Autonomous e-commerce – Logistics Management

Automating e-commerce means more than simply exchanging payments and documents digitally. The operational ingredients for a fully automated supply chain are popping up all around us.

Not long ago we told young logistics candidates that their entry-level jobs in warehousing and transport were safe from being shipped abroad. The proliferation of point-of-market distribution centers and picking in retail stores, and the growth of third-party and web-based service providers are increasing employment in the short term. However, several key functional areas are now in the target areas of software and hardware vendors for full automation.

“We need smart people to manage the supply
chains of the future. You will need a career
paths and plenty of room for creativity.”

In logistics, human jobs become human interfaces with artificial intelligence (AI). The result is double-digit staff savings in redesigned distribution centers, retail stores and, increasingly, ships, trains and vehicles.

Distribution centers that need to pick and pack are being automated quickly to save money, increase accuracy and reduce disruption from high employee turnover. With robotic carts picking the orders, the packing part is still mostly human. In recent years, the inclusion of dimensions in product descriptions has enabled automatic box selection and, in some cases, packaging. Autonomous warehousing is safer, more productive and less expensive to operate.

The transport undergoes a much more visible metamorphosis. With all the media noise about autonomous vehicles being involved in (rare) accidents, there is some amazing news. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issues a report stating that over a three-year period, automatic safety features, which are now standard, have seriously compromised safety.

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“Smart” cars have reduced the incidence of accidents involving pedestrians by a staggering 30%. Rear-end collisions, a major factor in insurance costs, fell by 50% after these first-generation autonomous vehicles, dubbed “driver-assist,” hit the streets. Now we see insurance companies telling automakers and the government to act fast to save lives — and reduce claims. Autonomous vehicles will be much safer than human-driven ones.

The four functions in companies along the supply chain that are currently most affected are sourcing, recruiting, training and shipping. Everyone has seen massive investments in AI to replace tedious, repetitive tasks that consume much of the day for professionals in these specialties. I tell my students that they need to manage the process and the technology and not be out there on the floor getting things from robots.

Let’s look at the training. I’ve been heavily involved with online education over the past few years. The results we’re seeing in colleges, graduate schools, in-house certificate programs, and regulated content like HazMat have been very positive. More training, less downtime, better records, and a more interesting product for most learners at a lower cost.

In a gig economy, certificates will be the “coins” we collect in these online games that are so popular with Gen Z. Smart companies will want “career path” apps that guide people through the experience and education they need in a particular job. The app will accompany them throughout their career and mark important achievements – maybe with some crypto coins.

We need bright minds to steer the supply chains of the future. They need career paths and plenty of room for creativity. Are you ready?

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About the author

Peter Moore Peter Moore is an Associate Professor of Supply Chain in the Georgia College EMBA program, an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Executive Education, and an Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. Peter writes from his home in Hilton Head Island, SC and can be reached at [email protected]