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Supply Chain Insights

Three Ways 5G Will Improve Your Supply Chain

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Written by Dez Blanchfield, Chief Data Scientist at Sociaall Inc.

Each advancement in network technology brings with it great promise of enhanced features, improved connectivity, and better security. However, the arrival of 5G isn’t merely about enhanced coverage, rather it delivers higher device density, lower network latency and dramatically higher network throughput or data transfer (speed). It is transformational for enterprise and industry workflows, none more so than for the supply chain sector.

5G is already changing key industries with its faster connectivity and greater bandwidth. What was once considered the stuff of science fiction movies, such as e-health, connected and autonomous vehicles, intelligent traffic systems and advanced mobile cloud-gaming, are already here.

Central to the concept of the ‘digital supply chain’ today is end-to-end electronic connectivity. The ability to track the movement of goods and information in real-time through every area of a supply chain, anywhere in the world, is enabled through 5G.

When applied to environments such as warehouse management, inventory management, transport, logistics, security, 5G will transform supply chains in three key areas.

1. Streamlining Transport & Logistics

Although there has been significant investment in digital technologies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of transport & logistics (T&L) organisations still operate with predominantly manual controls, either to track and trace product movement through their logistics processes, or to manage their physical environments and infrastructure.

By leveraging 5G, T&L companies can address a host of issues from lost cargo, misplaced containers, counterfeiting and smuggling. This is done through the use of 5G enabled labelling, real time tracking, public cellular networks and “hand off” to private 5G network AP connectivity, i.e. private 5G networks within warehouses, shipping yards, and domestic or international dock yards.

From the moment an item is “tagged” at the point it is packaged by the manufacturer, it can be traced in real-time from packing to wholesale order fulfilment, through to loading on a dock, to transporting by land, air or sea. Tracking capabilities extend all the way to the end point of sale or delivery to a customer’s front door, delivering enhanced product security and improved customer service.

2. Smarter Warehouse Management & Robotics

Humans are increasingly less visible and less required as part of warehouse management functions. Robotics can speed pick and pack activities, through to stock movement or placement for storage in warehouses, enabling businesses to streamline operations and have staff focus on tasks that add greater value. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies powered by 5G are further reducing risk and cost, and increasing agility and flexibility, and empowering lower skilled resources to complete higher skilled tasks.

Today an item in a warehouse with a single 5G tag attached can be tracked in 3D space, in real-time. It can be unloaded from a truck into a loading dock by robot forklifts and it can be shuffled around a warehouse by autonomous micro-robots that have 4K cameras connected over 5G to enable movement.

For products that need to be located, a human with AR glasses (or simply using a smartphone with an in-built camera) can be directed via AR to locate the package, scan it’s 5G tag and edit or update details in an inventory management system instantaneously. This helps to improve stock visibility processes for supply chain accuracy and omni-channel activity. 

3. Inventory Control data becomes Enhanced Fleet Management

Significant technology enhancements are being made in key areas of transport, from trains and planes, to shipping and trucks. Although advancements in areas like autonomous driving and a future of driverless transport attract much attention, major transformation is actually taking place in areas like loading, tracking, tracing and monitoring of what’s being transported.

5G capabilities are accelerating almost all of those developments, which indirectly are also making fleet management smarter, safer, and reducing costs. For example, by tracking what is loaded on a truck, you are in effect tracking the truck, and its load, it’s speed and direction, time of departure, time of arrival and loading time.

5G tags on products, crates, containers, are all producing data that can be used to produce a view of your fleet and offer data to help make smarter operational decisions. This same data can also be fed back to the driver to help them make better decisions around the best route to take based on how packages are stacked in the truck to ensure efficient unloading occurs.

Where should businesses start their 5G journey

The adoption of 5G will ensure that supply chains become more integrated than ever before. We will see greater integration with manufacturing, allowing generic items to be shipped to local distribution centres, where 3D printers and painting devices can then tailor them to specific client requirements.

There will also be greater integration with finance, so that as goods move in one direction and funds move in the other, the data can also move in both directions. The bottom line is that 5G has arrived and it requires immediate attention. History shows that those who move early gain a lead on their competitors, and often that lead can be so great that their competitors never actually catch up.

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Supply Chain

bp and Uber sign Global Strategic Delivery Partnership

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  • bp and Uber sign a new global strategic convenience partnership aiming to make more than 3,000 retail locations available on Uber Eats by 2025.
  • The partnership extends current local arrangements in Australia, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa and the west coast of US, adding the UK and eastern US in 2022 and with plans to launch in other European markets from 2023.

Today, bp (NYSE: BP) and Uber Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: UBER) are announcing a new global strategic convenience delivery partnership, extending their existing local arrangements to reach more consumers across the world. Together, the partners will offer a huge range of quality convenience products, including fresh and prepared ranges, from select retail locations.

bp is the first convenience retailer to team up with Uber Eats on a global level and aims to have more than 3,000 retail locations available on the delivery platform over the next three years. The partnership supports bp’s goal of growing its access to customers and expanding its delivery footprint, in response to soaring demand for food, groceries and everyday essentials brought to the door.

The new partnership covers retail sites in Australia, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa and the west coast of US. Sites in the UK and eastern US will be added to the app for the first time this year, with plans to launch in other European markets from 2023.

“We’re thrilled to team up with Uber Eats globally giving us the opportunity to reach many more consumers online in addition to those who currently visit our retail sites. We’ve seen how the pandemic has accelerated customer demand for delivered convenience and this partnership will allow us to scale up quickly on the Uber platform. And for the first time, we will be able to offer delivery options to existing customers on our own BPme app by the end of 2023,” said Emma Delaney, executive vice president customers & products, bp.

With 20,500 bp retail sites across the world and 550 million customers living within 20 minutes of a bp retail site, the partners see enormous opportunities for growth. bp sites offer a range of products tailored to local markets which may include hot and cold drinks, food-for-now options as well as staple groceries, fresh produce and ready meals, plus wine, beer and flowers.

  • In the UK, customers will be able to access a range of Wild Bean Café, and other branded food and products via Uber Eats – with the first 120 sites due live on the platform by the end of June.
  • In the US, the offer will be made available to bp’s network of independently owned retail locations to support the growth of their businesses. The goal is to make it easy for these partners to sign up to the Uber Eats platform and access benefits based on bp’s scale.

bp will benefit from Uber’s global brand and operations footprint, best-in-class technology for dispatching orders, and more than 4.4 million drivers and couriers on the platform worldwide.

As part of the agreement, Uber Eats and bp will work to introduce delivery options onto bp’s own app, BPme – initially planned to be available in the UK, US and Australia by the end of 2023 – powered by Uber Direct. This new offer will allow bp to directly connect its customers to delivery riders, making Uber Eats the trusted partner in fulfilling these orders. Since 2019, bp has seen a three-fold increase in users of the BPme app, with 16 million active loyalty users worldwide.

“With more than 20,500 locations around the world, bp’s reach is enormous—making them critical partners as we pursue our ambitions of helping consumers across the world get what they need delivered to their doorsteps,” said Pierre Dimitri Gore-Coty, Uber’s SVP of Global Delivery. “We are proud to support this next phase of the company’s convenience growth through this delivery partnership and look forward to deeper collaboration in the future.”

bp and Uber already work together in mobility with bp providing electric vehicle charging for Uber’s ride-hail drivers. The companies will explore other areas for future cooperation in convenience, including opportunities to utilize low carbon delivery methods to fulfill orders from bp sites.

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Supply Chain Insights

Officeworks to own and control Distribution Network.

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Officeworks invests in supply chain capabilities, will own and run it’s distribution centre.

Officeworks has changed its supply chain strategy in the wake of COVID-19 issues, with a view to owning and controlling a network of distribution centres across the country.

“When I joined we had a different strategy around our supply chain,” Officeworks managing director Sarah Hunter told The Australian, referring to the company’s previous outsourcing strategy.

“So we’ve worked really hard now to build our supply chain capability. We were in the process of outsourcing it, we are now in the process of building that capability.

Officeworks recently opened Australia’s first solar-powered robotic distribution centre in Derrimut, Victoria.

“We started in Victoria, and we have had approval to build, now board approval to invest, and we are building a new, similar (distribution centre) operation in Western Australia. That’s exciting,” she said.

“Looking at our capital expenditure three, four, or five years ago it’s a material step up in our investment in our supply chain.

“Most importantly for us as a business is that every team member who worked at the old facility has been completely retrained,” she said. “We have 120 team members who are now fully trained in how to work in an automated state-of-the-art environment.”

The need to control its own distribution became clear during the pandemic.

By December, Officeworks saw 46 per cent of its business come from online, including click and collect. Now it needs to move to retain this growth at a cost effective scale.

“We have created a facility that’s not only more productive, it’s going to enable our online business to grow in Victoria and into NSW at the rate that we expect our online business will grow.

“So now we have the capacity, the cost per pick is materially lower because it’s much more productive. It’s a win-win scenario for us. We’ve kept everyone employed with really great job security. We’ve scaled them up to work in the supply chain of the future.

“And on top of that, we now have the capacity for growth in Victoria that frankly we were struggling with through COVID.”

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Business Continuity

Skills shortage puts SAP projects on hold

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Business demand creates double whammy on recruitment pressure

Skills-related issues have hit a quarter of SAP users, in some cases putting projects on hold, according to a survey of companies in the Americas.

Research released by the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG) shows that 26 per cent of organisations see skills in supporting, developing, and upgrading SAP systems as their number one challenge in working with the technology.

A quarter of users loyal to the German vendor said skills problems were holding up projects.

Geoff Scott, ASUG CEO, told a webinar last week that the combination of skills shortages in businesses and their technology teams created a vicious cycle of driving the demand for new tools and technologies.

“Business functions come and say, ‘Hey, I need to have all these things done.’ And technology teams say, ‘Well, I don’t have the same skills I used to have.’ And I think it creates a major disruption inside many of our member companies,” he said.

Skills were also a major issue for SAP users looking either to migrate to or support S/4HANA, the latest version of the tech giant’s ERP software based on an in-memory database.

“We are going to feel the pinch of that skill gap. My word of caution is that as you think about moving to S/4 if you have not already, the ability for you to plan that migration may hit some turbulence related to skill gaps with your external partners. That’s something that you absolutely positively should consider,” he said.

While technology issues were the greatest concern in the research overall, broken down, only integration problems were more cited than staff turnover and maintaining knowledgeable staff.

Of those with integration problems, 28 per cent said they were causing data errors to spread, 17 per cent said they were affecting the compatibility between SAP and other applications, and 17 per cent said it meant they were unable to keep up with new technologies.

One respondent said: “Changes made in SAP and Salesforce that do not get reflected in the other system are causing data inconsistencies.”

Overall, the majority of SAP users were increasing their spending on the technology. Fifty-two per cent said they were increasing spending, up from 46 per cent last year.

However, the proportion of users saying they were cutting spending on SAP also rose from 5 per cent last year to 8 per cent in 2022. The number of organisations making the same level of investment fell, according to the ASUG research.

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