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Voice-controlled automation of logistics is now possible

Logistics automation and streamlining requires adaptability and scalability in terms of technology-backed innovation. It is about finding the right device which can be better “enabled” through technology. We continually work on getting the right technology to further automate and improve logistics movement. We worked towards creating the best system to solve real-world problems seen in logistics and field workforce management. It took months of coding and designing, but we hit that sweet spot with voice-controlled automation of logistics processes. I am talking about conversing with machines — and having the machines converse amongst each other. The next phase of connectivity is here. Adaptation and adoption of this technology will lead to the faster evolution of services and products.

Without integration with voice assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and Siri, a logistics or sales manager previously had to log into a product dashboard to check the location or the status of any in-transit delivery, vehicle or agent. Thanks to voice integration, managers can now simply relax and instruct their personal assistant to fetch the information for them.

“Alexa! Find my Truck on Route 27!”

The mechanics are a little more in-depth than that, but this is how the final statement would be. We have successfully integrated a multitude of skills within the assistant so that it can access all relevant and actionable information directly from our system and report it to the user.

“Your truck has crossed the intersection at Greenville Road moving towards its destination.”

Imagine a world where all you need to do is speak to your personal assistant about any resource or parcel and even plan a schedule around it. You can plan your deliveries while you travel in your car. You can track the exact location of any vehicle simply by asking a question. Automation of processes has reached its tipping point, and voice-controlled automation can lead you to the next level of efficiency.

Let’s consider what has been done here.

Enterprise system interactions and communication

The core issues which technology can solve within logistics processes are to enable better visibility, control and transparency across the end-to-end movement of resources. This will eventually bring down costs and increase efficiency along with profitability.

Logistics management involves mutual interactions of multiple stakeholders and services, including carrier services, third-party logistics partners, distributors, warehouse management systems, transport management systems, workforce management systems, tracking and reporting services, management information systems, enterprise resource planning systems and so forth. Information moves through multiple systems and along multiple stakeholders. There are two factors at play here:

  1. Time spent on information forwarding: There is a time cost involved with the digital or physical movement of information. This involves manual intervention time (and hence the cost of the resource) while feeding in information and reviewing analytics, and the time delay as the information moves from one system/stakeholder to another.
  2. Quality and consistency of information transfer: As the information is handed over multiple times, there are situations when the language, structure and consistency of information are affected.

The time factor and quality are related to each other. However, with voice-controlled automation, this can be minimized. Not just for reporting and analytics, the manager can initiate planning of schedules and allocate deliveries and tasks just by speaking about it. Multiple interlinking and integrations would help the personal assistant have better and faster “conversations” with other systems and give a much clearer picture about the progress, status and reports of multiple processes, and even initiate some of these processes. The authenticity of direct information passing through the system without having to go through intermediaries significantly decreases the probability of communication errors.

Process automation: Allocation, dispatch, tracking and updates

Logistics automation, as we know, has the potential to save a lot of time and cost. Saving time in processing and planning for trips and routes means that the total turnaround time for the eventual trip would be shorter. Logistics automation simplifies this process and makes logistics and resource movement simpler.

With voice-controlled automation, managers can verbally communicate their directives to the system. If they want a specific parcel to be assigned to a courier who is more well-equipped to deliver it, they can simply say it and it would be done. They are not required to search through a list of orders for the parcel and then browse through a list of available couriers to assign the same. It can all be automated by a single skill-defined command. Similarly, tracking and updates can be made much simpler with the use of such voice-controlled assistants. As we saw earlier, all it takes is for a manager to ask the right question about the location or status of any delivery and it would be reported back immediately. The agility and responsiveness gained by the quick and correct communication of information would help companies react better and faster in key situations.

Entire process visibility and transparency

There are many events that a courier, agent or vehicle undergoes while on a trip. These involve interactions with traffic, weather or the eventual customer experience. If there is a delay along an in-transit delivery which may affect the original service-level agreement (companies have SLAs which must be met, such as service or delivery time, parcel safety and speeding of delivery vehicles). These SLAs are tracked in real time. Now, if the manager wants to access the tracking and delivery updates in real time, they no longer must access the system and search the same; they can ask the assistant to do it for them.

The manager can say to the assistant, “Ask, which are my high-priority alerts?” These parameters and information calling-terms like “high priority alerts” are already defined as a skill. The assistant would talk to the core system and extract the data. The assistant would then vocalize the alert and update messages marked as high priority. These alerts would mostly cover events like extended detention of vehicles, delivery failure and other such actionable items. This increases the visibility and transparency within the system. The manager can easily pull up any relevant information and make an informed decision using the same.

Language and dialect localization in emerging markets

Logistics and field workforce optimization as a technology is developing faster in the southern Asian markets as compared to more mature markets. The tech and road infrastructure in emerging markets may come up with some bottlenecks, which would have to be overcome while sustaining logistics and delivery efficiency. The best way to handle these bottlenecks is increased visibility of operations for every stakeholder. The client at the headquarters must know which in-transit vehicles are delayed or are in breach of an SLA. A hub manager must know the ETAs of each vehicle coming into their hub so that he can play their workforce for offloading or loading. When visibility at all levels of operations is synchronized, the movement of goods become faster and more efficient.

Voice-controlled automation can make this process more agile. And the leveling marker is the language and dialect neutrality built within the personal assistant. This means that even a local hub manager can operate Alexa in his own language or dialect; there doesn’t have to be any gap in information flow due to any language barrier. This is big leap forward in true globalization of logistics and supply chain movement.

Adoption of technology across companies

Perhaps the most striking benefit of voice-controlled automation feature is product ease-of-use. Almost anyone can use the personal assistant without any hassle; it doesn’t matter if they are tech-savvy. They can have their personal assistant set up and all they have to do is ask questions when required. It has the shortest learning curve in technology-backed automation. The ease-of-use and one-stop solution point would help drive process integrations and innovation as the adoption of technology increases across the company.

Accurate and timely information transfer can help initiate appropriate actions which can, in turn, either save costs or increase efficiency or both at the same. Voice-controlled automation can be the perfect playing field where experienced individuals who prefer traditional ways due to their lack of technical expertise can now partake with their intellect and insights. The implications of such automation are beyond just numbers, it can drive a change in the way things are done and eventually result in better strategic balance within companies.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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