Thursday, December 1, 2011

The curious case of Tracking

The first word that comes to our minds when we think of the overlap between Supply chain management and Technology is TRACKING!!!! Think of the zillions of $ spent by businesses all around to ensure that anything and everything under the sun can be tracked.
To come to think of it, tracking is THE core problem that is being addressed by plugging in technology at various layers of businesses.
I root from a logistics background and customers care the most about tracking down the shipments that are sent by them. It brings out a sense of satisfaction to them that the shipment has reached a particular hop and is on its way to be delivered.
In fact the importance of tracking can be observed when we login to the website of any logistics company.


So here is a sneak-peak into the processes that take place at the hubs of these companies that allows customers to track their shipments. (Consider an example of Shipment that is picked from Mumbai, India and is to be delivered to Pittsburgh)
Status Message on the website
Shipment Pick up
Shipment picked up. Origin and Destination of the shipment. Time of pick up
Forwarded to Sorting facility
Forwarded to Local Sorting facility. Timestamp
Forwarded to Mumbai Airport
Forwarded to Transportation facility at Mumbai Intl Airport and Timestamp
Received at Mumbai Airport
Received at Transportation Facility at Mumbai Intl Airport and Timestamp
Forwarded to Frankfurt, Germany
In-Transit to Frankfurt hub

So on and so forth till the shipment is actually delivered to the recipient. When the final delivery is made the receiver’s name along with the timestamp are recorded in the system. Every time a fresh status message appears on the webpage, it can be concluded that somewhere in the world the barcode on the shipment was scanned by a laser gun (It is difficult to imagine how this business could run without bar codes). 

To give even more prompt service to customers, every time the status message undergoes a change a text message or an email is forwarded to the customer and an instant tracking is provided.
At times,  I ask myself is it even necessary to provide that much amount of tracking to customers and point out in-efficiencies (if any ) or delays , whereas at times when shipments get misplaced such a descriptive tracking system helps a lot in finding out the last whereabouts of the shipment and the loopholes/bottlenecks in the system. 
To come to think of it a huge degree of automation is needed in order to provide such a detailed tracking information, which requires a huge infrastructure. (technological and physical)
The point is without a great degree of automation, the intrusion of technology can prove detrimental to service levels. (After all, Fedex is a service company that happens to use technology). 

There are certain very intriguing solutions in the logistics world that ponder my mind. For example, the address change system deployed by USPS. I’m sure without technology it is impossible to track this problem. I’m still searching how does technology helps in solving this problem. How does USPS track such mail orders, which are meant to be delivered somewhere other than the address mentioned on the cover of the shipment.

Anyone here who knows how this works???

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