April Fools Day (1st April) has long passed but the internet is still abuzz regarding one particular prank video that featured a drone-dropping blimp (bearing none other than Amazon’s logo). But rather than amusement, the video prompted plenty of the post-apocalyptic doomsaying that often pervades the public discourse on drones.
There are two ways to see this from the perspective of a supply chain leader. One is to join in the doomsaying, comforting oneself for continuing to use ‘traditional’ processes and labor (regardless if such elements actually drive value in the supply chain). The other is to wish the former would take a back seat so everyone else on the board, executive team and management team can actually start the process of evaluating the possibilities offered in the Amazon Drone Blimp Concept.
Because as silly as it is, Amazon did in fact consider this very design as a means to further streamline its supply chain and warehouse capabilities. The video originated from Japan (where Amazon is one of three dominant online marketplaces in that country),and the idea of a blimp regularly making delivery rounds from the sky via drones was more likely to be received as something futuristic rather than apocalyptic.
The problem is that there is now an increasingly vocal segment from other parts of the world who would rather press the panic button post-haste instead of consider any future technology’s potential for logistics, manufacturing and more. This is not just limited to drones but also A.I., blockchain, robotics and any other technology that can even be remotely misconstrued as invasive.0
The signs are clear: It is time for supply chain leaders to become voices of reason instead of fear. Rather than just set the stage for the debate between futurists and modern Luddites, we need to step back and remember why we use technology in the first place!
We have to remember that the goal is to drive value, whether it’d be better achieved with ‘drones’ or with a ‘postman’. Otherwise, any change initiative that remotely touches technology will lack necessary buy-in and create friction that will cause it to fail. For a first step towards better dialogue in your own organization, consider the following approach:
#1. Think of your customers.
Are your customers necessarily part of the crowd that fears invasive technology? Is everyone person visiting your e-commerce site an eccentric, off-the-grid type? If the answer is yes, then perhaps there is more value towards catering to their preferences if they really prefer products delivered to them in their most desired way. That is part of the experience they are looking after all.
However, it must always be pointed out that not all markets are like this and it is just as likely that your customer would give you more business for faster delivery options (as opposed to the more eccentric alternatives).
In fact, drones and robots are just some of the many other ways you can streamline logistics in your supply chain (such as strategic warehousing, finding the shipper of choice etc). Think about what your customers want first and foremost because it is their specific sentiment that actually puts money in your business!
#2. Solve Real Problems.
Understand that the only way to add value in your supply chains is to solve a specific problem that is causing angst or destroying value. And if value is the highest, most significant priority in your supply chain, then that is all the more reason to wind down the fearmongering.
For example, suppose someone approached you with a similar proposition as Amazon’s blimp. Automatically your first response is to really determine the problems that it solves. (And when it comes to logistics, there are indeed many problems a flying warehouse could deal with!)
It all goes back to the adage: “There are no silly ideas!” It is about openly discussing an idea and potentially initiate or inspire the development of éven better ideas. This, in turn, will ultimately lead to a solution that we are all seeking. It only takes one good idea to start this!
#3. Manage Technology Expectations.
As with any sort of change initiative, expectations have to be managed both for those optimistic about technology innovations and those who are not.
It goes without saying that Amazon’s Blimp, while patented in concept, is actually not quite feasible in reality. In fact, it was just one of a number of prototypes the company is still currently mulling over to this day.
Rather than see such developments as signs of some science-fiction end-times, the real dose of realism should come from those who see such developments in terms of cost versus benefit. And again, this is why we must continue to remain focused on value generation.
#4. Emphasize disruption as the only ‘threat.’
The idea of technology creating a theoretical ‘loss of jobs’ isn’t entirely new but of course, that’s not to say it won’t happen to an extent. Such, however, is what we already know as disruption. If there must be a perceived ‘threat,’ then it is the idea that new technologies will disrupt current business models and challenge organizations to re-invent their supply chains anew.
This will put your organization in a better mindset for tackling the areas in which the new technology puts you behind. It may even open the door to how you can adopt it for your own supply chains (as opposed to just protesting its existence).
At the end of the day, always remember that all new technologies (both prototyped and invented) were once feared but most had eventually become everyday realities. The application and it’s uptake reached a tipping point where its use had become commonplace.
Wouldn’t you prefer your business to be the one discovering more ways to leverage the technology and doing a better job transporting goods to your customers, rather than some other business in the background?
Don’t you want to be at the front of this curve rather than at the back?