Why a Problem-Solving Mindset is Essential in Logistics
Can you tell us a bit more about the particular challenges created by the pandemic and the Suez Canal blockage?
Put simply the world is dealing with a huge shipping backlog and we will continue to feel that impact for some time. Take the US for example, the lead time for shipping containers in April 2020 was two weeks out, with alternative methods of transport also booked four to six weeks out, with pricing that reflected the squeeze being felt by the logistics industry. The fact that 2020 and 2021 have been such unique years, with such particular difficulties meant that everyone was feeling their way through the situation blind. There was no handbook for two huge global challenges in quick succession and so adaptability has been put to the test more than ever before.
How has RFS adapted to overcome these difficulties?
So, for RFS the key question throughout has been ‘what’s plan B?’ This meant diverting resources within the company to ensure we had a dedicated team to identify challenges and find resolutions quickly. This involved reaching out to alternative suppliers, changing the planning process to work 6 months out to guarantee availability of shipping containers, dynamic route planning and bringing in a new director of global logistics to ensure we were taking the best possible steps to minimize disruption for our customers. Of course, there have been times where things haven’t gone to plan, there isn’t a business that can say the last 18 months have been smooth sailing. However, by taking the approach if we can’t avoid it, it happens once and we learn from it, we have kept all our projects largely to plan.
Why is flexibility and problem solving such a key part of logistics?
The physical nature of logistics means it presents immovable problems. They are the sort of challenges that will not bend to your will no matter how much you want them to. Instead, you must mold your business processes around this and that involves a huge amount flexibility and problem solving. One of the standout challenges we faced was to deliver a project in Thailand for the broadcast restack at the height of lockdown. Unable to travel to install the deployment, our team developed virtual training, delivered demo equipment for engineers to practice on and couriered equipment between Thailand and our Australia office for retuning in order to meet the switchover deadline. The execution of the project looked very different to the original plan, however, with a problem-solving mindset from the team we were able to deliver what the customer needed.
What are the lessons learned from the logistics challenges of the past 12 months, not just for RFS, but businesses in general?
There are three big lessons that businesses can learn from the past 12 months.
Firstly, passing on lead times to customers is something that needs to be avoided where possible. From adopting a hub approach to consolidate shipments to changing processes to give the biggest buffer possible; building-in cushioning to logistics to absorb any problems has a long-term benefit for the business. Secondly and one of the most interesting points we can draw from the big squeeze on logistics in the past year is that paying additional costs isn’t an easy fix. Once there is congestion expedited shipping can’t solve the issue which is where problem solving becomes essential. The big takeaway is that a plan B is always necessary. It is better to have it and not need it than be scrambling around to formulate an alternative approach under pressure.