Technology & Innovation Issue: Igniting momentum

Article written by Michael Levans

This month, the Modern editorial staff has put together our 8th-annual Technology & Innovation Issue.

As we’ve all become eager to gauge the pace of recovery, we’ve become more reliant on reports and surveys to take the temperature of our peers and the markets they serve—where are they on this slow march?
One of the more comprehensive studies released each year is the “Annual State of Logistics Report,” now in its 31st year. Focused on the freight transportation side, the report, authored by Kearney in partnership with CSCMP and Penske Logistics, puts the past year’s freight data, the current logistics landscape and the economy into perspective through interviews with logistics professionals, carriers and third-party logistics providers.
Believe it or not, the 2020 report isn’t as discouraging as one might think. The results showed that logistics and fulfillment operations should receive high praise for their response to the worldwide pandemic. It found that while many operations were initially traumatized, it appears that most handled the worst supply chain interruptions with professionalism as they worked to improve communication, remained flexible and proved to be quite resilient.
And while the pandemic was a shot in the arm to e-commerce, the report also found that the situation continues to force the hand of warehouse/DC operations to become more proactive in investing in automation as well as setting up modular networks to build in more flexible options for delivery—a silver lining that points to automation’s continued momentum.
This month, the Modern editorial staff has put together our 8th-annual Technology & Innovation Issue. As part of this issue, Modern offers our “2020 Automation Solutions Study,” the clearest report available of the extent to which readers have implemented automation in their warehouses, and, of course, how Covid-19 will impact their future plans. Editor at large Bridget McCrea puts the results into context on page 26.
“The push to automate the operation was in full force before the pandemic became a part of our everyday language,” says McCrea. “And now, whether they’re adapting to new social distancing rules, under pressure to distribute a higher volume of essential goods, or trying to add more remote work capabilities, readers are leaning on technology and automation to help them achieve some or all of these goals.”
And while our research team continues to feel this push to automate, they did find a touch of reticence. “While readers see automation’s overwhelming benefits, we did find 21% respondents telling us they intended to change their plans for purchasing automated solutions in the short term, while 47% were unsure of their path forward at the time that the survey was administered.”
And while that air of uncertainly at this moment is understood, McCrea says the overall sentiment in our survey is that automation is only going to gain speed on the other side. “Even if the adversity mounts in the short term and labor is harder to attract, that would prompt even more operations to make automation work for them,” adds McCrea. “Regardless, the momentum that was there is only going to be ignited once when we see the end of the tunnel—that’s almost a sure bet.”
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