Logistics at Christmas: In a clinch with the Grinch

Bastian Späth, CEO/Vorstand EIKONA AG
The picture shows the Grinch in the foreground.

Jingle bells, jingle bells ... Can you already hear the bells ringing in the distance? Autumn has barely arrived and it’s already that time of the year again. With the somewhat colder season come immediate preparations for the grand finale at the end of the year, for the (more or less) reflective days, in short: for Christmas. But especially during the peak season, logistics are faced with challenges that are not always easy to overcome.

Mankind seems to be divided into two groups: those who experience a great level of Christmas anticipation from the first day with temperatures below 20 degrees and reel off the entire programme including drinking tee, eating speculoos and listening to Christmas music. And those who would prefer to skip the end of the year and land directly in January in order to have to deal as little as possible with all the "fripperies". The latter sounds like a little green man who is always in a terrible mood, especially towards the end of the year – who might we be talking about? That’s right, it’s about the Grinch. Year after year he tries to sabotage Christmas, to take away people’s anticipation of the festivities and, ultimately, to prevent Father Christmas from distributing his presents. Whether this endeavour counts as a success will be decided by the one major day of battle, 24 December, which logistics in particular have been working towards for a long time. On which (in the best case) the supermarkets are emptied for the festive meal and toys make children’s eyes light up.

From A as in almond cookies to Z as in zebra toys

The telephone no longer stands still, it seems like a jinx: All orders were announced and distributed in good time, as early as September, when it was actually still far too warm to even think about things like the Advent season and gingerbread. Like every year, the planning had to think ten steps ahead so that everything was ready in time for the (un)cosy season. From tree decorations to toy cars to chocolate Father Christmases – nothing should be lacking. But today things are going haywire, the manufacturer in China cannot be reached, and the follow-up orders cannot be released unless it is clear where the required material has gone. Are the containers already on their long sea journey or have they not even left the port yet? From a distance, gleeful laughter can be heard ... Who is happy about this mess? Rescue is at hand in the form of the favourite colleague who reminds us of the track and trace tool. Its existence has been completely forgotten due to all the chaos! No matter how long the goods’ journey from picking to loading and transport to delivery may be – with the help of this digital supporter, nothing will ever get lost again, and the tracking tool knows all the answers every step of the way. Phew, no more need for a follow-up order, lucky us!

Exceptional situation in the transit terminal

The scene: a large warehouse in the south of Norway. There is chaos, people are running around uncoordinated, pallets are in the most impossible places, trucks are halfly unloaded in the car park. And in the middle of it all is a small, green man with fluffy fur, usually known as a grump: the Grinch. Just then, however, joy appears on his face: it seems to be done, orders can no longer be correctly assigned, and the package labels all have the wrong barcodes. The fairy lights, the Christmas tree decorations and the ingredients that are urgently needed for baking biscuits can’t be distributed all over the world, so there’s probably no real Christmas spirit. But there is still hope: the Order Management System, which the Grinch paralysed with a power failure, is being rebooted and will soon ensure that communication between shippers and forwarders runs almost automatically. All data is entered online via an input mask or by directly reading in the consignment table. The transmission takes place in real time, with just one click all relevant transport data is available in the Transport Management System (TMS). The central order management is working again!

Piece-work parcel delivery

He still has one last chance. The parcels have come a long way, some of them have made it to the last transit terminals, and some have even been loaded into the delivery vehicle so that they should arrive at the Christmas maniacs’ homes on the same day. But if the road signs are all covered and he puts up a few blockades, the Grinch can still make it. After all, what good are presents if they don’t reach the right recipient? When people are standing in front of empty supermarket shelves because the hot chocolate has not been restocked and instead of potato salad and crispy sausages you can only buy rice and tinned food? The green man gives it his all, the main access roads are blocked, there are even false traffic jam reports on the radio. It seems that the Christmas miracle will have to be cancelled this year. But the Grinch didn’t count on the route planning tool. It won’t be fooled by hidden road signs ... closed roads? No problem, the current traffic situation is always included in the calculations, so that the optimal route is being displayed. To ensure that the recipients are really at home when the long-awaited delivery arrives, the programme automatically forwards the calculated Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) as a driver’s notification by e-mail, SMS or phone call. This way, every package can be delivered correctly after all, how fortunate!

Relaxed towards the holidays

1:0 for Christmas! It’s done, logistics didn’t let itself be upset and once again defied the Grinch. But the digital supporters are also making the green curmudgeon’s job harder every year ... Management tools take over order coordination and ensure that all important data can be transmitted in real time and accessed from anywhere. Route planners and digital shipment tracking enable follow-up planning because the delivery can be tracked transparently at any time. This means that the Christmas sourpuss no longer has any chance of upsetting the processes and thus winding up logisticians. Perhaps at some point he will be captivated by the festive mood and realise that he doesn’t stand a chance against the digitally well-positioned logistics anyway. Or is there still a chance for the little green man? Next time, the Grinch could maybe nestle directly into production and cause mischief there? It is going to be exciting to see how this will turn out ...

Bastian Späth
Bastian Späth

As a college-educated computer scientist, Bastian Späth understands how IT solutions are developed from the ground up. For more than 15 years, he has spent every workday collecting requirements, finding ideas, developing designs, setting up projects and getting them safely across the finish line.

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