By Alan McKinnon*, Director, Logistics Research Centre, Heriot-Watt University, UK
When logistics works, as it does almost all the time, nobody notices. It becomes an invisible service that we all take for granted. For example, when we shop in the typical department store, we seldom give a thought to all the complex processes that have brought tens of thousands of products together in that one location from all over the world in sufficient quantities to meet our demands. Thousands of separate supply chains converge on that one point to give us the level of product availability we have grown to expect. Indeed every service we use and every product we buy depend on elaborate supply networks that we know very little about – until they fail.
It is only when these networks are seriously disrupted, by bad weather, industrial disputes, earthquakes or whatever, that logistics tends to get news coverage. Then journalists all too frequently refer to ‘logistical nightmares’, instilling a negative impression of logistics in the public mind. Many people also resent having to share the road network with trucks and complain about the adverse effects of freight transport and warehousing on the environment. They sometimes fail to see the connection between these sources of irritation and pollution and the goods they buy in the shop. Little wonder that logistics managers often feel they do not get the understanding and appreciation they deserve.
Efforts are now being made, however, to raise the public profile of logistics and make people realise just how vital it is to modern life. In the UK, the Freight Transport Association has launched a campaign called Love Logistics, while the parcel carrier UPS is conveying a similar sentiment in its global press and television advertising. In April this year Germany held a national logistics day, when trade fairs and company visits were organised to promote the sector and the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, gave a speech on the subject.
The World Economic Forum’s decision in 2010 to establish a Logistics and Supply Chain Industry Agenda Council also recognised the critical importance of this activity to global economic and social well-being. The publication of the Council’s first report (see below) should raise awareness of the major challenges facing the logistics sector. Keeping logistical systems, upon which we all rely, running efficiently, sustainably and reliably in the years ahead will not be easy.
*Alan McKinnon is Director of the Logistics Research Centre at Heriot-Watt University. He is also the chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Logistics & Supply Chain.