Market Report

Reinventing the wheel

Cloud Data IT
Comms Business examines the opportunities for partners selling solutions to transport and logistics customers.

Digital transformation, smart technologies increasing in sophistication and the rise of Industry 4.0 — these principles are shaping the way organisations in the transport and logistics sector work today. For Nick Sacke, head of operations and presales, Comms365, customers in these sectors can either keep pace with change, or risk being left behind by the competition.

He said, “The technologies and innovations available to the logistics industry are continuing to increase, from autonomous mobile robots, connected devices and IoT solutions.

“As a result, it is becoming more apparent that warehouses must embrace these digital advances and adopt smarter processes and technology to stay competitive, save costs, reduce waste and meet both consumer demand and expectations.”

Critical connectivity

To enable this ‘digital operations’ future, Sacke added that Channel partners can play a pivotal role in providing warehouse internet connectivity resources.

“Forward-thinking firms looking to capitalise on the benefits that embracing innovation can bring to smart warehouses must consider that these technologies require high-quality, reliable internet network resources to function and deliver benefits in the field,” he said.

“This means that logistics businesses need to have the basic connectivity requirements in place to address the provision of immediate internet or improved performance internet.

“Advanced, bonded wireless internet solutions enable organisations to install primary internet connectivity immediately or add important resilience, improve performance and back-up capability to their existing internet connection. Business continuity is built-in by combining internet connections from different carriers to create a single ‘virtual internet pipe’.”

As Jeff May, UK sales director at Konftel pointed out, many of those working in the transport and logistics sector will be dispersed across wide areas and are often never in the same office together — meaning that mobility and communication on-the-go is vital.

“From our own experience we’ve had great success in the rail sector where the Konftel 300Mx is proving very popular,” he commented.

“Hailed as the world’s first 4G mobile conference phone, users simply insert a SIM card to start a meeting immediately, with no fuss or cables, thanks to a 30 hour battery life.

“Architects and surveyors for example, and indeed many other professionals across transport and logistics, need to provide critical information to help complete what are often lengthy and complex projects. Conferencing is key. Having integrated and flexible solutions drive productivity and move the industry further forward.”

In transport, connectivity solutions are vital to enable functions such as vehicle tracking — Jola’s CMO Cherie Howlett highlighted this, pointing out the need for reliable mobile data in applications such as tracking delivery vans and hire cars, scenarios where customers and companies need to be able to monitor the location of vehicles and the safety of drivers.

“Smart transport networks offer significant benefits to passengers, operators and local authorities, enabling urban services to become more efficient, effective and safe,” Howlett told Comms Business.

“There are many end-to-end solutions available to the transport industry, involving 4G routers and cameras. Trams, buses and trains are tracked, and arrival times accurately estimated and advertised, factoring in potential delays. These devices need 4G data SIMs, often with a fixed IP or delivered via a secure Private APN.”

Technologies of tomorrow

Whilst digital transformation is moving at pace, Roch Muraine, worldwide sales director at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise said that many major mobility initiatives have been delayed in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“With active start-ups folding or changing direction, progress has slowed, resulting in more steady changes in mobility. While we are still driving towards the innovations of the future, such as self-driving cars, there has been a notable shift in the industry’s primary focus,” Muraine said.

“Current investments and transformative activity are placing the emphasis more on freight than travellers, looking at the last mile delivery and on areas surrounding safety, cybersecurity, and reducing carbon emissions through digital transformation.”

In the new digitised environment, technologies such as edge networks, edge computing, cloud platforms, mobile applications and artificial intelligence are of ‘paramount importance’, he added.

“To effectively use the capabilities of these technologies, computers can be installed inside cameras to process, analyse, and interpret information. This data may be used to draw attention to any problems or areas of concern in order for necessary action to be taken to keep transportation operations running smoothly.”

One use case he pointed to was Mobility as a Service (MaaS). He argued that micro mobility services such as eScooters and eBikes are growing in popularity, with people exploring more alternatives to public transport for their daily commutes.

“MaaS helps businesses to gather data from multiple sources and consolidate it on a single platform so that passengers can more easily book, use, and pay for various modes of transportation. As commuters’ needs change, as do the types of technology in development, with the opportunity arising to use pre-existing transportation infrastructure that others have already invested in.”

As the needs of businesses in the transport and logistics sector evolve and demand rises for the modern technologies needed to support them, many channel companies will be seeing the opportunity that partners can bring with the right dedication and focus.

One example of a company that recognises this in the channel space is Brother UK. The vendor has this year appointed new sector specialist Gary Morris to the new role of senior end user client manager for transport and logistics, working with Brother’s reseller and ISV partners to help businesses in the sector improve their efficiency.

“Retailers are still expanding their warehouse space at a record rate to create new capacity and upscale more fulfilment options. But a substantial part of this challenge is optimising operations within their new sheds to generate a competitive edge,” Morris told Comms Business.

“Margins are always under pressure. But this is magnified in the face of high inflation and tighter consumer spending, making incremental efficiencies a higher priority. Herein lies a significant opportunity for resellers to get under the skin of their customers and create tailored, labelling solutions that can deliver those gains through faster speeds, enhanced connectivity and improved quality.”

An example he gave is mobile printing, commenting on the growth in demand for these solutions as retailers become aware of the time savings effective printing-on-the-move can deliver in the warehouse.

“These devices, including our mobile RJ range, mean operatives can pick and pack products without returning to the aisle-end, and leaves industrial-grade label devices on the packing bench free for heavy-volume labelling tasks,” he said.

“The wireless printers are able to integrate seamlessly with existing devices and systems, allowing for a blend of mobile and heavy-duty devices that will help firms reduce labour time spent on labelling products and deliver efficiencies in the warehouse.”

Overcoming hurdles

An array of challenges brought by Covid-19, Brexit, skills shortages and rising energy costs has proved difficult for the industry — Comms365’s Nick Sacke said that warehouses should look to invest and future-proof their solutions.

“Yet, when it comes to the world of logistics, investment in IT has been slow – with evidence suggesting that businesses are reluctant to experiment with new tech solutions within their operations,” Sacke commented.

“Consequently, this means advancing at scale has been difficult, and subsequently led to the slow progress of the digitisation of warehouses.

“Internet connectivity is a necessity for businesses in every industry, and logistics is no exception. However, it remains a fundamental hurdle that the industry must overcome if it is to create a solid foundation for providing stable internet performance on-site, and get warehouses ready to adopt and use digital innovation while making better use of the resources already available.”

To overcome this challenge, a wireless solution could be most effective, he said, adding that this may be particularly pertinent for warehouses where there is often no existing connection or in rural locations.

“As internet connectivity is no longer restricted to fixed-line provision only, companies can invest in a communications resource that truly satisfies business internet needs – irrespective of location. Additionally, companies can rapidly open new warehouses, avoiding the delays associated with fixed line installations, enabling retailers and the like to capitalise on the flexibility this affords them.”

The direct effect of wider national and global issues should be considered by Channel partners looking to help businesses in the sector address the knock-on effects of these issues — Konftel’s Jeff May pointed to high fuel costs as an example.

“In recent months prices have dipped from sky-high levels. This does not just affect running costs but also pricing which in turn has an impact on customer demand,” May said.

“If people don’t need to travel conferencing provides a very appealing and cost-effective alternative. It’s become part of everyday life to jump on a call rather than travel many miles, often sat in traffic.”

Roch Muraine at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise identified the changes to infrastructure brought by the pandemic, and the industry’s environmental impact, as challenges faced by the transport and logistics sector which partners could play a key role in addressing with new tech.

“Although it is difficult to foresee the future of digital transportation, it is important that we are aware of the current trajectory,” Muraine said. “Service providers must keep pace with the evolving road transportation systems, with a focus on getting people back on public transport, demonstrating that they have taken all reasonable precautions to ensure passenger safety.

“More regular cleaning schedules are in place, more airflow, and sensors that keep an eye on vehicle capacity, make up the ‘new normal’ for public transport, a change for the better.”

From an environmental standpoint, he added that transportation accounts for a sizeable percentage of the world’s carbon footprint.
“We can predict that future transportation solutions will arise to help combat the climate crisis with a drive towards innovations that will reduce transportation’s carbon emissions.

“Overall, we need to focus on providing solutions for improving public transportation options and decreasing congestion on roads to enable safer, more secure travel for all travellers and reduce time spend on the road.

“An IoT-ready network infrastructure supports mission-critical applications, improving commuter experience and operational efficiency. Ultimately, service providers must adapt to meet the needs of a world on the move.”

Keeping up with the pace

Stepping up to serve the sector’s evolving needs, experienced providers can discuss options and supply the services that transport and logistics companies require to ensure a high-quality, reliable connection is established quickly while improving the overall performance and user experience, said Comms365’s Nick Sacke.

“The industry will then be able to experience internet with improved performance to continually benefit from the opportunities that the latest advances in technology innovation for business operations present, as well as ensuring that a lack of connectivity does not negatively impact projects,” Sacke commented.

“The potential rewards to firms that capitalise on digitisation will be transformative, now and in the future. For example, businesses want to leverage the benefits of a 5G infrastructure – which may not be available in every location. However, by having fundamental connectivity basics in place, logistics organisations can get one step ahead and plan their upgrade path once the technologies become available.”

He described the particular importance of this for retailers and distribution partners who need to be agile and react quickly to changes in demand.

“[This] is why working with a channel partner is key, as they can provide an audit of your existing technology and comms infrastructure to ensure it is up to date, optimised and as resilient as possible,” he said.

Jola’s Cherie Howlett said ultimately, resellers and MSPs need to prioritise ‘choice and control’ when serving the sector.

“MSPs and resellers need a wholesale supplier with a wide range of connectivity options from single to multi-network to Fixed IP to meet the evolving needs of the sector,” she said.

“Many MSPs have strong relationships in this sector and understand the challenges faced and the solutions required. End-users need continuous connectivity and control over their data usage to avoid data overage charges.

“Jola’s MSPs can manage global SIM estates in Mobile Manager providing end-users with real-time data usage, alerts bolt-ons and data pools to monitor usage and avoid bill shock.”

While intelligent transport systems can manage issues around congestion and traffic incidents through monitoring and control technologies, ALE’s Roch Muraine said that resellers and MSPs need to provide a strong mission-critical data network capable of handling millions of IoT devices.

For transport operators to achieve a cyber-secure infrastructure, able to function under extreme conditions, he said that operators should choose a robust ethernet switch.

“At Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, we only recommend switches specifically designed for industrial operations that can withstand extended temperatures, offer higher EMI or EMC tolerance, a flexible range in power input options and high surge protection,” Muraine commented.

“Not every switch has these capabilities, so it’s imperative that MSPs and resellers do not promote switches that offer a low level of service and protocols for transportation. Otherwise, expect network outages, ultimately compromising reliability, efficiency, and safety.”

He added that whilst connecting all sensors and cameras helps to improve commuter safety, it is not enough on its own. “Resellers and MSPs need to prioritise providing more interactions, connect control centres and emergency services all together. For instance, by using CPaaS, operational teams are alerted, allowing for prompt action to be taken while keeping traces of any incident for future crises analysis.”

Where security is concerned, the protection of data and passenger information is absolutely critical within these systems — specifically a zero-trust approach, he concluded.

“Zero-trust enables the containment, preventing cyberattacks by properly identifying and authenticating all devices while they enter the network. An intelligent blend of macro- and micro-segmentation isolates the device on the network if it detects a threat, protecting other connected systems.”

This market report appeared in our November 2022 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.