After many years I find this to be one of the more difficult things to define.
At first glance, it looks straightforward.
The complex is complex!! .
It must mean oversized heavy items, multi origins to multi destinations, dangerous and distant locations, dangerous and hazardous cargo.
- Putting a person on the moon (the ultimate logistics delivery)
- Moving 500MT pieces of fabricated equipment to remote areas.
- Having to build bridges or create highways (the reason that the US developed their highways was in part for the movement of their military)
- Moving chemicals in Africa
These are all great examples of logistics, and I am still dreaming of the day when NASA gives me a call for a quote.
Moving an oil rig from the middle east to an offshore location in Nigeria.
The massive amount of work is required in planning at the early stages to give the client a price so they can win the business. Then repricing again and again and again every time the scope of the project changes. You can spend months and months on the planning alone. The level of negotiation and commercial input is obscene when considering the level of importance (or lack) given to the logistics planning.
The real fun, though, starts when it’s time to move the items—the daily struggles with communicating with all parties. The relentless problem solving and the number of backup plans that have to be tried and then thrown away as again the scope changes is literally like trying to build a house on quicksand. The faster you go and the higher you build, the quicker you sink.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it is exhausting.
But this is an obvious example of complex logistics.
What about the shipments that make up the bulk of the everyday,
- Local trucking
After 25 years of doing Logistics around the world, my vast experienced view (even if I say so myself) is that yes, they are all complex. Or at least create the opportunity to create complex situations.
How can regular airfreight be complex? By forgetting the reality that every day is a new day, the world changes and what was true yesterday may not be valid today.
Or just the simple perspective of inertia (we do it today because we did it yesterday etc.). I find one of the most dangerous “company think” that has become more widespread; not trying to side-track my point; however, at what point will we stop automating automation?
What was I saying.. ah yes
If we take the regular shipments for granted by believing they are straightforward, then this false view will slip from under your feet when there is a change. But unfortunately, we seem to have got into the habit of thinking that repetitive and easy as being the same thing.
We also have started believing that repetition is the same as no more effort required, which is quite an opposing view.
How many companies have been caught out with Brexit or the China lockdown? Although very different, they were environment operating changes, rather than changes to physical movement, i.e. the planes didn’t change only the conditions that companies worked.
I hold my hands up that this is a generalisation to simplify a thought process. The truth is that companies work very hard to keep their products and assets moving. But unfortunately, we live and operate in the most volatile period since the last world war.
I spend a lot of time advising my clients against generalising; however, most people would have got bored reading this post if I didn’t try and keep it direct.
So What is Complex Logistics
I have found that complex logistics is just a tool to achieve the fundamental goal of driving the business forward.
In the freight forwarding world, we often focus on the activity rather than the need. Some deliveries are complex; how to lift a 500MT transformer into a position requires great skill and planning. Moving 4 Antonovs into a country or repairing a bridge in Madagascar so trucks can pass safely.
- It wasn’t about building the rockets but how to get someone on the moon
- It’s not about planning, packing, and shipping the oil rig but how the company can pump oil.
- It’s more than making the same airfreight shipment but having inventory in the right place at the right time.
Complexity is about opportunity and the willingness of companies to look past their current abilities to achieve more. But, of course, every company is different and will have its view of what this looks like.
The reality is that complex is a point of view at that moment in time. Nevertheless, it is a marker to say we want to push the boundaries, and as a team, how do we do this? The complex is not a defined action but the company’s perspective wanting to drive the change.
I have managed to get this far into the post without mentioning the words Customs Clearance, which is quite impressive; why? Because this is one of the most complex elements of moving cargo across the world and one that can either do the most damage or help to deliver a successful project.
Yet, the complexity that comes from the need is even more significant.
- What is the company trying to achieve
- what is the end goal,
Everything else is details, important, scary, and stressful details but not the end reason for doing the project.
The companies that will look at complexity as a strategic value driver will continue to move their business forward, unlike those that may use it as a reason not to achieve.