10 Applications of UX in Logistics and Supply Chain
Understanding the implications of UX in complex processes such as logistics and supply chains is not straightforward. It is one of the primary reasons why even the major IT service providers in this industry often overlook them.
User experience (UX) should not be treated as merely an afterthought. Instead, it should be recognized as a crucial step in the overall design process. Unfortunately, complicated enterprise applications for supply chains such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Order Management System (OMS) are often the least user-friendly.
Thus, it is crucial to develop a UX roadmap that evolves such legacy applications; while reimagining their user perspective and making it all about the interface.
If you are in this boat, let’s dive deeper and understand UX in Logistics and Supply chains.
1. Re-imagining the user perspective
The supply chain ecosystem consists of legacy applications. Moreover, it involves many business entities such as manufacturers, warehouses, shipping & transportation companies, and distributors.
Since each entity follows its own set of processes and procedures — often prolonged and tedious — their end-users (enterprises) find it challenging to use the new digital technologies that promise to transform traditional business models into a faster and smarter approach.
For example, consider a brand new OMS — designed with cutting-edge features such as intelligent match-making between buyers and suppliers, visualizing business processes, inventory analytics, etc. Yet, it fails to achieve its true potential.
Why? Because it requires a deep understanding of complex business processes and knowledge about that company’s current state.
It is the failure to meet the end user’s expectations — right from their own perspectives. This can be overcome by using simple yet powerful design principles in your application before taking it out in the market.
2. Leveraging the power of visual communication
Creating real-time visualizations in your supply chain application gives users a contextual understanding of how their data is shaping up, backed by automated processes that ensure successful delivery.
Consider this example of an enterprise that manufactures and supplies biomass pellets to fertilizer companies all over Europe. Traditionally, the supply chain process involves transferring bulk biomass pellets from the production unit to individual trucks.
These trucks are then supposed to deliver it on time (minimizing any delays) right at the customer’s disposal. However, observing the process at an aggregate level does not help in assessing where exactly the delay is taking place.
For example, if the truck reaches the customer’s warehouse 30 minutes late than scheduled, there are two possible causes:
1) The truck’s engine broke down en route or
2) The driver missed his exit on the highway.
If you are looking for a simple & effective solution to understand the root cause of this delay in the supply chain — visualize the entire process.
Visualizing helps identify issues and enables you to communicate them effectively with your stakeholders (such as truck drivers, transportation companies, etc.).
3. Mobile UX applications
With the rise of mobility, there has also been an exponential growth in the usage of mobile devices to access enterprise applications.
This is where mobile UX in logistics & supply chain management becomes crucial. Smartphones can streamline the entire logistics value chain.
For example, consider this scenario of a warehouse supervisor responsible for tracking inventory levels on mobile devices. He has access to real-time inventory updates, asset management reports, supplier audits, etc., at all times, no matter where he is.
So, next time you deploy a logistics application — make sure you test it for mobile responsiveness and user experience across all operating systems before going live! It can increase the chances of early adoption by industry players.
4. Creating an omnichannel brand experience
Supply chains involve multiple touchpoints that eventually lead to customer satisfaction. This means that the overall brand experience is determined by the end user’s interaction with several entities (or at least, different parts of your organization!).
This can be done by creating unified channels for customers to engage with your company — whether through sales agents or social media — and having them communicate seamlessly across these channels.
For example, consider a chain of international hotels known for seamless coordination across multiple touchpoints through its global customer care.
To do this efficiently, they need to ensure accurate information sharing with travel agents, providing them real-time updates about guests’ check-in & check-out plans, or even proactively book guest requests that are communicated via social channels. Thus, UX would play a central role here both at employee and customer-facing ends. Any lack may lead to negative experiences for end customers or create costly process bottlenecks for employees.
5. Using predictive analytics to improve UX
Predictive analytics or business intelligence uses historical trends and data to predict future outcomes. It helps minimize risks, increase efficiency, and boost revenues through efficient decision-making.
These insights can be made available to users as real-time metrics that enable them to make informed decisions — such as predicting when a shipment is most likely to reach its destination and how many resources would be required to complete the journey.
Supply chain managers armed with such insights can make informed decisions. Moreover, they can avoid potential disruptions or choose a suitable alternative route. They can also identify risks from third-party entities more easily, enabling them to develop countermeasures at an early stage.
With this in mind, imagine the role that the right design philosophy can play here. For example, data visualization tools help make big data more digestible and actionable for users. This fuels better and quicker supply chain decisions. Thus, every detail, including clarity of charts and speed of calculations, needs to be taken into account during the design process.
6. Designing smart logistics apps & IoT-based services
The Internet of Things (IoT) is all about connecting devices over the internet. From TVs, mobile phones to appliances in homes — pretty much everything can connect with each other via cloud technology. Thus, this would also lead to greater usage of devices across sectors like healthcare, energy, and logistics.
Of course, the most significant advantage of the IoT is that it offers more granular access to GPS-based information. This can increase efficiency by helping companies track trucks on long routes in real-time instead of periodically on scheduled stops. The same can also ensure better inventory management. But how does UX come into the picture here?
With all this ‘connectedness’ and constant data exchange come the associated challenges of managing user expectations. The key to ensuring successful implementation is offline-online integration. It ensures that users do not feel unfamiliar with one or more channels when using multiple interfaces simultaneously.
7. Designing the supply management suite of business software
No matter how advanced supply chain technology becomes, companies need to ensure that processes are managed well at the back-end. All necessary information is fed into existing systems in real-time. This can be done by designing an integrated business software solution for this purpose. Again, the suitable UX can play a crucial role here; making this solution easy to use and ensuring that all information flows is automatic — rather than requiring manual entry. This ensures faster decision-making capabilities without worrying about a lack of necessary tools or other breakdowns.
8. Aiding better decision making through self-learning AI
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already playing a major role in the logistics and supply chain industry. Mobile robots, smart trucks and drones are helping organizations boost efficiency to outpace the competition. And this is where UX takes precedence.
Although AI-based applications can be intimidating for first-time users, such as those faced with Siri or Alexa, simple GUIs can help reduce this intimidation factor. More subtle use of color, typography, and other elements can be enough to demonstrate the basic functionalities of an application — while avoiding any potential negative impact on user experience. UX Designers would be especially useful at this stage. They help ensure that the learning curve is not too steep and users familiarize themselves with the app quickly.
9. Implementing smart technology for autonomous vehicles
Autonomous vehicles are here, with companies like Uber already conducting trials on driverless cars. While this is likely to take time before it becomes the norm, it does bring up an interesting prospect; how can UX help in smart vehicle management?
There are several ways. For instance, self-driving trucks may need to implement more intuitive user interfaces within cabins so that drivers do not feel left out of the loop. In a similar vein, cars can benefit from UI elements that help ease information sharing between drivers and passengers.
In addition, remotely-operated vehicles also need to factor UX into their tech designs; to ensure ease of operation and minimal chances of accidents. Other technologies like gesture and touch controls can aid in this; along with the right use of colors, sounds, and other elements.
10. Deploying smart warehousing and inventory management solutions
The warehouse is one of the most common interface points in the logistics and supply chain industry. Here automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) play a critical role. Modern solutions deploy advanced robotics to streamline storage and retrieval operations. And, they require the introduction of smart terminals that can deal with interfaces- a touchscreen or even voice UIs.
While these systems already help reduce manual labor significantly, they also require training for new users. This is where UX designers can make a critical difference; by creating a smooth learning curve while ensuring that users familiarize themselves with the new technology quickly. Then, it becomes much easier to implement self-service warehousing and inventory solutions (SSWI) even in large organizations.
Although these are just some quick pointers on the complex field of UX in logistics and supply chain, it does help show how important UX is in the industry. Whether you are already working as a logistics and supply chain manager or designer — or if you plan to enter this field, having a good understanding of UX design will help improve every stage of your work.
There is no denying that UX is increasingly taking center stage. As an interface between technology and users, it is vital to have experts who can create intuitive experiences — especially in the complex world of logistics and supply chains.
While investments are necessary to improve the UX, it does help companies gain a critical competitive advantage over organizations that are slow to adopt modern solutions. With the right UX experts and professionals in place, businesses can start enjoying the benefits of better customer service, higher revenues, and better overall product experiences.