By Anthony Liu
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Darwin’s Origin of Species.
"Adapt or die," what has been the slogan of modern biology, unconsciously, became the slogan of the society today. Just three words, illustrate the nature of life evolution, and also reveal the cold and cruel truth. All species have only two choices in their evolution, survival or elimination. In nature, organisms must be able to adapt to their habitat to survive. This means changing their body or behavior to survive from change in climate, and predators or other species that compete for the same food or space. The same is true for businesses.
“Adapt or Die: Your Survival Guide to Modern Warehouse Automation ” is also the name of a book written by Jeremy Bodenhamer, the CEO and founder of ShipHawk. The main focus of the book is showing on how small businesses can survive and thrive form the challenges and threats that industry monopolies have presented. Small and medium businesses could be easily destroyed if inefficiencies in supply chain are not minimized. “Adapt or Die” reveals the author’s solutions for it.
In the book, he first paints the current landscape of ecommerce and warehousing, by giving an overview of the “big 5” (Amazon, Shopify, Google, JD.com, and Alibaba), including their competitive advantages and vision. The author thinks its important to provide analysis of the big players before offering advises. He then goes into details about how AI and data are utilized in warehouse automation to increase efficiency and competence. Bodenhemer makes this, what could be a dry and complex topic, interesting and easy to understand by giving real life examples and stories showing how automation can optimize efficiency in the core areas of shipping, packing, warehousing, fulfillment analytics, robotics, and operations workers.
Despite the rapidly changing environment, the ultimate goal stays the same: to improve efficiency and effectiveness. That is, to accomplish something with the least amount of wasted time, money, and effort or competency in performance, while being able to produce a desired result with a high degree of success. With that being said, the amount of waste being created by manufacturers and carriers for during packing and shipping today is staggering.
“Most business-to-consumer entities lose somewhere between 2 percent and 5 percent of net sales on shipping expenses.” This means for a small retailer with a $5 million net sales will spend between $100,000 to $200,000 more than it could on shipping. These numbers are mostly contributed by supply chain inefficiency in areas such as selection of carriers, warehousing, lack of information on rules, fees, and tariffs, and poor packaging metrics. For example, for packaging, “the average box is 40% larger than it needs to be. This, in cost and environmental terms, results in an additional sixty million truckloads annually.”
The increasing scarcity of natural resources is a major challenge facing the world today. Therefore, optimizing the efficiency of resource use which can achieve ecological and economic benefits should be the core element of production and operation. According to the book, “90 percent of plastic created since 1950 are not recycled till today.” Bodenhamer argues that warehouse automation would optimize the utilization of materials or resources, therefore saving money for businesses and help preserve the earth.
Bodenheimer also spends a fair number of pages to discuss the importance of employees, explaining why companies should reinvest its profits in workers’ working condition. While the book argues that automation is the key to survival, people are still imperative. The people are the company. The author claims that if you want to differentiate your business from the Amazons and Wal-Marts of the world - and outlast them - it's vital how the people are treated. “Doing so may increase profitability and by reducing turnover and its associated costs, improving employee engagement, output, and each worker’s investment in the business’ success.”
It is clear that many elements warehousing and shipping have long been neglected by many business owners. Traditional approaches to strategy don’t often work because the environment is unpredictable and unstable. With a focus on warehouse automation, “Adapt or Die” shows a way of survival for the very businesses that will define the next decade and beyond. Unlike species that naturally adapt over the span of multiple generations or centuries, we don’t have much time and must proactively and continually adjust our core mindset and culture to embrace adaptability and evolution, as individuals, organizations, and as a society.
Disclaimer: The review of this book was not in exchange a payment or a sponsorship by the author of the book or the software company.
Bodenhamer, J. (2020). Adapt or Die: Your Survival Guide to Modern Warehouse Automation. Houndstooth Press.
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