It's commonsense that the more one repeatedly does the same thing to complete a single task, the longer the job is going to take. If it were possible to identify every repetitive action and only do things once in order to achieve desired results, there would be an exponential savings in time and effort.
What about filling in the same form a dozen times for 12 different entities? If anyone has any experience with importing or exporting goods, then you will completely understand the overhead involved in this following example.
About a year ago, I was involved in importing 8000 set-top boxes from China. I needed to send 6000 to Jamaica by ocean freight. I also had the remaining 2000 set-tops that had to be off-loaded and routed to Belize. This meant that the container with palletized cartons had to be segregated by different customs departments and agents.
By the time I had all the goods delivered, I had completed 23 separate multi-page forms, including powers of attorney for off-shore Customs brokers. I also had well over 100 phone calls logged to this shipment, involving over 16 freight-forwarding agents, and had become more frustrated with the tedium of just trying to “make it happen” than any other single task I had ever had to perform.
Enter Information Technology for Analysis and Intelligent Design for E-Government, ITAIDE (pronounced “I-T-aid”). A book entitled Accelerating Global Supply Chains with IT-Innovation details a study that began in 2006 and ended in 2010, which showed how the supply chain can be made safer, more efficient, and more secure with respect to global trade.
With the participation of eight global businesses, five technology providers, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (the standardization organization), and five universities, the book makes a very convincing argument for the methods, technologies, and procedures that were used to achieve the goals mentioned above.
This is not a Harvard Business School theoretical model, but the study created what are called “Living laboratories.” The concept of living labs entails the active role of users as co-innovators. Users working in real world environments are actively solicited for the purpose of informing and promoting technology development and innovation. In these cases, living labs have been positioned as platforms for user-driven innovation.
In other words, the labs were settings where a logistics nightmare like the one I experienced could help identify basic supply chain problems while working towards experimentally tested and innovative solutions.
Normal lab research is done in a controlled environment with specific research goals and roles. Results are validated by repeatability, and the outcome is observed. The living lab is a real-world setting that involves multiple stakeholders from multiple organizations and their respective interactions. The lab workers are co-innovators, applying technology to the creative process in a collective effort. Instead of observing an outcome, the living lab workers create one.
The ITAIDE research program develops and demonstrates approaches to introducing innovations that give rise to trusted traders or trusted trade lanes vis-à-vis public authorities, such as customs, taxation, and health authorities. The broader themes for ITAIDE's innovation scope reflect a public policy agenda of simultaneously addressing trade facilitation and secure trade. At the core of ITAIDE's research agenda is the design of information infrastructures encompassing: document standards, systems interoperability, process modeling, and network redesign.
In the next article, we will look at the five living lab businesses that participated in the study. The five living labs in the book were very diverse with regard to end products. We will look at the current supply chain practices and plans and then see the changes that the various industry labs made to incorporate accelerated supply chain innovations.
I recently read that one port in the Netherlands, Rotterdam, moved 160,000 containers in 1970. Now that number has escalated to 10 million per year. This is just one port and one year. Imagine how many containers are moving around the supply chain every single day. Port security personnel can't possibly open every container and look for dangerous devices. With the increased container count comes a need for an efficient and secure supply chain management.
Innovations that will be introduced in the next article will go a long way toward helping us all sleep better at night.