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Information is everywhere – How do we make the most of it?

Information is everywhere. We live in an unprecedented time where information is readily available, inexpensive (quite often free) and easy to access. From 24/7 news updates to the precise geo-location of our food delivery driver, information is usually just one click away, or for some people, just one voice command to their preferred voice assistant away. We are privileged to be surrounded by such a wealth of data.

To put it into perspective, as of 2020, the total amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed in the world was estimated to be around 44 trillion gigabytes! (1) As of August 2021, Wikipedia holds almost 54 million pages of information. While on a more familiar note, at EV Cargo Technology we process an impressive 1.5 million unique orders each year.

Unfortunately for us humans, there is only so much information that our brains can process and retain. A well-known psychological study from the 1950s claimed that our brain can hold up to a maximum of seven items of information at one time, before we start to forget things. Think about remembering a phone number on the spot or items on a grocery list. However, more recent studies have shown that this number is actually much lower and the brain copes better with storing smaller chunks of four pieces of information or fewer (2). In any case, what is clear is that in this age of fast and abundant data, there is a lot more information in front of us than our brains can process and efficiently store. This often leads to information overload and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

When it comes to supply chain technology, the industry faces a similar issue. There is already an enormous amount of data held across systems with valuable information. This data is usually accessible via a number of different methods, such as reporting, operational tools, dashboards and visibility platforms. The questions that end users and customers often ask themselves are: what do we do with all this information and how do we use the data? There are many challenges that need solving and all the data is there to support finding effective solutions. But what information is important and what isn’t within the vast amount of data available? Being able to extract meaning and smart insights from data is a key industry challenge.

At EV Cargo Technology, we are in a unique global position. We provide the technology and tools to manage the supply chains of the world’s leading brands. In addition, we have the industry knowledge and expertise to provide context to our solutions and help our clients find the answers that best fit their needs. Sometimes, the solution can right in front of someone, hidden in the data, but due to information overload they can’t see it. By combining our software and industry expertise, we can offer unique insights and leverage best practice to support retailers in tackling their supply chain challenges and prepare for uncertainty ahead. Data can be overwhelming, but with the right guidance and support, we can navigate its complexity and focus our attention on what information matters to us most.

(1) World Economic Forum; https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/how-much-data-is-generated-each-day-cf4bddf29f/

(2) Cowan, N. (2010). The Magical Mystery Four: How is Working Memory Capacity Limited, and Why? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864034/

Master Yoda I am not. But offer advice I do.

I wanted to write about the pandemic and my observations on how, while it’s been tough – very tough at times – there have been some positives. They say ‘Necessity is the Mother of all Invention’ and I don’t think that’s ever been more evident than in how we both professionally and personally found new ways to get stuff done. I wanted to write about that.

However, after a number of false starts, (cue the clichéd image of screwing up of yet another piece of paper before tossing it into an already-overflowing bin) I gave up.

I needed to rethink this. And that reminded me of a book I’ve been reading, and then a list of tips I saved from an article on the internet about mental health which lead to buying the book in the first place.
It occurred to me that, throughout the last 18 months or so, I’ve referred back to this list many times and in different ways. I’ve applied the list to myself. Not entirely, but when and where I felt it appropriate. I’ve periodically revisited it to remind myself of its content and I’ve drawn from it to make suggestions to others around me, who I felt may benefit from it.

The book by the way: ‘Fail Fast & Fail Often – How Losing Can Help You Win’ by Babineaux & Krumboltz.

Back to the list. It’s not my list, I found it on the internet when reading about managing and maintaining mental health. Unfortunately, I can’t find the link to the original article in order to share or, better still, give due credit to its author, but, hopefully, in referencing the tips and how they’ve helped me, that’s a form of recognition and credit in itself.

And that brings me to the purpose of this post. This list has helped me (and I’d like to think from my best-intentioned advocacy, it’s helped others too). In posting it here, I hope that it might help you.

Another quick housekeeping point: below is my version of the original list. I’ve adapted the context and takeaway to suit me. I hope the original author would approve.

So, here it is;

1.- Make Things Happen; Don’t Wait For Them.
Change is challenging. Challenging ourselves to do something better or differently is, well, challenging. So often we fear it and we might make unrealistic plans to delay it or better (worse!) still, avoid it altogether.
Start with little things, break it down, get it started. It’s never as bad as you think and it’s easier once you get rolling! Oh, and see Tip 6.

2.- A Fun Life Will Make You Happy and Successful.
All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy, right? But ‘work’ isn’t just what we do for a living. In this context, it could be anything that constrains, burdens or obligates.
For every one of these, balance it by doing something fun!

3.- The Fastest Road to Success is Failing Fast and Often.
This is the tip that led to the book purchase. It’s a personal favourite.
No one likes to fail. It doesn’t feel nice, but Yoda was right when he said: ‘If no mistake you have made. Losing you are.’
Crack on! Go get stuff wrong! Just be sure to learn quick – and repeat it you must not. And see Tip 4.

4.- Enjoy Your Journey and Embrace Your Failures.
Look at a baby learning to walk, they don’t feel embarrassed about falling. Instead, they get up and try again.
Take a risk, do the things you fear, and learn from them. In time, you’ll be a Jedi.

5.- See The World Like a Child Again.
I took the spirit of this one and encouraged a friend of mine to adopt it. I’ll spare you the details, but being more curious and openminded helped them become more of an active participant in their own treatment and less negative and prejudiced about the potential outcome of particular therapies or remedial actions.
Be curious. Be openminded. Don’t be afraid to ask. You don’t have to know everything.

6.- Have Big Goals, and Take Little Steps.
Big goals are good. But they don’t come easily or quickly, in my experience.
Do something every day that takes you closer to the end goal. Celebrate these steps as mini-wins – this helps keep you motivated and focussed.

8.- Have Some Fun Hobbies.
See Tip 2. Possibly add a little of Tips 4 and 6. Do it with Tip 9. My daughter and I can almost call ourselves ‘paddleboarders’ now!
Learn something new.

9.- No One Can Succeed Alone.
Involve others – family, friends and colleagues. Surround yourself with positive people. Find like-minded individuals and experts to support and guide. But, most importantly, be ready and willing to put back into the community. Use the help you’ve received to help others.
Join some groups, clubs and forums. Get connected.

And that is that. I hope it’s been useful.

Good luck!

Retailers – Seeking to Connect Amid the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the retail industry. By the same token, the outbreak has introduced changes in customer behaviour and demands. It is also bringing new opportunities for the industry, a chance for retailers to rethink their business model to further connect with their customers and to adopt the right diversification strategy.

Customers are shifting behaviour across several areas, including:

Basket recomposition

More digital savvy

Loyalty shake-up

How retailers can adapt to support the behaviour changes and evolving needs of customers?

Capture changes in needs

Review digital properties

Maintaining customer loyalty and trust

We have faced crises in the past and will face them in the future. The next ‘normal’ may look very different, and it is up to retailers to adapt responsively. Brands which listen and respond to people’s evolving desires during difficult times can build a foundation of real connection with the customers and communities they serve and emerge stronger together.

Why The Quest For Fast Data is the 21st Century Gold Rush

“With data collection, ‘the sooner the better’ is always the best answer.” – Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer, the former President and CEO of Yahoo, has data on her mind the same as many others, across not only the technology industry, but increasingly across all industries. We are constantly being reminded that data is the 21st-century equivalent of oil and that every business will soon become a data business. The process of accessing data, whilst it may be subject to increasing scrutiny from a governance perspective, has not particularly been the challenge given the sheer amount of data that we have to work with, rather it is the process of understanding what to do with it and how to get value and insight from data that remains the key focus.

However, there is another challenge: one of timeliness. You have got your technology platform sorted, chosen your business intelligence tool, employed a data analytics team and consulted with SMEs across your organisation to understand what are the important questions that need answering, only to find that the insights gained are derived from what happened six weeks ago or even six months ago. The global Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that situations change rapidly, a future course cannot reliably be charted based on past experience and you have to adapt to what is happening now. Operating in the supply chain industry, EV Cargo witnesses the disruption that can be caused by events as they happen. The ability to manage that disruption and protect our customers requires great people, but those people must also have access to the very latest information to make informed decisions and take positive action.

Of course, real-time data is not just about preventing issues before they happen, it’s also about seizing opportunities. Imagine the GPS in your car informing you about an upcoming traffic build-up on your journey the data available to you at that point is not going to impact upon the problem that already exists, but it does allow you to seize an opportunity to take a different route. Insights have historically been supported by batch-style analytics, where it takes a period of time to yield results; a shift to real-time data offers the potential to get ahead of the curve. Real-time data moves us away from descriptive and predictive analytics. We are no longer asking what happened, or trying to predict what will happen based on historic trends, we are showing what is happening now, helping to inform what actions we should take.

At EV Cargo Technology the challenge is about how quickly we can get reliable data to our customers, presented in a way that is insightful, to expedite the decision-making process, or to automate that process entirely through intelligent machine-learning data models. Cloud services for computational power, third-party APIs for external data sources and intuitive data visualisation are at the foundation of our intelligent SaaS products.

There are inherent challenges in the use of real-time data. Its successful use depends upon highly available and low-response-time systems, which themselves have cost implications and the trade-offs therein. It also requires an understanding of what are the most relevant data sources at any given time – there is no value in having built a reliable and fast integration with data source A, if market or business factors then suddenly change, such that data source B is now more insightful.

The ability to effectively understand and manage data puts responsibility back on to the people within an organisation. Seamlessly integrating data-driven software into our customers’ environment to deliver everyday value is what energises the people in our organisation, the constant striving for further innovative ways to work with data and to understand its untapped potential is what will continue to drive us forward into the future.

The ‘New Normal; What Is It, Do We Need It and Should We Want It?

Yes everyone, it is another article about Covid-19. However, hopefully this article is a bit different. There will be no ‘woe is us’ generalisations and metaphorical wringing of hands here, the purpose is to look at the route that we have taken and whether we should continue down it unchecked.

You simply cannot write an article that uses the words ‘Covid-19’ and ‘pandemic’, without referencing and paying homage to the impact, affect and devastation that events over the last 18 months have had on people all around this blue marble we call home. The impact of Covid-19 is referred to as a once-in-a-lifetime event, and hopefully this is correct. The pandemic has caused us to all learn and become familiar with a new vocabulary. We have learned words and phrases such as R-number, furlough, PCR, lateral flow, social distancing and the ‘New Normal’.

The ‘New Normal’ is a phrase that has stood the test of time, in that it is still part of common parlance in worldwide news cycles and half of all emails received from people trying to – let’s be honest – sell you something, use the phrase. The bane of some people’s lives, the phrase nevertheless indicates the marked difference between where we find ourselves in April 2021 compared to the attitudes and relationships of employers and employees as recently as February 2020.

There is absolutely no doubt that in the UK, March 2020 resulted in the biggest change of working situations since the industrial revolution pulled people out of the fields and into factories, or since coal mines closed under the Thatcher Government. Please save all booing and hissing until the end.

It would be facetious to suggest that the ‘Covid change’ was the same as these two examples. Neither of these situations were caused by a global pandemic which had significant impact and effect on day-to-day lives, and, of course, which has resulted in increased rate of death. Both were also seen as progressive and the way forward and seen as a good thing by the majority. The point I am making here is that these two scenarios were just as seismic a shift as the concept of pandemic working.

Wearing a flippant hat to begin with, the phrase is used to refer to the situation in an ongoing pandemic world. It refers to the concepts of working from home, Teams and Zoom calls throughout the day (other software is available), trying not to eat the contents of the fridge in one morning, not seeing colleagues face to face and, probably, wearing pyjama bottoms while doing all of this. However, when we look below the surface, the ‘New Normal’ is much more than this.

Attitudes to working from home, prior to 2020, were varied. Some companies were on the working-from-home bus and had been for ages, others were not sure that they wanted to go where that bus was heading. March 2020 left people with no choice. The ‘New Normal’ has come about through an absolute lack of choice. Companies which, in normal circumstances, would never in a million years have allowed their workforce to disappear off and work from home for months on end are the same companies referred to when the issue of presenteeism is discussed, usually in hushed tones. Having spoken to a few businesses during the transition period, they (off the record) admitted that some of the hesitation about allowing working from home previously had been the loss of control over staff; how could you make sure that they were doing the work? Could you trust them to perform? This is a wider issue. I would – and have – argue that if you cannot trust someone to work from home then you should not be employing them. End of discussion.

The ‘New Normal’ has seen a situation where employees now enjoy much greater control and responsibility over the scheduling of their day-to-day duties, their working hours and their working environment. This is a really interesting concept, especially when read in conjunction with the attitudes of some companies which did not and had not engaged with the notion of their employees working from home.

It is here that the issues and concerns about the ‘New Normal’ collide with the positive attitudes towards the idea. It stands to reason that businesses which viewed their employees with suspicion ¬–‘if they’re not here and we can’t see them, they are not working’ – are the same ones which view the idea of working from home with suspicion and, on occasion, abject distain. Alternatively, proponents of the new situation refer to the fact that productivity has generally increased, sickness rates (non-Covid) have significantly fallen, employees seem generally happier and, most importantly, the work/life balance of employees across the UK has dramatically improved. Of course, employees have to be conscious of their start and finish times – but when they master this, they will revel in the commute being the stairs, not the motorway.

When we have not seen the ‘devastation’ to the entire economy that critics of working from home feared pre-Covid, one has to ask: what was the hesitance in the first place?

This leads to the question, or one of them, posed by the title. Do we need the ‘New Normal’? In a world where graduates and entry-level positions at Goldman Sacs are asking for a cap of 80 working hours a week (as widely reported in March 2021), do we need a situation where employees have more say over their work/life balance and more control over how they do what they do and where they do it? The answer is obviously yes. Yes, we need to empower employees. Yes, we need to ensure that the working practices reflect the needs and demands of employees. Employees around the world have the potential to see benefits, not just in terms of the fact they are working from home, but commuting costs are lower; households are becoming ‘accidental savers’ by not spending as much on fuel, ‘going out’ (and out out!), impulse purchases and car insurance. Employers have seen benefits. Some have been able to ‘close’ sections of their offices and receive government support. Some have seen their utility bills fall, some have even been able to permanently close their offices and save thousands a year.

However, there is, like with everything, a flip side. The idea of the ‘New Normal’ is divisive, a Marmite issue. Personally, I always said that I did not want to work from home. I thought that the lure of the sofa would be too great. However, despite the fact I am sitting in my kitchen on the sofa as I write this, this is unusual. I, like many employees, was sent home in March 2020 with a screen, a laptop and other bits and bobs, such as a screen riser. When it became clear that the pandemic would not be over in a few weeks this expanded to include a desk and an office chair and my kitchen table was demoted from desk back to kitchen table.

I was able to get some more work done and not have to worry about the traffic, but, as I said, this is a marmite issue. As much as there are benefits to working from home, such as saving money and being able to have a bit of a lie in, there are some issues around the idea of working from home being the ‘New Normal’. Some people need the journey out of the house, either because they live alone and need the social interaction, or they have children and need the ‘peace’ of work. For some, this causes deeper issues.

Fifteen to 20 years ago a pandemic would not have caused people to work from home to the extent that we have seen now. Simply, the technology was not there to allow that to happen. Attitudes towards mental health have also changed in this time. We are familiar with the concept of ‘not being ok’ and talking about mental health now. Because of this, I would argue that more effort has been made in the last year to connect with colleagues than ever before. If a workforce is in the office there is an inclination to ask if people are ok and to have chats with colleagues. Not being in the office made this harder. ‘I’m not ok’ is something that is, and will always be, difficult to say. It is seen as highlighting something that people generally try to avoid showing – weakness. Years ago, the idea of one colleague saying to another that they are ‘down’, ‘feeling rubbish’, or ‘just want a chat’ would have been rare. Between male colleagues it would have been non-existent. Mental health and wellbeing is a fundamental part of the employee engagement piece within a business.

The concept of the ‘New Normal’ overlooks the challenges that working from home poses in relation to the negative impact on people’s mental health. This is why there is a question about whether the ‘New Normal’ is needed, or, to put it another way, whether we should accept it? Employers should be mindful to listen to what their employees are saying. Some employees will have different roles, different lifestyles, and different expectations of what their relationship with their employer entails. The ‘New Normal’ is not something that will be appropriate, or wanted, for all. Some employees may wish to go back to the office full-time, others will want a hybrid approach. Some will want to work from home the entire time.

The ‘New Normal’ is therefore not the finished article and I would argue that we should not accept it as such without question. What I do agree with is that this is an important first step to changing the relationship that UK employees have with their employers, but it is vital that the concept is fine-tuned on an individual basis to ensure that the positive steps that have been made continue, with measures taken to minimise the negative impact on employees’ wellbeing.

To conclude, then. The ‘New Normal’: A good first step which has pushed a button that needed pushing years ago, but let’s not get swept up in the concept without making sure that we are properly looking after and working with our number-one resource, the people who work for our businesses and make us what we are.

Supply Chain Priorities – What is the right answer?

Retailers sometimes find themselves in a difficult position deciding what is their top priority when running their international supply chains. Historically, there were two key variables: Speed to market and cost. Do we ship all our goods as fast as possible or via the cheapest transportation method? Most of the time, one variable would counteract the other, with a clear inverse correlation between cost and lead-times.

These days, the spectrum is rapidly changing. On one hand, we have another key variable entering the conversation by overwhelming popular demand: sustainability. Measuring and reducing their CO2 footprint is now a “must” for global retailers. Not only are retailers recruiting experts to drive strategy in this area, but it is also becoming a crucial part of their procurement processes.
On the other hand, sourcing and distribution patterns are also fast evolving. Many retailers are expanding and diversifying their supply chains, adjusting their sourcing and distribution centres’ locations, driven by risk mitigation, ethical standards, cost and proximity to markets. As a result, the key decision process is no longer a question of how do we best ship our goods from point A to point B. We now have options A,B,C,D… etc and so, for retailers, it becomes a permutation puzzle, with multiple combinations possible across all origin and destination points.

It has always been difficult to quantify the true impact of each of these variables. It might be more expensive to move certain goods by air freight, however, if the product misses a specific seasonal window, it might lose most of its value altogether, making cheaper transport irrelevant. It is challenging to get true visibility of how all the variables interconnect within the business and, ultimately, understand what the right decision is when selecting the best route, mode of transport, and shipping timing of your product.

However, one thing is certain. The more variables we add, and the more complex supply chains become, it is more important than ever to rely on technology to ensure that we make the best decision. There is no right or wrong answer for choosing the optimal combination of variables. Each business is unique and each shipment will require a slightly different approach, based on what is relevant at that specific point of time. What is important, is for retailers to have access to the right level of tools that can enhance their decision-making process, powered by real-time, data-driven insights.

At EV Cargo Technology, our vision is to transform logistics into a technology industry. Working closely with our clients, we strive to solve the industry’s key challenges together and provide the visibility and technology needed to help retailers find the right answer for their supply chains.

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