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Dr Yingli Wang is a lecturer in logistics and operations management at Cardiff University.
Logistics is about delivering the right goods to the right place at the right time.
Just imagine what our world would be without logistics – supermarkets without food, libraries without books, hospitals without equipment and medicines.
Logistics is essentially what happens behind the scenes to allow the public to access goods and services. Because of this, the public only has a modest understanding of the logistics industry and often takes for granted the benefits it has brought to our society.
In Wales, logistics and freight transport play a significant role in the Welsh economy, accounting for up to 7% of employment and contributing approximately £2.5bn per year.
Unlike my two-and-a-half-year-old son, who’s obsessed with trucks, I wasn’t interested in the movement of goods at all in the early years of my life – when I was in primary school, I wanted to become a novelist; later my passion about food led me choose to study food chemistry.
It wasn’t until I was doing my MBA study, after working at Nestle for more than eight years, that I became fascinated by the powerful impact logistics practices have on businesses.
Managing logistics is full of challenges. Growing environmental concerns, increasing fuel prices and road congestion require new solutions. My research explores how recent advances in information and communication technology could be harnessed for innovative logistics provisions.
This will lead to not only improved competitiveness but also fewer empty trucks on the road, which means lower CO2 emission and less congestion.
Some industries – like music and film – have been totally transformed by ICT. Music is being digitalised, and rather than recording songs to a CD, distributing and selling in a physical store, we can now download them directly to MP3 players, smart phones and PCs.
This has eliminated the need for physical delivery. Logistics becomes a virtual activity.
In less extreme scenarios, ICT serves as the nerve system of many logistics activities. For instance, a delivery truck on its way to a store can automatically broadcast its position using vehicle telematics and satellite navigation technology, which tells the store manager when it will arrive.
Telematics can also be used to monitor the performance of driver and engine.
One of my studies found a leading grocery retailer with 2,000 trucks could achieve a 7.2% fuel reduction if using telematics, equivalent to a reduction of around 875,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.
Another particularly interesting advance is electronic logistics marketplace (ELM), which provides a low-cost means to improve the flow of information between the three parties involved in a shipment – the shipper, the transport company and the customer through the use of ICT.
I hope my research will help businesses become more competitive in the marketplace and logistics is no longer perceived as a “necessary evil” but more an unsung hero.