How should the logistics sector digitalize to serve as a crucial backbone for the world now and in the post-pandemic world?

The COVID-19 global pandemic has not only upended the global logistics sector with massive changes to operations, supply chains, regulations and manpower: it has also transformed the way we keep commerce flowing, with lasting impact on the future of the sector.

Even so, logistics companies continue to play a critical role as the COVID-19 situation unfolds. Given that most passenger flights in many parts of the world have been grounded, logistics services are now more crucial than ever, as the delivery of essential medical supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), viral test kits and ventilators could be a matter of life and death.

Business efficiencies in this region and beyond have been affected, with countries and people on varying degrees of lockdown. More than ever, this is a time for our industry to rethink business models, harness the power of technology and exercise empathy to address the needs of today, and future-proof our businesses for tomorrow.

Creating value through innovation

Preparing for the future should go beyond implementing Business Continuity Plans (BCPs). Digitalization and adopting a modern suite of technologies can solve many existing challenges and reinvent operations to serve the modern consumer.

Investment into technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and robotics can greatly enhance visibility and efficiencies in supply chains.

Tapping into data, AI and broader Supply Chain Management (SCM) technologies allows for real-time analyses to enhance operational and transactional processes. The data and insights gathered from shipments enable more informed decision-making.

This is complemented with predictive intelligence which identifies patterns and gaps, and suggests efficiencies, revenue opportunities, potential problems, and competitive advantages so there is continuous improvement through a live feedback loop. Human error is also better eliminated on a day-to-day basis.

Furthermore, the integration of robotics, sensors and IoT enables more accurate forecasting, faster response times, bolstering a firm’s ability to recognize shipping patterns to plan for risk, cost savings towards a low-to-zero waste operation—all key factors for supply chain intelligence.

In times of crisis, having sustainable and reliable tools ensures that companies can customize solutions further to serve urgent needs while effectively tending to existing customers.

Sensitive cold chain deliveries are also a key need for essential medical inventories, and this is a long-term area of focus for us. An example is the implementation of “smart” medical inventory cabinets that come with sensors to monitor variables like shipment location and conditions of the contents, to accurately indicate any deviation from the ideal environment such as temperature, humidity, light exposure and shock events.

SenseAware, a FedEx innovation, is a sensory device that travels with a shipment, enabling round-the-clock updates on a delivery package. In times like these, such innovations have become increasingly pertinent in ensuring the highest standards of delivery and non-wastage.

This pandemic also calls for out-of-the-box, customer-centric solutions, and has sped up adoption of services including contactless deliveries across the globe. With safety and well-being of customers and beneficiaries as priority, this is one way FedEx and our industry has adapted and innovated. May such fresh ideas and solutions continue to drive our industry forward.

Strategic collaborations in times of need

Overcoming the challenges from COVID-19 is not something any company can do alone. Maintaining the logistics network and building strategic relationships are important aspects that should never be neglected—with or without the pandemic.

Connections, experience, and in-market relations are crucial aspects of being a logistics provider offering essential services. These factors eventually determine how efficiently and seamlessly shipments move. Customers also need to be well-informed of their shipments, in-line with the most updated import and export restrictions with the current pandemic.

Close cooperation with local regulatory authorities has seen FedEx Singapore, as the South Pacific hub, facilitate smooth export clearance of an increased volume of intra and inter-region medical equipment shipments.

Serving businesses and the community with empathy

Further to implementing health and safety precautions to protect both employees and the wider community, logistics businesses need to serve with empathy.

At a time where tensions are high and pressure is great, we must not forget that our team members are the ones braving the odds to deliver critical supplies. For example, at FedEx, our employees have stepped up even more to ensure that crucial medical units reach our customers.

For the world to do better, the businesses and communities that make up our region should not be neglected. Small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) comprise a crucial segment that has been affected by COVID-19. In ASEAN, they make up between 88% and 99% of establishments. With logistics being the lifeblood of most businesses, our duty to continue serving SMEs is essential.

Finally, empathy is required to go the extra mile in serving our medical frontline, expediting deliveries, and understanding the needs of our customers in this field. With empathy for the people, businesses and communities we serve, the possibilities for the logistics sector to make a difference are endless.

The future can start Now

There has not been a better time to push the boundaries of what the logistics industry can do for the world. With people and communities in need of medical and food supplies, we need to come together to create robust supply chains and agile, customer-focused logistics operations capable of enduring shocks from external factors, and furthermore, continue to thrive by adapting to new circumstances to serve communities in need.

All of this done with a spirit of empathy and understanding, so that we can play our part to move the world forward.