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What’s on your trend radar?

Will it be the next game changer or a short-lived fad? Real trend tracking keeps you ahead of the game. Find out what’s on the Logistics Trend Radar.

Trends are notoriously difficult to predict. It’s hard to know in the moment which ones will have a lasting impact and which ones will be nothing more than mere hype. But the challenge is nothing short of exciting. Which trends have true game-changing potential? Why weren’t others cut out to have significant impact on logistics?

To answer these questions, you have to stay ahead of the curve. You have to fully commit to exploring trends early on and take an open and customer-centric approach to identifying new ones. If you are proactive and turn research into practice, you’ll develop first-hand insights on potentially disruptive trends.

That’s what I do as head of the DHL Trend Research program. For the third time since 2013, we’ve released the Logistics Trend Radar – an industry-acclaimed report that helps logistics professionals identify and monitor key social, business and technology trends. The latest edition puts some of the biggest trends from the past under the microscope and gives an in-depth analysis of what’s on our radar screen today.

Looking back

When you take a look back, it’s interesting to see which trends have now advanced and materialized in the logistics industry. While some key technologies have become hot topics in logistics innovation over the last few years, a number of social and business trends are transforming the way we will choose logistics in the near future.

Autonomous logistics has undoubtedly created the biggest buzz in recent years. On the ground, self-driving vehicles have already made inroads in logistics, reaching a level of maturity for commercial use in warehouse operations. In the air, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, still require a bit more time before mainstream adoption. However, first tests – like with our Parcelcopter – have demonstrated the future potential of UAVs.

Significant strides are being made in
machine-human interaction and collaboration. Augmented reality (AR) accessed via smart glasses has exceeded predicted levels of impact. So far mainly adopted for order picking (also known as ‘vision picking’), smart glasses enable intelligent, hands-free operations. And we’ve already seen promising results. DHL and Ricoh piloted the technology in the Netherlands and showed a 25% efficiency increase, not to mention many accolades from the users. We are watching similar developments in robotics and automation. Next-generation robots are lighter, more flexible, easier to program and more affordable. We’ve run a number of successful tests and demonstrated that collaborative robots can work side-by-side with and relieve humans of repetitive and physically demanding tasks.

While the transformative power of new technologies can be showcased in a relatively straightforward and tangible way, social and business trends, which are often a bit more difficult to grasp, have equal importance in redefining the future of the logistics industry. One major trend that will make or break retailing and e-commerce in the future is omni-channel logistics.
 The modern shopper’s journey now cuts across different channels including offline and online options. It is shifting from a sequence of actions in a single channel to a seamless variety of actions across multiple channels.

There is also a growing movement towards fair and responsible logistics. Driven by megatrends such as sustainable consumption, digitalization, and globalization, companies now increasingly focus on turning social and environmental challenges into opportunities by creating fair and sustainable solutions that generate social as well as business value along the supply chain.

Looking ahead

These are only some of many trends that will impact or perhaps even disrupt the logistics industry over the coming years. It is essential to continuously identify and assess trends in order to detect changes in time, react, and even directly influence the future of logistics. So, what exciting new trends have popped up on our logistics radar screen?

In the wake of the hyper-customization megatrend, we’re noticing a new ‘batch size one’ trend gathering momentum. More and more consumers are demanding more personalized products – a trend that is leading to the mass production of highly customized goods tailored to the individual. Hence, a batch size of one. This will require decentralized, automated production alongside agile supply chains ready to adapt to changes in time and place. Early movers can leverage this trend to their competitive advantage, by providing,
for example, new postponement and delivery services. We think this trend will have a series impact on the logistics industry, but not for five or more years.

On-demand delivery is another new trend we are monitoring closely. Delivery is no longer owned by larger players who set limitations on delivery times and locations. New on-demand last-mile delivery concepts utilize the power of the crowd and flexible courier workforces to enable customers to have their purchase delivered when they need it, where they need it. Formerly named ‘crowd logistics’, this trend has advanced significantly over the last two years, triggered especially by the entry of Uber Rush. It covers a broader variety of crowd-sourced delivery applications. Our assessment: on-demand delivery is going to have a high impact on the logistics industry in the near term.

Self-learning or ‘machine learning’ systems is also going to be a game-changing enabler for completely autonomous data-driven optimization in logistics. With minimal/no human intervention, a self-learning system will adapt and improve its algorithms as it receives more data, improving its results over time. Strong advancements in algorithms, computational power, and hardware are enabling new forms of machine learning applications in logistics. This offers immense potential for autonomous data-driven decision making and process optimization in logistics. But the technology has a long way to go, but when it matures it is sure to leave its mark on our industry.

Be prepared

Being prepared for tomorrow’s opportunities and challenges – not to mention shaping the logistics of the future – means exploring trends early on, being inspired by them and thinking outside the box. We now know that a number of trends are here to stay, and we have our eyes on the trends that are likely to shape the future of logistics. Our business is changing every day, and staying ahead of the curve is the only way to continuously develop innovative solutions for the world of logistics.

Logistics Trend Radar

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