Tracking Santa – how GIS technology is overcoming the great Christmas logistics challenge

This year it is estimated that online Christmas shopping is expected to grow by some 14%; eclipsing last year’s high which saw UK shoppers spending £21.6 billion on gifts over the festive period. 

Because of this, it won’t just be excited children twitching at their curtains to catch sight of Santa; many undoubtedly checking his progress via Nasa’s famous Santa tracker.

Time-sapped parents, relying on those last minute deliveries, will be also be praying that weather conditions and unforeseen disruptions don’t stop the last available sought-after Tracy Island toy arriving in time to put under the tree.

Trouble is brewing

Last year, the media was littered with online shoppers extolling their fury after it was revealed stretched couriers were struggling to deal with a massive backlog of presents as Christmas Day was looming, with tens of thousands of people thought to have suffered with gifts not being delivered in time for Christmas morning.

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The supply chain is under more pressure than ever before and the damage to brands of late deliveries could be untold.

The industry is expected to be sending out 20% more parcels in the final three months of this year compared to the same period last according to internet retail body Interactive Media in Retail Group, with not only the festive season on the supply chain’s minds but the increasingly popular US-inspired discount day Black Friday – this year falling on 27th November – adding to their woes. 

The annual online scramble is part of a dramatic change in the way people shop, with 20 per cent of non-food sales now being made from the comfort of our laptops, tablets and phones.

Last year, more than £2 billion was spent in the four days leading up to the festive period alone, up 50% on expected levels, leaving the delivery system under huge pressure. By the end of the year, UK retailers are expected to send more than 860 million parcels to British homes, up almost a half from the 600 million sent in 2012.

A supply chain recruitment drive

To help with the surge, online retail giant Amazon is in the process of recruiting an additional 19,000 seasonal workers this year, while the Royal Mail is recruiting the same number of staff to help distribute the post over the festive period.

To help facilitate the trend, there are now more delivery vehicles on the road than ever before. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that van registrations have increased by almost 17% this year.

There are now two-thirds more commercial vehicles than there were just ten years ago, with the SMMT estimating that there are now around 40,000 delivery drivers.

At Christmas more than ever, fleet managers need to make sure daily fleet movements and maintenance schedules run efficiently without compromising quality customer service.

Through Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping and analytical capabilities, transport and logistics companies can unlock big data to improve shipping times, track dynamic assets, weather systems and other real-time environmental data to ensure the most optimum route from click to under-the-tree.

Optimising routes and going green

Modern day GIS can help plan and manage the fleet by increasing the number of deliveries per route while decreasing excess capacity. Optimised routing is much more than just considering the quickest way to get from A to B though. Dispatchers need to consider every element that affects daily operations.

GIS helps companies maximise the use of assets to create optimum routes based on specific variables including vehicle capabilities, driver specialties, changing street network restrictions, and customer time windows.

Some GIS solutions now enable customised real-time feeds, giving company executives, dispatchers, and customer representatives a 360 degree view of the most up-to-date information in a user-friendly format.

As much as highlighting what works well, such solutions also highlight potential issues. Large courier companies like FedEx use real time location information for vehicles and geo-fences to provide an early warning when a vehicle falls behind time such that it might miss a delivery window.

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This is important as missing a delivery window can lead to penalty charges. If you can identify that the window will be missed early enough then you can give notice and negotiate a new delivery window that it is more realistic.

Through implementing GIS solutions our logistics customers typically enjoy savings of up to 30% in operational expenses through a reduction in mileage, overtime, and routing planning time to improve efficiency.

The mileage savings have the added advantage of reducing the company’s carbon footprint, thus advancing green credentials and ensuring they meet increasingly stringent government regulations.

Shortening time from click to tree

With customer expectations soaring, logistics companies are under increased pressure in the run up to Christmas to deliver millions of online shopping orders with Santa-like efficiency.

By integrating data from existing workforce, fleet, and customer management systems, GIS can help overcome many of the traditional hurdles and reduce the time from click to tree.

Sourced from Simon Weaver, Analytics Programme Manager, Esri UK

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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Supply Chain Logistics