Why Logistics Systems Depend on Human Experience and Common Sense

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/20/2006 | Business and Finance
Imagine if you will a futuristic military logistics system that you could view on a wall or a laptop computer. It would allow you to instantly acquire real-time data on items expended and that need to be replaced to support organizational needs.

Imagine that the view you have is of the earth's surface, like a Google satellite map, and with a single click you can zoom in to any portion of the world where you have logistics or resupply responsibilities. A single click and you can instantly obtain an accurate logistics situational assessment of a broad, wide-ranging area.

Click again and your view and focus narrows even more. At this new level, you get a more detailed, local assessment of the logistic situation, say of a particular country. Click once more and you're presented with a picture of the logistical situation of a particular city or perhaps a company within that municipality.

Sound like the far off future? Not at all.

The hardware and software to accomplish the "futuristic" scenario just described has been developed and is available for use practically worldwide. And the implications are phenomenal in terms of the production, moving and storing whatever types of materials a given company might require. But there's a big problem looming for those who might mistake these modern tools for cure-all logistic wonders.

Granted, much of the hardware and software capabilities available in today's marketplace comes to industry from military applications where the concepts were battle-tested and proven effective in all types of terrain and environments. And the software and hardware has been refined to the point that now most of these "futuristic" applications can be run on a simple hand held device like a Palm pilot.

These applications literally allow the operator to "see" the logistic situation of the entity that is being examined and to quickly assess and make reliable logistic estimates based upon the scenario presented. But, guess what. The system isn't perfect.

In fact, the system is far from perfect because it's reliability hinges on something that often times proves quite unreliable the human being.

Any logistic system such as the one envisioned above requires three distinct and separate components to provide useful logistic data to the end user. First, the person designing the system has to have a thorough understanding of the organizational needs of the company or entity that will utilize the system. A miscalculation in this vital area can have devastating effects on the system's overall reliability and usefulness.

But let's say the planners get it right and the logistician now holds the "perfect" hardware and software combination required to produce an accurate logistics assessment for his particular needs. That leads us to our secondary concern the person inputting the logistics data at the organizational level where the goods are required. If that data is faulty, then the information others in the supply chain rely on is equally suspect and prone to inaccuracies.

But let's say we've got the perfect system, and our logistic operator at the organization level inputs accurate data. That still leaves one final area of concern - the recipient of the logistic estimate.

In other words, the logistician on the receiving end of this equation must make reasonable judgments when interpreting the data the system provides. That's the reason it's called a logistics "estimate." And if he doesn't interpret the data he receives correctly and develop a reasonable resupply strategy based upon it and his logistical experience no amount of "futuristic" software or hardware will help.

A prudent logistician will realize that software and hardware tools are just that. Tools to help him make better supply decisions. No tool yet has been developed that can replicate human experience and common sense. Perhaps that's a good thing.