Which data skills do you need for your warehouse and logistics function?

We recently hosted a roundtable debate, alongside our sister company imio Software, attended by six of our customers and partners. On the table for discussion was the topic of data and how it is changing the role of the warehouse and logistics function. What became clear throughout the morning of discussion was that data generated at a warehouse and logistics level is having an impact across all of the organisation – not just at a functional level. Participants shared their experience of having to manage, store and secure data in volumes never seen before, and how responsibility for that data is changing the role of the warehouse and logistics department.

With warehousing and logistics responsible for tracking events, it’s no surprise then that the function has an inherent knowledge of business processes and how to improve them using data. But what is a challenge is the current lack of data skills required to not just manage data but to use it to improve decision making and drive greater value back to the business.

Some organisations have already made large investments and created data teams that can access and analyse data, but these companies tend to be on the logistics side, where data is generated through the tracking of events, such as delivery.

According to Adam Gerrard, Chief Digital Officer at Yodel, “We’ve invested a lot. We’ve had the same data team for five years, which makes it easier to understand the data the business is generating. To help manage the amount of data we gather we have a master data model and strategy, and store it in a data lake. This means we can respond quickly and efficiently because we’ve been consistent with the management over the past five years.”

At a retail warehouse level it’s often harder to convince the business that an investment in data scientists is necessary. With retail businesses focusing on the customer journey, data management tends to focus on store or customer data.

We often see the challenge of data management when we begin working on an automation project. Our clients often struggle to send data to us in an organised and structured manner. We need forecasts, throughputs, shift patterns and so on to help build automated systems, but often this data is raw and kept on a spreadsheet. We harness it, and then turn it into something that can be used for planning. Having the involvement of data scientists to organise that data is invaluable – not just to us, but also to provide broader business insights.

So what data skills are needed at warehouse and logistics functions? According to Independent logistics consultant Lynn Parnell from Logistics Partners Consultancy Ltd organisations need to create two different data teams working across the business. “You should have one team focused on how data can be used to improve business objectives, and a second team who should just review and analyse data as a whole set, looking for innovation possibilities. This is how some of the biggest changes are made.”

According to participants this is where the challenge starts. Data scientists who can organise, structure, store and secure data are easier to find and hire – although there is a question as to whether  the UK’s University system needs to improve their focus on nurturing these skills. However, data scientists who can rigorously examine that data and then apply it to make fundamental changes to the business that creates a platform for innovation and disruption are more of a challenge to find. This takes a specialist skills set, and one that is becoming vitally important to the warehouse and logistics function.

What’s clear from our discussions around data is that there are huge opportunities for businesses who can harness the power of the data that’s being created at a warehouse and logistics level. But the real value will come when the broader organisation comes to understand how an investment in skilled data professionals, who can access, investigate and apply all of the data generated across the organisation to innovate.

Thanks to our attendees for a lively debate:

David Tran, Assistant Editor, SHD Logistics Magazine

Professor Phil Greening from Herriot Watt University

Adam Gerrard, Chief Digital Officer at Yodel

Independent logistics consultant Lynn Parnell from Logistics Partners Consultancy Ltd

Marcus Uprichard, sales and marketing director at Conveyor Networks

Terry Siddle, director of logistics & distribution at Pets At Home,

Philip Rowlands, head of software delivery at imio Software Solutions