Using geographic information systems and big data can help to redefine the intelligence of the supply chain, writes David Slotow, CEO at Trackmatic

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is defined as a system that’s capable of capturing, storing, managing and analysing data related to spatial or geographic coordinates. It is one of many location-based information services and applications that can be used to potentially transform the capabilities of the supply chain and the reach of the retail sector.

The vast expanses of Africa have always introduced challenges to the supply chain. Dealing with the issues that come with the geocoding of unknown and new addresses is complex, especially in light of the vagaries of rural landscapes and the limitations of address accuracy.

Often, having an address isn’t enough, especially when guiding deliveries to a complex, an office park or retail store. This is predominantly attributed to lack of roads and infrastructure in certain areas, and limited sign-posting in residential estates that have new roads that aren’t marked on any known maps.

Another challenge is access. Internationally there is a lock box that the driver can access with a code, drop off the delivery, and go. In South Africa there are walls, dogs, alarms and security barriers that make deliveries complex and heavily reliant on time.

The issues around address and access are further impacted by customer expectations. Customers want delivery fulfilment at their home. They’re busy, they want the ubiquity of online to get what they need, and they want it on time.  In certain instances, customers time their home deliveries because they need to be on premise to receive their goods. The supply chain is under pressure to refine the delivery process to fulfil these customer expectations and those organisations that don’t have the technology they need have to rely on poorly captured address information and the intuition of the driver, which sadly is not enough.

These challenges can cause significant losses. If drivers are unable to find an address it means that the delivery will be rescheduled. This results in customer frustration, potential damages to the parcel due to over handling and the logistic costs associated with a re-delivery. These costs are often difficult to recover.

However, costs can be avoided through the use of targeted, technologically advanced and customised location-based services and rich geospatial data. The specialist skill of geocoding becomes a critical part of the solution, allowing for destinations and addresses to be corrected and manually manipulated until they deliver spot-perfect locations.

These customised solutions blend the functionality of Google Enterprise for address validation and street maps with human ingenuity and technological expertise. While the problem may have complex systemic impact on business, human intervention can go a long way towards solving the problem.

Specialised human intervention combined with the right technology ensures that each address is correctly cleansed and manually plotted with a location pin and a geofence, demarcating an accurate delivery point. Drivers can trust where they are going because they are directed “to the door” for improved and efficient delivery. Likewise, geofences can be plotted to better monitor on-road execution and manage risk.

Trackmatic is playing a role in solving the problem of last mile deliveries by creating people-led technology solutions.  When locations are plotted correctly, routes can be efficiently planned and optimised, reducing time and excess kilometres on the road.

This in turn results in the ability to effectively manage the execution against the optimised plan. Drivers are empowered to communicate in real-time with customers at every critical touch point on the delivery journey because they gain immediate insight into distance, drive time and arrival.

Due to the quantum of address information coming through from sales orders, organisations ordinarily don’t have sufficient time, tools, man-power or discipline to effectively capture and maintain customer address databases. Addresses can be updated, cleansed and written-back to your accounting system and operations are better equipped to do a look up to more effectively optimise route plans.

Lastly, accurate geospatial coordinates translate into reduced fuel costs, vehicle utilisation and the maximisation of human resources.

Thanks to GIS, customers are well-informed through advanced delivery notifications that are driven by the accuracy of geospatial data. It is a one-way ticket to customer delight and that, in a competitive supply chain market, is invaluable. Customers can plan better, drivers can play a more active role in customer service, and supply chain brands can engage, inspire and delight. All with the power of GIS and data.