The last mile: Logistics’ final frontier meets gig culture
Friday, October 19, 2018
Logistics and supply chains are excellent models of efficiency, moving huge cargo containers of everything imaginable across cities, countries, and even oceans with unimaginable speed. They have a very unusual Achilles' heel, however: Main Street, USA.
The so-called "last mile" conundrum has stumped otherwise perfectly tuned systems, confronting them with routes and infrastructure that simply aren’t designed to handle the demands of frequent shipments.
This issue forces companies to choose between sacrificing time — selecting slow transportation methods that take enough time to wind their way through these routes — or money, as expensive, versatile 3PL partners are brought into play. As with all things business, the A/B option was too limiting for true logistics innovation, and inspiration was found in an unlikely place: gig culture.
How Can Ad-Hoc Temps Really Save Delivery?
The gig economy is a term that encompasses a loose non-organization of individuals looking to make income on their own schedules. The glue that holds this would-be workforce together is an interesting combination of BYOD (bring your own device) methods, real-time GPS tracking, and smartphone apps that let individuals interface with a variety of companies.
As they have become a more intrinsic part of last mile deliveries, particularly in crowded urban areas, companies have been pushing boundaries in the way they're treated, creeping close enough to run afoul of a few contractor-vs.-employee lawsuits in more populated urban centers. Uniforms, pre-assigned shifts, delivery targets, and in some cases even company-issued wheels aren't doing much to clarify those boundaries, either.
The upside of this trend is that the at-will nature of the employment encourages dedication — more shifts, better delivery bonuses, and more await top-performing gig delivery workers.
Through GPS tracking and transparency, companies can also offer a birds’-eye view of package movement or check-ins to end consumers, adding value even as they're accomplishing the necessary task of delivery. In some cases, customers can even communicate with delivery agents directly, cutting down on the dreaded "telephone game" so familiar to delivery-oriented companies with dispatchers.
Shipping Anything, Virtually Anywhere
Echoes of the bid-for-business model employed by so many trucking companies can be seen in clever apps like Roadie, a classified ad-like service that matches up companies that need quick or unusual shipping methods without the time or budget for more traditional methods. A last-minute addition to a trade show display that would be cost-prohibitive to fly out, for example.
This approach could also solve issues like a shipment of medical samples that needs to be kept at a specific temperature throughout the journey.
The applications are essentially limitless, and only begin to run into proverbial speedbumps once international shipment enters the picture. Even that barrier may tumble down, in time, as gig-centric providers like Uber and Lyft blaze a trail for more service-oriented gig companies to follow in their overseas wake.
The next time you order a pizza, or come face-to-face with an Amazon Flex driver holding your latest Prime shipment, consider the implications this philosophy could have for B2B and the supply chain. In a scant few years, business could operate at peak efficiency, driven by nothing more than some enterprising individuals, a handful of apps, and an innovative vision for the future of shipments everywhere.
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