Chazz Sims, CEO and co-founder

Before every aspect of our world shifted in March of 2020, we envisioned the systems around us as fixed – changeable only with large amounts of time, effort, and money. But what we learned – virtually overnight – is that we were wrong. Systems in every corner of our lives were forced to change and adapt to new situations, and some of these changes across industries as diverse as healthcare, education, government, and last-mile deliveries, will likely be permanent.

  • Virtual physician appoints have become the norm, rather than the exception – and they’re now covered by insurance, overcoming what was previously a major hurdle in implementation.
  • Pediatric well visits and vaccinations are happening outside of physicians’ offices, one such case is an innovative program developed at Boston Medical Center where they bring care to the patients in a specially outfitted and staffed ambulance.
  • Education is being delivered virtually and/or via hybrid models, and local governments have quickly adapted to protect employee health while delivering essential services
  • And still other companies, such as New England Country Mart, have creatively and immediately changed their business models to remain viable.

As last-mile operators have successfully adapted and learned how to succeed in the face of a global pandemic, they’ve developed some savvy strategies that were recently highlighted in our webinar, supply chain lessons learned. Shawn Marshall, Director of Operations at A&B Distributors and Dr. Shawn Bhimani, Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Management, Northeastern University both shared their insights, which include:

  • Prioritize worker health and safety — One of the first challenges, faced by every industry, is the health and safety of workers. Last-mile fleets like A&B Distributors needed to consider the health of workers first in order to maintain its business and adjust some key processes. One of those was to no longer accept cash payments from customers. As Marshall explains, this change was long overdue, but the pandemic-driven concerns around the safety of handling cash forced the change to happen. Other aspects of proof of delivery (POD) have also changed, with barcode scanning and photographic POD replacing signatures. 

  • Leverage dynamic operating models — Across the board, the logistics and transportation industries are facing driver and worker shortages, especially as more people order more goods online. In the fourth quarter of 2020, “almost half of jobs added to the US economy were in delivery, warehousing, and trucking,” says Bhimani.

    At the beginning of the pandemic, A&B Distributors saw an increase in the number of deliveries with fewer employees to handle them. According to Marshall, their use of the Wise Systems platform let the company “maximize the efficiency of the people that we had, with the minimized fleet that we had – it was definitely a lifesaver…and it saved the company a lot of money.”

  • Harness the power of data to streamline operations — “We’re heading into more predictive analytics and prescriptive analytics,” states Bhimani. Our experiences in 2020 “put a focus on the notion that we not only need to see in real-time where things are in our supply chain but predict where they may be in the future.”

    In addition to real-time visibility, data provides a lens into the business. Many processes across a business – from ordering to fulfillment – can be simplified when data is captured and analyzed. Last-mile fleets can analyze data from their routes to optimize efficiency and reduce costs. Over time, this data will continue to improve performance.

  • Push for modernization — We’ve seen a lot of business closures because of the pandemic, explains Bhimani, and in many cases in the U.S., this has fostered stronger relationships between suppliers, buyers, and customers as they rely on each other. As many businesses struggle to survive, they also recognize an underlying need to modernize their systems. A global Gartner survey of more than 1,300 supply chain professionals found that while 87% of respondents plan investments in supply chain resiliency within the next two years, even more supply chain professionals (89%) want to invest in agility. Modernizing systems – from order management to last-mile delivery – will unlock the advantages of digital-first operations.

The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains, but at the same time pushed companies to innovate and modernize. As we define our new normal, companies are looking to get out ahead of the curve and implement technologies that will help them succeed and best serve their customers moving forward.

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