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SAPICS conference report back

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Put people first for AI success, says technology expert

IN his keynote presentation at the 2022 SAPICS Conference for supply chain professionals, Johan Steyn explored how intelligent technology will impact supply chains. Steyn said technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), smart sensors that provide real-time insights, autonomous decision making, and predictive analytics will play an increasingly important role in the profession.

But, he cautioned, there are pitfalls to avoid, and advised supply chain professionals to start any automation journey with a clear understanding of business objectives and customer needs.

Steyn said he had spoken to executives who wanted AI but could not explain their most basic business processes. “Consultants will never tell you this, but use the technology that you have. Start with what you have and how you can use it. Don’t listen to consultants that want you to buy shiny stuff. You may not need it.”

He added that it is critical to partner with the right vendors.

Steyn noted that the best way to approach AI was to automate value chains not tasks. “Automating tasks in isolation will not deliver value,” he said.

Steyn stressed the importance of a people-first approach. “The approach should never be technology first. Start by considering whether your people can do the work. Do you need to recruit people? Consider your organisational design, career planning and the need for upskilling your people. Most AI conversations start with technology. They should always start with people,” Steyn said.

“The reason many technology initiatives don’t live up to expectation or fail, is because we often underestimate the impact it will have on people, and how they will respond.

“Technology is advancing rapidly but there are things that it cannot do. We must remember that we cannot automate human nature and common sense. The value of people should always be our main focus and ethics should underpin all our technological endeavours. The disruptive power of new technologies needs a new breed of ethical, human-centric, leadership in business,” Steyn said.

E-commerce and Q-commerce boom

SAPICS Conference panelists Diederick Stopforth, Nelson Teixeira, Garry Marshall and Martin Bailey discuss e-commerce and the last mile

IMAGINE a future in which your new cell phone is delivered to your home by a courier who also sets up the device for you?

These were some of the scenarios explored by parcel industry experts in a discussion on e-commerce at the 2022 SAPICS Conference.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered unprecedented growth in e-commerce and the courier industry. The challenges and opportunities for the industry were examined by panelists Garry Marshall, CEO of the South African Express Parcel Association (SAEPA) and managing director of BidAir Cargo, Industrial Logistic Systems executive Martin Bailey, Diederick Stopforth, the sales and marketing executive at Skynet Worldwide Express South Africa, and Courierit SA operations director Nelson Teixeira.

According to Marshall, the technology needed to drive the e-commerce and Q-commerce (quick commerce) boom in South Africa developed virtually overnight as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. “The pandemic propelled us to leap ahead in and to swiftly embrace and implement innovative e-commerce and Q-commerce technology and solutions. It has been good for the last mile industry and for the public.”

Q-commerce has skyrocketed in South Africa since the start of the pandemic. It entails the super-fast fulfilment of orders for smaller quantities of things like food, groceries and over-the-counter medicines. Leading South African retailers have implemented Q-commerce solutions.

Teixeira, whose company handles the successful Checkers Sixty 60 delivery service, said that the Q-commerce grocery market has doubled in size since before COVID-19 and further exponential growth is expected.

Stopforth told SAPICS Conference attendees that home deliveries of chronic medicines have also shot up since the start of the pandemic. “We have gone from doing 500 to 600 deliveries a day for some pharmaceutical industry clients to 5 000 home deliveries a day.”
Security risks and no consolidation are among the challenges, he noted.

“Thousands of deliveries to individual homes make parcel and transport consolidation impossible. Locker boxes for deliveries may offer one possible solution. Medicines, especially high schedule drugs, are a security risk. We are also seeing more hijacking of courier vehicles delivering high value items like cell phones.” One of the innovative solutions offered by Skynet is a partnership with security service provider Fidelity ADT.

“Who would have thought that a courier company and a security company would partner? It is, however, the ideal arrangement to address the unacceptably high volume of hijackings and robberies in the courier sector,” says Stopforth.

With security and last mile delivery converging, it is plausible that the courier of the future will have the skills to set up a new television, cell phone or computer that is delivered.
“There are vast opportunities to add new skills and services to the last mile industry to meet consumer demand. With the high rate of returns in e-commerce, there are now couriers that iron, fold and repack clothing returns. They then store these in their own warehouse, ready to go out for delivery again when an appropriate order is received,” Stopforth explained.

E-commerce is usually viewed as a challenge to bricks and mortar retail, but according to Marshall, the future could see the two co-existing harmoniously. “Some innovative retailers are using their bricks and mortar outlets to create orders for e-commerce,” he explained. “If a customer goes into the store and cannot get a particular item or size, they are invited to place an online order for delivery to their home.”

South African producers are also reaping the benefits of the e-commerce boom, according to Marshall. “E-commerce has opened up the world for local producers. Today, it’s not unusual for a customer to tell their courier company to come and collect as they have deliveries for Kempton Park, Lusikisiki and New York. E-commerce growth has also opened up more opportunities for smaller e-commerce companies as courier companies can offer the small players shared warehousing, technology and services. Job creation and skills development are among the positive spinoffs.”

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