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Analytics company GlobalData has confirmed that the Covid-19 pandemic has begun forcing transport and logistics companies to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies.

Principal disruptive tech analyst, Manish Dixit said the main factors driving companies to go digital were increasing labour shortages, forced closure of factories and disruptions in delivery routes and logistics hubs due to lockdowns.

Dixit said "big data" and "digital twins" were technologies that UK transport companies would be likely to adopt in the wake of the pandemic: "The use of supply chain analytics across industries is increasingly becoming key to improve operational effectiveness by enabling data-driven decisions across levels," he explained.

He said the pandemic would also hasten the transition towards drones delivering directly to site with a number of companies including Amazon engaged in extensive trials.

His views tie in with those of technology expert Paul Cuatracasas who told in April that the pandemic is a “huge wake-up call” for the sector and will speed the development of “fully autonomous end-to end logistics operations starting with robots working in completely automated factories”.

Asked where data-driven solutions were most effective, he used the example of Chicago-based freight tracking logistics startup Fourkites which provides predictive capacity management solutions for logistics companies. It can automatically predict the availability of private fleet trucks and match these trucks in accordance with shipping demand.

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"Digital twins" allows the digital representation of a company’s actual supply chain, which can be leveraged to streamline and manage that supply chains and business strategies. Dixit used the example of DHL, which has created a digital twin warehouse. This receives real-time data from the physical warehouse and continually tracks performance to identify optimal storage solutions.

Dixit said other digital technologies that would become increasingly employed in the wake of the pandemic included artificial intelligence (AI), Blockchain and robotics.

He explained that by leveraging AI, companies can optimise the supply and demand gap, automate decision making, channel warehouse requisites, identify target consumers and bring greater visibility on order-to-delivery supply time. A good example, he said, was Arizona’s DigiTech company Blue Yonder which has launched an AI-powered end-to-end digital fulfilment platform ‘Luminate Planning Portfolio’ for manufacturers and retailers. This allows companies to fully manage their supply chain with streamlined planning, visibility and improvisation.

Blockchain, meanwhile, provides an open, tamper-proof, distributed record of transactions and, in turn, increases the accuracy and efficiency of supply chain systems. For example, Shanghai-based blockchain developer VeChain has launched a food safety solution ‘ToolChain’ to improve end-to-end transparency in food supply chains. This Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) platform enhances supply chain food traceability amidst the raising food safety concerns following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Dixit also confirmed that robots in supply chains now play a vital role beyond the basic transfer of objects. For example, Singapore-based designer and manufacturer of warehouse robots, GreyOrange, has introduced a robot sortation system to enable retail, FMCG, and e-commerce companies to manage distribution networks.

“The repercussions of Covid-19 have once again highlighted the need for more resilient supply chains in a highly globalized economy," he condluded. "Companies are incorporating technology enabled scalable and adaptable solutions in supply chain management to maximize customer value while improving competitive advantage to stay relevant in these uncertain times.”