In March, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world. In the logistics industry, supply chains were instantly disrupted by closed borders, restrictions on importing and exporting goods from certain countries, and barriers to sourcing products normally acquired from areas affected early on by Covid-19, such as China.
Even on the front line, final-mile delivery drivers had to learn how to make increasing numbers of safe, contactless deliveries.
On top of this, demands for personal protective equipment (PPE) and essential goods such as food increased exponentially, with businesses and the UK’s NHS needing to protect staff and supermarkets wanting to mitigate the effect of panic buying.
This demand meant goods needed to be sourced, transported and delivered quickly and from verified supplies. For an industry where deals can still be done by fax, digitalisation was needed fast to keep up with these changing expectations.
Bringing the entire supply chain online within dedicated platforms resulted in available stock being located instantly, aircraft with capacity found and deliveries tracked straight to the door of the recipient.
Going digital also helped companies operate effectively when they were dealing with a reduced workforce. Businesses with the technology infrastructure in place could work remotely and continue operations with the same level of efficiency, if not more so, the day lockdowns were announced.
Beyond the digital transformation, freight forwarders such as DG International – which already had digital platform Horizon – dealt with Covid-19 demands by forming new alliances with international suppliers, technology providers and cargo operators. This smoothed the process from sourcing to final delivery for thousands of organisations needing items at short notice.
So now that border controls and restrictions are gradually easing, what lessons have we learned?
Although we hope there is no second wave of Covid-19, there is an imminent change looming for the UK that will impact the logistics industry: Brexit. It’s a topic many of us had almost forgotten, the transition deadline of 31 December signals an end to many of the seamless processes we are accustomed to.
Even today, those who ship goods in and out of the UK have only been told to prepare, but it is still unclear as to what to prepare for.
What is known is that it is likely that there will be a significant increase in the amount of paperwork needed to move shipments across borders, at least for the first few months of our transition. We will likely need customs declarations on imports similar to those needed for goods entering the UK from outside the EU. For some, this unfamiliar paperwork and processes could hold up deliveries and cause chaos akin to that experienced over the past few months.
As we have learned during the coronavirus crisis, technology will come into its own as a way of solving many issues at customs borders. Instead of reverting to having freight teams at every point of entry into the UK, digital solutions will be able to ease the pressure of monitoring and approving freight, and online platforms will allow for complete transparency, giving customers the ability to track where their orders are and notifying them of delays immediately.
In addition to digitalization, the connections that we – and many others in the industry – have formed with experienced partners during the pandemic will remain. As Brexit impacts demand and restrictions change, shipments will still be delivered in a timely manner and the logistics industry will remain as agile and able to adapt to changing circumstances as it has been during 2020.
James Appleby is managing director of DG International