics too, no less than customer experience. Constant monitoring can save your time and money, as well as unclog your customer service channels.

Likewise, on the front of cargo management, RFID technology has also seen use in recent years. In essence, RFID tags or sensors allow companies to keep track of their inventory. Both labor-saving and cost-effective, RFID tags are often used in distribution warehouses as a means of monitoring containers. Such industries as the apparel industry are also using RFID technology for tracking purposes, with very notable success. Should you be contemplating how technology can improve your logistics operation, RFID solutions could be a reasonable step to take.

Automation and robotics

On the subject of warehouse optimization, then, technology has provided another asset; automation. Naturally, automation can yield many benefits to many industries, but logistics is unquestionably one of them. From increased performance to reduced labor costs, automation is undoubtedly a valuable asset.

Automation offers to improve operational efficiency in machines, and has already seen effective use in such trade hubs as Holland’s Port of Rotterdam. Namely, its use of fully-automated terminals allows it to reap the aforementioned benefits in terms of unloading cargo. It’s estimated that this approach increases overall productivity by as much as 30 percent – a very notable net benefit.

Similarly, robots have facilitated the rapid growth of online sales across many industries. While they are quite dissimilar from automation in many regards, they too can automate operations and thus decrease labor costs. Most notably, as far as e-commerce is concerned, Amazon has been innovative in this front. Its use of Kiva robots has reduced the company’s expenses by as much as 20 percent. A notable feat, enough so that other companies also seek to employ robots in their warehouses.

Drones and autonomous vehicles

In much the same way as automation and robotics, technology has provided logistics companies with drones and autonomous vehicles. Similar in function, both can be fine examples of how technology can improve your logistics operation.

Drones have seen surges in functionality in recent times, elevated from a niche solution to one with potentially global applications. This development was understandably followed by an array of eager high-profile adopters, such as UPS. A potential innovation in terms of product delivery indeed, drones can expand delivery options to both urban and rural areas. More fortunately still, their nature allows them to also improve logistics, by removing the factor of human error.

Likewise, autonomous vehicles can offer similar convenience. In part due to relatively lower regulations and easier testing, self-driving vehicles have been an accessible technological advancement for many logistics operations. Of course, it’s notable that this technology is currently mostly limited to warehouse management, such as autonomous forklifts and trucks. However, with rapid advancements, it may not be long before autonomous trucks can traverse the world’s highways. Both in their current and potential future forms, autonomous vehicles can quite possibly be a massive asset to any company.

Conclusion

As technology makes rapid strides, one can realistically expect vast logistics optimization potential. From warehouse management and monitoring to shipment tracking and delivery, the possibilities seem endless. When contemplating how technology can improve your logistics operation, both the present and the future hold much promise. And as supply chains expand and grow, it will be vital to adapt to such technologies to remain competitive.

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James Clarkson is a freelance web designer and author. He often writes analyses of the shipping and moving industries, and of the SEO needs of both. He’s a frequent writer for Verified Movers, as well as other companies.

technology

Competitors Link Arms and Embrace Technology’s Promise

Overcapacity. Low freight rates. Security problems. Data inadequacies. Stringent environmental regulations. When it comes to moving containerized freight around the globe, third-party logistics companies (3PLs) have a lot to deal with.

However, like a guardian angel, blockchain has arrived to solve all these issues and more for the 3PL industry, which stands to save billions of dollars annually through increased efficiency, improved processes and a digital transformation.

Blockchain technology, while still in its innovative infancy, has “a lot of potential” to facilitate trade, according to a report by Christine McDaniel, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, Hanna C. Norberg, the founder of Trade Economista and the university that was released in May.

In “Can Blockchain Technology Facilitate International Trade?” McDaniel and Norberg explored blockchain technology’s usefulness in easing trade finance, improving customs procedures and tracking the provenance of goods. Their conclusion: “Adaptability, interoperability, and a policy environment that welcomes experimentation will be essential if the U.S. economy is to realize the potential benefits of blockchain technology across the international trade landscape.”

They also point out that numerous private- and public-sector efforts are underway to explore the benefits of blockchain technology. Financial institutions are experimenting with blockchain to increase access and decrease trade-finance costs.

The shipping industry is working with those along the supply chain and with customs officials to see how a distributed digital ledger can facilitate the transparent movement of goods across borders and seas. Companies and retailers are exploring ways to track their own supply chains so they can communicate tracking and origin information to consumers who increasingly demand such information.

Among those that are all-in with blockchain is Blockshipping, a Danish concern that was launched in May 2018 with a goal of developing the world’s first freight container registry. The startup claims its blockchain-based Global Shared Container Platform, which provides a real-time registry of 27 million containers, could save the industry $5.7 billion annually. For that to work, parties across the industry must apply sensors to all containers.

The same month that Blockshipping announced its arrival, global shipping giants CMA CGM and the Mediterranean Shipping Co. joined TradeLens, the blockchain-based digital shipping platform developed three years ago by A.P. Moller-Maersk and IBM. TradeLens is an open and neutral blockchain platform that promotes an efficient, transparent and secure exchange of information to improve collaboration between different stakeholders within the supply chain.

Ironically, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd had criticized the workings of TradeLens in 2018, stating that for a blockchain-based platform to succeed within the industry, it would need to have a common standard. With CMA CGM and MSC now having joined TradeLens, the platform accounts for shipping data of over half the number of container lines that sail across international waters.

Surgere is a North Canton, Ohio-based digital supply chain and packaging specialist whose clients include Nissan and CEVA Logistics. In June, Surgere announced it had joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (Bita), a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based organization with nearly 500 members in more than 25 countries that collectively generate more than $1 trillion annually. The alliance helps develop industry standards, encourage the use of new solutions and educate its members who are mostly drawn from the freight, transportation and logistics sectors.

“Blockchain enables instant visibility of inventory transactions, captured by Surgere’s extremely accurate RFID solutions, which can be immediately and collectively processed throughout the supply chain,” said Rusty Coleman, Surgere’s vice-president of Digital Transformation, in the Bita announcement. “That visibility can remove artificially created demand patterns and make visible smooth and continuous demand for tier [suppliers] near real-time.”

Representatives from NBSF Railway, Daimler, Delta, J.B. Hunt, FedEx, Transplace and UPS are on the Bita board of directors, whose Standards Council chairman is Dale Chrystie, FedEx’s business strategist and blockchain fellow. “This is not a process improvement initiative; this is a breakthrough discussion,” Chrystie said from the stage of the Blockchain Revolution Global conference in Toronto on April 25. “This is a different way to think about how global clearance looks in the future.”

The notion that competitors are joining hands when it comes to the promise of blockchain was demonstrated by the fact that the FedEx executive was joined by Eugene Laney, head of international government affairs for DHL USA and Mahesh Sahasranaman, principal architect at UPS Supply Chain Solutions, in a discussion with Don Tapscott, executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute. Each agreed there is a common interest in embracing uniform standards for blockchain and getting governments on board with the technology.

“This is an issue that must be looked at with a global viewpoint,” Chrystie said. “These dots are going to connect. The question is how are you going to accelerate that process.”

Here is a deeper dive into ways blockchain can revolutionize the industry, according to the “Can Blockchain Technology Facilitate International Trade?” report from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

Trade and Finance

Blockchain could reduce the expense and time required to facilitate trade that depends on third-party lending or insurance. Such trade accounts for about 80 percent of global trade. This reduction of expense and time will be especially important for small and medium-sized enterprises that may face restrictions to accessing credit or for firms in countries with less developed finance markets.

Customs Procedures

The technology could reduce costs associated with obtaining import and export licenses, creating and verifying the accuracy of cargo and shipping documents, and making customs declarations. Blockchain could make a positive contribution to expediting customs procedures. The total impact of those procedures on global trade volumes and economic output is estimated to be greater than that of tariffs.

Tracking the Origin of Goods

Blockchain could improve how producers and retailers manage their supply chains by providing real-time information on the movement and origin of goods. Blockchain designed for trade should disallow anonymity. If such a design were to be widely adopted, it might improve detection of illicit trade flows and help deter illegitimate efforts to circumvent trade rules. A design without anonymity could aid customs and law enforcement while easing the flow of legitimate trade.

The Breakbulk, RoRo and Heavy Lift Industries Gear Up for AntwerpXL 2019

Thousands of industry professionals will gather at the Antwerp Expo in the Port of Antwerp next week when AntwerpXL 2019, the highly-anticipated inaugural event for the breakbulk, RoRo and heavy lift industries, opens its doors. The event, which takes place from 7-9 May 2019, will attract the sector’s top industry names, who recognise the unrivalled business, networking and knowledge sharing opportunities the show has to offer. 

Exhibitors on Show

Over 100 companies, including major names such as Boeckmans, Wallenius Wilhelmsen (WW), Fast Lines Belgium and MSC Belgium, will use the event’s platform to showcase market-leading products and services, launch new technologies and make major announcements to a captive international audience.

WW Solutions will highlight its global terminal network and demonstrate its terminal handling capacities for breakbulk cargo, including storage, loading and discharge capabilities via rail, barge, RoRo and LoLo. Also on show, WW Ocean will highlight its deep-sea solutions for breakbulk and project cargo; a fleet of 120 vessels, all able to accommodate cargo stretching up to 6.5 metres tall and weighing up to 400 tonnes.

Both Central Oceans and Rollit CARGO will demonstrate a complete range of services offered to facilitate the transport of oversized, complicated and project related cargoes. Atlas Shipping Services is also exhibiting at the event, along with its three business partners, United Cargo Management, Vision Log – Centaurea Group and Peter Rathmann & Co. GmbH. All four organisations will demonstrate how they handle projects, heavy lift shipments, breakbulk and full charters in different types of machineries. In addition, Caribbean Line & Soreidom will showcase its expertise in logistics and the transport of dry-bulk products, project cargo, heavy-lift and transports for exporters and industrial companies.

Furthermore, MSC Belgium will showcase the results of its recent investment into project cargo and RoRo shipments. The world leading container shipping company now owns two large ConRo vessels as part of its fleet. At AntwerpXL, it will discuss how these vessels, which are more environmentally friendly than others operating between Antwerp and West Africa, have a ramp capacity of 350 tonnes and a deck height of up to six metres.

AntwerpXL will also host a range of entirely service-led industry organisations, including a new legal flat monthly service from LMA Legal, whereby clients can obtain legal advice on any matter related to their daily breakbulk business. 

An Engaging Conference Programme

The highly-anticipated conference programme will provide a cutting-edge educational agenda. Over 40 major names will deliver in-depth presentations, Q&A sessions and debates on the Main Deck Stage, covering innovation, digitisation and lessons from disruptors in the breakbulk, maritime and project cargo industry.  

Bob Delbecque, an internationally-renowned company energiser and business coach, will open the conference with his keynote, ‘A vision of the future’. The presentation will investigate the main drivers of the breakbulk industry, their likely impacts, and what changes the sector could be looking at across international markets.

Day two begins with a keynote session from Paul Birch, Owner of Visionjuice and former Head of Business Planning at British Airways, on developing an adaptable business which thrives on innovation. On the same day, Stephanie Hare, an analyst, strategist and broadcaster in technology, politics and world business, will chair a panel discussion about the impact of trade wars on different parts of the supply chain, and on the challenges and opportunities presented to the industry by Brexit. 

AntwerpXL will also focus on NextGen when it hosts a discussion on how the industry will adapt to new market conditions and new technologies. Chaired by Sue Terpilowski OBE, Managing Director, Image Line Communications, and President, WISTA UK, and Chair, Maritime UK’s Women’s Taskforce, the working lunch session will explore new ways of thinking, working and collaborating for those starting a career in the industry, the conclusions of which will be presented in a session afterwards.

The conference will gather the most innovative and forward-thinking minds in the breakbulk industry, all of whom will be sharing knowledge, best practices and ideas.

A Gathering of Thought-Leaders

Numerous networking opportunities will be on offer at AntwerpXL. Key industry figureheads will be amongst those keen to make new connections and learn from the brightest industry minds.

The event kicks off with a port tour starting at 1pm on Tuesday 7 May. Attendees of this free-to-join experience will see and learn about the port’s multipurpose terminals, Kieldrecht Lock, Deurganckdok, Zuidnatie, Churchill Dock and the Antwerp Railhouse.

AntwerpXL’s Welcome Reception at the Antwerp Expo marks the official launch of the show and gives guests the opportunity to meet the industry-leading organisations exhibiting their latest innovations and developments at the event.

On Wednesday 8 May, Bart Timperman, the Chief Editor at Flows Magazine, will moderate a breakfast seminar, where thought-leaders will discuss the question, ‘Breakbulk in Flanders: Crucial or Marginal?.’ Invaluable industry insights from those who believe breakbulk remains an important engine of volumes and employment, and those who believe it is doomed to become a marginal activity on the fringes of the shipping landscape, will be shared.

As the sun goes down, guests can enjoy the official AntwerpXL Networking Party, hosted at the historic Felix Archive. Visitors will raise a toast to the event and enjoy an evening relaxing with colleagues before heading to Den Engels in the Square to continue the party.

AntwerpXL Connect is the official one-to-one networking platform for this year’s event. The online service provides users with the opportunity to set up meetings with suppliers and prospects and manage their schedule during the event. Meetings will take place onsite in the AntwerpXL Connect Lounge.

The Networking Lounge, VIP Lounge and Antwerp Business Point, on the show floor, are also areas where visitors can congregate and meet with industry peers.

Fueling Innovation

Sponsored by Bulkchain by NxtPort, the Innovation Start-up Zone will feature some of the industry most groundbreaking new companies and showcase the innovative new technologies and products they have developed.

Along with a range of demos, two panel debates exploring the future of the industry will be delivered by leading industry experts. Cees-Willem Koorneef, Director at Port XL Antwerp, and Dominic Sun, Director of Trade Development, Port of Houston, will host each session on bringing a new customer experience to the industry on each day of the show.

Mark Rimmer, StocExpo & Tank Storage Portfolio Divisional Director, comments: “We are thrilled to see so many industry leading organisations recognising the opportunities available at AntwerpXL. There is no better place for companies to exhibit their products and services in front of industry peers, discuss the latest industry trends and demonstrate the value they can provide in order to support the future needs of customers and their global commitments.” 

AntwerpXL takes place on 7-9 May 2019 at the Antwerp Expo in the Port of Antwerp in Belgium. For more information on visiting the exhibition, booking as a delegate for the conference or exhibiting, please visit https://www.easyfairs.com/antwerp-xl-2019/    

About AntwerpXL

AntwerpXL is a new three-day exhibition and conference for the breakbulk, maritime, and project cargo industry, hosted by the Port of Antwerp. Industry leaders from across the supply chain will meet to discover, innovate, and connect at Antwerp Expo, Belgium, from the 7th to the 9th of May 2019.

Freight forwarders, cargo owners, and equipment handlers, as well as terminal operators, EPCs, manufacturers, and project owners will attend to network and learn from the experts.

AntwerpXL – shaping the future of breakbulk.

www.antwerpxl.com  

About Easyfairs

Easyfairs enables communities to “visit the future” at must-attend events that anticipate their needs and present solutions in the ideal format.

The group currently organises over 218 events in 17 countries (Algeria, Belgium, China, Denmark, Emirates, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States). Easyfairs also manages 10 event venues in Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden (Antwerp, Ghent, Mechelen-Brussels North, Namur, Gorinchem, Hardenberg, Venray, Gothenburg, Malmö and Stockholm).

The group employs more than 750 people and generated revenues exceeding € 157 million for its financial year 2017-2018.

Easyfairs strives to be the most adaptable, agile and effective player in the events industry by employing committed individuals, deploying the best marketing and technology tools and developing strong brands. Visit the future with Easyfairs.

Find out more on www.easyfairs.com