Flexibility, inclusiveness, diversity, and accountability are things organisations have been thinking about for years, with some progress. But the massive implications associated with the coronavirus pandemic had accelerated changes that foster these values. As a result of this comprehensiveness, logistics companies will be able to react quickly to future crises and coordinate with their community members to offer innovative solutions to help shippers and customers overcome the challenges, exemplifying business resilience.

Upamanyu Borah

While survival during the COVID-19 outbreak might look like a short-term necessity, the long-term goal is to thrive in the ‘New Normal’, regardless what the post-COVID-19 era may look like.

There is no shortage of cautionary tales of businesses being caught out in the cold in the COVID-19 pandemic, unprepared for the overnight disruption to the way they work. The global pandemic has exposed weaknesses in companies and economies that lack a strong digital infrastructure, leaving them unable to execute continuity plans in an emergency.

However, companies that kept business running, the onus is in large on their digital ecosystem and a well-equipped, future-looking workforce.

Not to question, IT is imperative and at the heart of every company’s business resilience, but its role has evolved, from helping the company run better and faster, and ultimately to some sort of transformation. Equally important is technology’s contribution to the customer and employee experience. As shippers take the journey in a post-pandemic world, companies are prioritising and partnering with them and address what challenges them most. In fact, many of shippers are envisioning wholesale changes to their business models.

Where video conferences and remote work are on the rise and business travel is still to come back, everyone has been willing to adapt. Also studies say that data-based, at-a-distance personnel assessments bear a closer relation to employees’ contributions than do traditional ones, which tend to favour visibility. Transitioning toward such systems could contribute to building a more diverse, more capable, and happier workforce.

In previous economic transitions, infrastructure meant things such as roads and pipelines. In democratic societies, governments generally drew up the plans and established safety and other regulations, and the private sector did the actual building. Something similar needs to happen now, in two areas. One is the irresistible rise of digital technologies. Those without access to reliable broadband are being left out of a sizable and surging segment of the economy; there is a clear case for creating a robust, universal broadband infrastructure.

The second has to do with the workforce. To avoid social upheaval—more high-wage jobs but fewer middle-class ones—displaced workers need to be retrained so that they can find and succeed in the new jobs that will emerge. The needs, then, are for more midcareer job training and more effective on-the-job training. For workers, as well as businesses, agility is going to be a core skill—one that current systems, mostly designed for a different era, aren’t very good at.

For third-party logistics (3PL) companies, the pressure to deliver quickly and efficiently has never been higher. The Amazon Effect is a phenomenon that has made consumers come to expect Amazon’s digital experience from every other company. It’s crossed over into the B2B world too. Buyers want to easily place their orders online and view tracking from the warehouse to their doorstep.

The impact of having fewer or no employees is an obstacle that digitalisation and other online elements helped to overcome. So, when the coronavirus hit and countries went into lockdown, many who were resisting the change realised the need to adopt more technology into their business.

Digital expertise and toolsets can enable data acquisition across social media and other external forces to inform businesses about new market opportunities, enable access to new supply chains and allow that all-important monitoring of new trends to support diversification.

For many, the change required has been obvious and they have been able to capitalise on fast growing new dimensions and customer base.

Performance resilience is based on time and stability

Now more than ever, companies have felt the need to have a responsive, client-focussed, operating model. Across ecosystems, companies are mobilising cross-departmental task forces to identify and respond to rapidly changing needs and implement flexible work styles with rapid internal and external communications strategies.

With the technology, people, partners, and global scale to help customers stay connected, supported, and secure, a company’s responsibility has never been greater. Stabilisation keeps employees, customers and the community safe, and this in turn, instills the highest level of confidence in the brand.

For one of India’s leading integrated logistics enterprise, known to offer the most competent and comprehensive services, immediate implementation of contingency plans and new adaptive solutions had come strategically with crisis management taking precedence in managing the impact of COVID-19.

“During these challenging times, we worked in partnership with our clients to try and build in longer lead times to their supply chain and explore alternative routings for shipments to ensure seamless flow in SCM. In this concern, all shipments were treated as highly critical and time-bound shipments with focus shifting from ‘Just-In-Time’ to ‘Before-In-Time’ inventory management,” says Dr Xavier Britto, Chairman, Kerry Indev Logistics.

“Our teams including our ground staff across all divisions worked 24×7, maintaining open lines of communication across our organisation, coordinating across pan-India locations as well as our global network, with timely updates and consistent support to clients which became the lifeline.”

“It was imperative that we took into account the global situation as we operated on international as well as domestic trade lanes. Therefore, we planned our global strategy with our counterpart Kerry Logistics in order to develop a full range of alternative supply chain solutions for customers, with a clear objective to deliver our promise irrespective of the unprecedented conditions,” Britto says.

“The pandemic has expanded the technological ability to reach across to various stakeholders through video conferencing – a stepping stone through which our work has been progressing upward. We are able to work efficiently and have meetings both internally as well as externally with stakeholders keeping up with the demand and needs of our industry partners.”

Britto says, these various measures undertaken during the lockdown and restrictions, resulted in automatic communication feedback loop between the company’s clientele and key management teams to ensure transparency and timely completion of all tasks.

In the midst of the pandemic and resultant lockdowns, Safexpress had adroitly managed business continuity to ensure stable, secure and effective workflows by working in a pro-active, consistent and planned manner.

Additionally, having established itself as the most preferred domestic door-to-door express logistics service provider, Safexpress’ experience and endeavour has led the company to understand and know more about the different demographics and geographical complexities of India.

“In order to drive business growth, stay relevant in a dynamic environment and to differentiate the brand from the competition, business leaders must be able to think out-of-the-box and embrace innovation to create breakthrough value for their customers. It’s a matter of business sustainability now more than ever and brands that are embracing advanced digital tools will be the ones to come out strong, as normalcy starts restoring. Safexpress has proactively adopted technology advancements and keeps its workforce aligned with the emerging trends,” says Rubal Jain, Managing Director, Safexpress.

“New trends are emerging across warehousing, 3PL and outsourcing space. Activities, such as packaging, fleet management and consolidation are gaining traction and growing in popularity. Safexpress already saw this coming and has added 3PL services to meet up the demand gap along with the existing 41 3PL service hubs that can be extended to any location as per customers’ needs.”

Bengaluru-based B2B express logistics company Spoton continues to incorporate various innovations and developments. It is one of those companies that have been trying to tap into the growth potential of the logistics market in the country by implementing latest in technology and adopting best practices to improve business processes.

“Businesses have now become more receptive to technology and digitisation, and it’s overwhelming to witness this transformation as we transition to the ‘new normal’. We at Spoton Logistics have expanded our business operations rapidly by scaling up logistics hubs; the just-in-time expansion helped us significantly increase scalability for our customers while our web portal ensured paperless and quick transactions,” says Abhik Mitra, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Spoton Logistics.

The use of digital technology has helped us collect data at every checkpoint and provide end-to-end real-time visibility to all stakeholders. We are further optimising our AI-based video analyticsand the installation of cameras at logistics hubs. The AI-based video analytics solution deployed by Spoton Logistics is at the epicenter of its technological innovation and is helping the business in many ways,” Mitra adds.

Safeguarding employee engagement and customer interest

Taking the time to ensure your staff is educated on how you’re keeping them safe can have a huge impact on company morale, employee retention, and overall productivity. After all, if employees are happy, customers are most likely to be benefitted.

During the pandemic, complying with centre and state guidelines was a must, which required altering a company’s attendance policies, work shift schedules, and operational processes inside warehouse facilities. This included frequent sanitisation of high-contact surfaces, contactless delivery and payment methods, appropriate hand washing protocols, social distancing policies, and mandatory mask requirements.

While being prepared for scenarios like COVID-19 has been a daunting task, having a nimble framework will pay off in the long run and provide a competitive edge as businesses retool for the future of the industry.

“It became vital to keep marching forward irrespective of dire circumstances with every decision being made on war footing basis, and safeguarding our people took primacy over revenue generation,” says Britto.

“We set in adaptive systems with SOPs rewritten where ensuring the safety and security of our people took centre stage as our team became front-line warriors and heroes who worked despite lockdowns and lack of accessibility to units – in aiding in clearing critical essential items across the landscape.”

Safexpress had ensured proper safety of its residential staff at hubs, maintained the security and housekeeping of facilities, retained the custodianship of customer consignments, and maintained the morale, physical and mental health of all teams. “The continuous channel of information and updates was kept alive and safety trainings and awareness drives were initiated along with ensuring supplies of safety material across all offices,” says Jain.

“Safexpress also initiated various virtual employee engagement programs to drive team spirit and a sense of solidarity. It ensured uninterrupted functioning and seamless communication amongst employees through regular virtual town halls, team meetings, and engagement mailers.”

Spoton is ensuring COVID-19-related compliance which is capable of detecting distances between individuals and alerting in case social distancing norms are not being followed. The algorithm also helps identify a person not wearing a mask where he/she should, thus helping in better implementation of the safety protocols. “The use of this solution in supply chain management has helped evoke transparency throughout the process and has provided business intelligence so as to prevent theft, pilferage, damage, etc. thereby minimising the risk of disruption at any point in the supply chain,” informs Mitra.

Accelerating digital transformation and internal restructuring have become a top priority for many companies to ensure business continuity, improve productivity and launch new business models in order to remain competitive. The definition of ‘workplace’ will change as the current working patterns are shifting towards permanence. Human resources policies are now incorporating new norms for these working conditions, redefining work life and personal life boundaries. “Ascertaining people’s safety and welfare and implementing business plans to maintain their well-being has to be wired internally during restructuring by harnessing the entire ecosystem in a response action plan – quantifying and developing plans to address risk exposure,” Britto says.

The use of an on-demand workforce, according to Britto, will increase in response to the economic impact of COVID-19 where companies and people will embrace technology enabled on-demand workforce models and platforms. “This would improve workforce planning, financial management and access to diverse skills. Companies have to understand and learn how to engage and retain on-demand talent with improved people management programs, strategies and tools to derive value out of on-demand workforce.”

Additionally, new business models and value chains are significantly increasing the need for new skills. In order to minimise emerging unfavourable social and economic impact, reskilling and upskilling of the workforce is becoming a top priority for many companies. “The education and training systems will need to go through a major reform to help the workforce quickly reskill and upskill utilising virtual solutions. Human-centric technology adoption will become important to ensure communication and knowledge streams remain existent,” explains Britto.

Here, it is important to note that Kerry Indev has undertaken a path breaking initiative. The company entered into an MoU with LIBA– a leading management institute in India – as industry partner for logistics studies to collaborate, promote and enhance academic interests, skill development and impart training in industry knowledge as part of initiatives towards human resources development in the area of logistics and SCM.

Safexpres had long back realised the skill gap. Through its sister concern company Safeducate that works with government bodies, educational institutions, universities and corporate, Safexpress thrives to create industry-ready talents by providing skill-based and relevant training modules. There are 7 training centres set up across the country by Safexpress to groom entry-level operations workforce.

Agile road mapping: Think big, ship fast and always keep moving

Agility must have determined a logistic leader’s robust set of skills during the pandemic. When a company’s product roadmap is agile, it gives the entire organisation the ability to shift focus and still keep everyone aligned towards the same goals.

Breakthrough products don’t come from thinking small. They don’t come from the fear of losing ground, either. They come from thinking big and responding to shifts in the marketplace. Finding out what your customers wants and means to deliver it fast, lenient payment plans, new product releases through faster channels, wholesaler partnerships and no-contact services has to be among the available options.

Technology will change, new and unexpected markets will open up, business will boom or suddenly drop, and all of these changes will affect what companies are able to frame both in the short- and long-term. Companies can’t exactly know what they’re going to build ahead of time, but they can plan for how they’re going to respond to change in order to keep on track with their innovative vision.

“It is about planning the right strategy at the right time, to capitalise on the opportunities already available. Smart work rather than hard work will align one’s perception to the current scenario and staying attuned to the trade situations will provide prior informational data to take important decisions and profit from the available opportunities,” says Britto.

“Listening to customer needs, personalising offers in real-time and engaging across every channel, digital and otherwise will help to stay agile, responsive, and informed of the changing business environment.”

“With value creation becoming more challenging in a rapidly changing business environment, companies are beginning to embrace global thinking and establishing strategic alliances and partnerships with counterparts in the global ecosystem. Value innovation is the future and it is here to stay,” he elaborates.

Kerry Indev has been spearheading innovative concepts in logistics and supply chain as well as aligning its objectives with customer requirements thereby customising solutions accordingly.

“As part of our automation and digitalisation drive, Timelapse Informatics and Solutions – an IT start-up initiated in 2018, is playing an essential role in developing and upgrading our IT infrastructure across all platforms to make it customer-centric, integrated with evolving technology to better suit to changing customer needs and to position ourselves in the rapidly evolving environment,” informs Britto.

“We are now in the process of integrating our custom-related IT activities across all our facilities including ICDs/CFSs/FTWZs/CHAs – such as filing of shipping bills/bill of entries, accounting and finance, as well as human resources monitoring on a single centralised platform that can be assessed at any port with the relevant access code.”

“This pandemic is a reality we must live with for a long time now,” says Jain. “As ‘social distancing’ becomes the norm of the day, shippers and retailers have started providing customers with digital payments for deliveries by completely eliminating cash transactions – OTP based transactions or by tapping a payment card equipped with contactless payment technology. In fact, to avoid the spread of COVID-19, customers today are shifting their loyalty towards businesses that are guaranteeing ‘zero contact’ delivery.”

Safexpress has integrated such a channel where all pick-ups, deliveries, Waybill capturing, E-WayBill filling, and even, gate pass access takes place only though app and web environment with zero or minimal contact, while taking utmost care of consignments.

Data and analytics have pushed Safexpress to optimise its network for the fastest transit time. “We are the only organisation scanning every package at every point in the network, including in the deepest parts of our country, and are completing 100% deliveries through last-mile tablets. We have a strong innovation team that is driving faster technology rollouts to benefit our customers and continuously improving our services to our customers at all time.”

Spoton has also been a pacesetter when it comes to emerging trends and transformations, keeping true to its futuristic approach. “This has enabled us to significantly minimise almost 11,000 human touch points daily using technology,” ascertains Mitra.

The express delivery provider offers an easy-to-use customer self-service portal to place and track orders seamlessly, reducing the overall cycle time drastically.

“With unmatched accuracy and detail, the system provides end-to-end traceability of shipments to the customers. The all-in-one customer web service provides a single-window solution right from booking until Proof of Delivery (POD) is acknowledged. It also enables electronic execution of pick-up, E-WayBill creation, Part-B Updation, besides providing customers with informative dashboards, allowing for electronic payments, and much more,” says Mitra.

“At present, we are enhancing our technology platform with a state-of-the-art Warehouse Management System (WMS) which optimises operations at our logistics hubs. This has brought many changes, the biggest of them being the reduced vehicle loading time, helping us significantly increase productivity.”

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