Consumers today are motivated by convenience when it comes to purchases of products or services – getting what they want, when and where they want it. Couple this with the digitalization of the supply chain and the prospects for artificial intelligence, and a vision of the future of delivery logistics begins to take shape.
This future will be more asset-light and agile, compared to the asset-intensive operations of today’s major logistics companies, with their fleets of trucks and planes. And as the focus of delivery logistics increasingly shifts toward customer data, connectivity, and operational flexibility, market entry will become easier for hungry tech disruptors.
A key enabler of these changes will be the development of “meta-platforms” – massively wide, deep, and intelligent computing environments that give logistics companies the capability to interact with disparate and rapidly changing operating systems, software, and apps. More importantly, they allow companies to service their customers as seamlessly across company boundaries as they do across country boundaries.
These meta-platforms are not likely to be directly visible to the end customers. Instead, they will steer the logistics flow of products on the operations side, while ensuring that operations is well connected to the sales side – where customer preference data resides.
Driven by data
Meta-platforms are thus at the heart of future delivery logistics systems, and even today’s early adopter meta-platforms – such as Amazon’s – have proven to be a road to industry dominance. In Amazon’s case, its meta-platform provides customers with transparency into order status and integrates downstream delivery partners, but as yet does not enable customers to make last minute changes to where and when shipments will be delivered, nor does it fully integrate upstream and downstream transportation options.
Through the use of meta-platforms, networks that were once established to simply push goods through at the lowest possible cost will be able to evolve to offer customized solutions that reflect customer priorities. Thus, for example, it will soon be possible for an automatic alert from a plane in-flight to coordinate getting a spare part from one place and a mechanic from another standing at the ready to service the plane landing at a third location, without disrupting the airline’s schedule. Or, an overnight shipment headed to one factory will be able to be rerouted while en route, based on a sudden need at another factory, and still arrive on time.
As meta-platforms evolve to incorporate more big data analytics and machine learning, layers upon layers of customer data will drive their competitive value. Goods will be routable depending not just on the geography of the destination, but numerous other factors. For example, does the delivery involve a VIP customer? Was it a discount sale? Are there other purchases that should be bundled together? Some of this happens now, but it takes considerable human intervention, which slows down the process and carries a higher risk of errors. In the future, deliveries will be channeled automatically by technology that can make decisions efficiently and quickly.
Once meta-platforms are able to reach out to customers and report back their delivery needs and expectations in real time, sales platforms will no longer be able to offer just a few generic options and hope they cover a customer’s situation. If a buyer doesn’t need same-day delivery, then offering it isn’t of value to that customer. Instead, the customer might want to be able to change the destination of the package at any time. Ultimately, the ability to deliver on that promise may determine which company gets the business.