Our National Conference last year warned members that those failing to move with the changing landscape risked being left behind, while more recently a UKWA logistics users panel also emphasised the increased importance of automation in warehouses, describing digitalisation as a ‘must-have’ rather than a ‘nice-to-have’, key to driving efficiency, productivity and the flexibility to be able to respond to what customers want.
It was, therefore, more than welcome to hear the message clearly set out at the G7 Digital and Technology Ministers Meeting last month, that “recovery from COVID-19 must be rooted in a desire to build back a better, more productive and resilient global economy, with digital technology at its heart.”
Indeed, part of the agenda focused on widespread alignment and adoption of digital tools to facilitate frictionless trade, with the G7 urging better leverage of the potential of valuable data-driven technologies.
The context for these discussions was that COVID-19 has demonstrated the need for data free flow, with trust, and its role in the global recovery. This could hardly be more critical for our industry. With the surge of ecommerce, driven by the pandemic lockdown, comes inevitable requirement for increased data handling and more data integration. This raises too the issue of cyber security and effective business risk management – another recurring theme from UKWA.
However, UKWA fully understands that in times of uncertainty there is an understandable reluctance to make the major investment that may be required, particularly among smaller and medium sized businesses.
Accordingly, we are kicking off two important projects, in partnership respectively with the University of Bath’s Centre for Smart Warehousing and Logistics Systems, and The University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM).
The first involves a survey-based study to investigate the adoption and assimilation of automation in warehouses (and potentially other emerging warehousing technologies), focusing on the opportunities and barriers for the adoption of advanced automation technologies such as Robotics, Goods-to-Person systems, AS/RS, Automated/Autonomous Guided Vehicles(AGVs), Automated/Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), Automatic Sortation or Packaging Equipment, and Smart Shelving & Pallets. Results from the survey are due later in the summer.
For those who can afford the major investment, digitalisation undoubtedly brings massive opportunities, but for those smaller 3PLs looking to ‘dip a toe into the water’, there is also a broad area in which to play.
We know from members’ feedback that smaller companies see digitalisation as inaccessible, due to cost and perceived complexity, so UKWA has been keen to co-operate with the University of Cambridge and its Institute for Manufacturing, in developing and testing digital solutions for which the total cost of deployment is kept low, by using accessible “of- the-shelf” components, including mobile phones, virtual assistant AI technology such as Amazon’s Alexa and the Cloud.
This project, known as ‘Digital Logistics on a Shoestring’, is aimed at helping identify affordable and easily adoptable solutions that provide new tools to drive efficiency and enable smaller businesses to compete effectively in the ‘new world’.
Such solutions are not intended for core production control or safety critical operations, but rather for decision support, staff guidance and sensing, complementing the ‘bigger picture’ of overall data sharing, management and usage across the supply chain.
To kick off the project, UKWA has already hosted an introductory webinar for members, which will be followed by a series of free to attend workshops in May and June, with our partners at Cambridge University,
With automation comes closer data integration and the increased need for secure systems to protect against cyber breach. Therefore, the other major message from UKWA is that business risk management is key to resilience and, along with regulatory and legislative compliance, is a requirement high on the list for customers.
New risks and exposures have been highlighted as working practices have changed over the last twelve months, exposing gaps in digital capabilities and raising cyber security concerns for many organisations.
Clearly, businesses need to identify, manage and, where possible, protect themselves against these new threats, which is why UKWA is introducing an digital risk analysis tool. As well as representing a valuable member benefit, the new tool will replace the previous paper-based inspection and audit and completing the risk analysis satisfactorily will become necessary to join the Association.
Not only are site visits clearly impractical under current circumstances, but in any case, the new business environment is characterised by complex and constantly changing laws and regulations, so that only a flexible, dynamic digital solution can ensure UKWA members maintain compliance, meet their legal responsibilities and fulfil the standards required by the Association.
In summary, our role as the industry’s trade association is to help members – and the wider warehousing and logistics community - capitalize on the structural shifts driven by the pandemic and equip them with the tools to ensure that they - and we – are fully prepared and fit for the future.
UKWA has been invited to feed into the ongoing digitalisation policy debate on behalf of the industry, and we look forward to outcomes from UK’s hosting of the next G7 ‘Future Tech Forum’ in September 2021.