In 2021, you can expect small businesses to become even more engaged in the rapidly expanding arena of international e-commerce. While the global pandemic tested the ability to secure and manage inventory, predict consumer demand, and fulfill customer orders, it also forced logistics planning and fulfillment to become more flexible, streamlined, and easier to manage.

Certainly, in 2021, this decades-long trend of enhancing supply chain management through advancements in existing technologies will continue and ultimately expand with these new innovations.

Serious about going global? Your brand can reach 220 countries. Get started today.Growth in AI

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have significantly improved the way goods are transported, stored and tracked around the globe. AI is expected to play an increasingly important role in the areas of automation, supply chain planning, and machine assistance — including Augmented Reality (AR). Today, AI and ML solutions are integrated into new supply chain management software, allowing companies to more accurately use data to improve logistics efficiency. For example, DHL uses AI and ML to select the optimal route for each shipment, identify shipments that have deviated from that route, and initiate recovery actions if needed to ensure on-time delivery.  This year, AI will be essential to the rapidly expanding global movement of e-commerce goods, including the worldwide distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and PPE.

Robotics

Today, robotics has the potential to match or exceed human capabilities by bringing intelligent automation to life. In 2021, we can expect continued advancements as AI quickly expands the frontiers of robotics through enhanced hardware and new software developments. At DHL, we recently launched what we call the “TMBot” at our facility in Miami. Capable of sorting up to 1,000 small parcels per hour and automatically placing them into 60 bins (an individual courier’s route), robotics boost productivity and improve efficiency while maintaining social distancing. The TMBot does not replace the workforce, but rather enhances it by speeding up sorting so that packages can get out of the facility and to customers faster. Due to the success of the first TMBot, a second robot was added at our Miami facility in January.

5G

As wireless technology improves communication and supports global e-commerce, it also facilitates the Internet of Things (IoT) – a world where connected goods, devices and machines deliver instantaneous data analytics, product tracking, and manufacturing support. With our collective reliance on mobile technology reaching an all-time high in 2020, the development and implementation of 5G mobile data networks continues to advance.  As outlined in DHL’s Next-Generation Wireless in Logistics Trend Report, 5G technology will play a key role in supply chain transparency and automation.

Virtual Work Environments

The pandemic has necessitated virtual workforce collaboration across industries.  For logistics organizations, new technologies were rapidly deployed to enable management functions to occur remotely — and these technologies will continue growing in 2021. At DHL, we have directed many employees to work from home, which forced a dramatic upgrade to the network infrastructure. As the network’s original capacity tripled, we improved resiliency and security, upgraded firewalls, invested in new software for laptops and increased use of the Skype for Business and Zoom platforms. But throughout the process, we also recognized a critical reality — although virtual work is built on technology, it must still prioritize people. To this end, we pursued multiple employee engagement strategies, including our first-ever Virtual Employee Appreciation Week.

How will technology impact your supply chain strategies in 2021? Let us know on Twitter @DHLUS.

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