The 2011 Census of India is underway from Feb 9th to Feb 28th 2011. 1 billion + people will be reached and counted. Truly a monumental logistical task!
But logistics tasks, nearly as mighty and monumental as the census, is undertaken everyday by scores of companies and organizations – .
The principles used in the Census of India 2011 and used by these companies is similar.
The census is done once in 10 years. What is phenomenal and magical is that these companies and institutions do this daily and everyday.
In the census Enumerators reach out, meet and count everyone of the citizen of India, however remote and inaccessible the place is. Great!
But in these same remote and inaccessible places you will find toothpaste, soaps, shampoos, noodles, soft drinks, blades, tea being sold. How did these products reach there?
Journey of FMCG and daily commodities
FMCG Companies have a depot in each state. Products are despatched from the Plants to Distribution Centres. From the Distribution Centres, products are despatched to the Depots. From the Depots, stocks are despatched to the Stockists. Stockists then distributes these stocks to wholesellers. From these wholesellers the product is bought by the shopkeeper (retail outlet owner) who then carries them to his village. The consumer then purchases these products from the retail outlet in a remote village or hamlet.
The time taken from the time the product gets produced to the time a consumer picks it up could be as much as 90 days. This is termed as supply chain velocity. Some companies measure supply chain velocity from the time the raw material was produced. Supply chain velocity is primarily dependent on the inventory levels at each pocket (Plant, Distribution Centre, Depot, Stockist, Retailer). Inventory is in turn dependent on forecast accuracy, transit times, frequency of replenishment, frequency of salesmen visit. Supply chain velocity impacts the freshness of the product and in case of a new product launch, the timing of the launch.
Letters and Post
India Post is another organization that has a very wide reach and distribution. A letter posted from any corner of India to any other corner manages to reach the correct door 1000s of kilometres away. Truly magical! The principle here is that consolidation happens at the source and then again distribution happens at the end.
A letter from Tuticorin to Darjeeling would fisrt go to Tuticorin Main Post Office. From Tuticorin the letter would be sorted out as going to West Bengal Circle (Calcutta). The letter would travel from Tuticorin to Chennai and then onwards to Calcutta. From Calcutta the letter would be combined with all letters going towards Darjeeling and sent to Siliguri from where it would be sent onwards to Darjeeling. At Darjeeling the letter would get sorted by Postman and delivered to the correct door.
A courier company follows a similar process.
ATMs have become ubiquitous! How does the cash reach the ATMs in remote locations. The key to success here is the micro-planning of the route and beat of each of the vans which carry cash.
Each route is planned in meticulous detail as the amount of cash that the van can carry has to be balanced with the time taken to complete the route replenishing all the ATMs. To illustrate this, assume that a van can carry cash for 20 ATMs. If the ATMs are spaced far away, the van may be able to cover only 15 ATMs in the 12 hours shift. And the van has to come back at the end of the shift. So the van capacity (of 20 ATMs’ cash) is underutilized as it covers only 15 ATMs. On the other hand there could be a situation where the ATMs are densely packed close by and the van covers the 20 ATMs in 6 hours. The Van then has to travel back (spending time and fuel) to reload the cash and then go for another round. This leads to a sub-optimal utilization of the van as it has wasted time coming back and reloading.
The pulse-polio campaign worked on a similar model. Pulse polio volunteers are distributed the oral vaccines at a central place. The volunteers then fan out and do their noble cause of vaccinating children against polio. The vaccines are sent to hub. From the hub the vaccines are collected by volunteers and taken to different villages and towns.
There are lot many more examples. The intent here is to help you appreciate the magic which happens everyday; something that we take for granted and do not even spare a thought for.
The next time you go on a trek or visit a remote village or holiday on a remote island the Andamans and find your favourite brand of tea or coffee or chocolate or noodles or fizzy drink, think about the magic that brought it there.