February 2018 | Commentary | Checking In

The Human Experience

Tags: Warehousing, Retail, Logistics, Supply Chain

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

I am adding something to the acronym alphabet soup: HX or the Human Experience. In the ever-evolving supply chain process—shaped by automation, co-bots, and the global search for the lowest skilled hourly wage—are the cards irrevocably stacked against the humanity who grind the operational logistics gears that make it all happen?

Recent developments in supply chain operations have me thinking about the impact that current and planned supply chain technology and practices have on the humans working the process—the HX. You are one of them. There are others.

We've all seen and heard many stories of how Hours of Service regulations impact the mindset of OTR drivers. Combine those rules with the ELD mandate, and many OTR and OO free spirits say their independence has disappeared and seemingly melded into the machine they are atop of.

Business owners and shippers understandably want to bring order to the occasional chaos that moving billions of shipments entails. But in that flow you can't program for every variable. At least not yet. But Amazon recently filed a patent for a FitBit-like bracelet that all warehouse workers would wear to track every hand gesture. Think of it as a HX ELD.

One national brand is "datafying its employees to death" by implementing an Order-to-Shelf (OTS) regime, according to press reports. "I wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares about maps and inventory," says one store manager. "The stress has created such a tense working environment. Seeing someone cry at work is becoming normal." Stringent inventory control has also created plenty of stock-outs, adding consumer anger directed at workers to the mix.

The past holiday season brought reports of exhausted fulfillment and warehouse workers; some falling asleep on their feet when being forced to work double shifts. Delivery drivers, those ironically not subject to HoS regulations, were pressed to physical limits by having to take care of business on the go—if you get my drift.

I can't ever recall a mainstream, national conversation about the plight of workers, programs for workforce training, hourly raises, bonuses, new plants, more hiring, and wealth sharing. Respect for the everyday worker, with the possible exception of Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs, is usually all hidden. That's especially true in behind-the-scenes supply chain operations.

So, in the rush to satisfy ever-increasing demands for speed and efficiency, and clarion calls to deliver your best Customer Experience (CX), consider the impact on the human experience. Because in the end, even with the best technology, it's still HX that will drive your CX.

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