Evolution of Logistics

The elements of logistics and the supply chain have, of course, always been fundamental to the manufacturing, storage and movement of goods and products. It is only relatively recently, however, that they have come to be recognized as vital functions within the business and economic environment. The role of logistics has changed in that it now plays a major part in the success of many different operations and organizations. In essence, the underlying concepts and rationale for logistics are not new. They have evolved through several stages of development, but still use the basic ideas such as trade-off analysis, value chains and systems theory together with their associated techniques.

There have been several distinct stages in the development of distribution and logistics.

1950s and early 1970s – In this period, distribution systems were unplanned and unformulated. Manufacturers manufactured, retailers retailed, and in some way or other the goods reached the shops. Distribution was broadly represented by the haulage industry and manufacturers’ own-account fleets. There was little positive control and no real liaison between the various distribution-related functions.

1960s and early 1970s – In the 1960s and 1970s the concept of physical distribution was developed with the gradual realization that the ‘dark continent’ was indeed a valid area for managerial involvement. This consisted of the recognition that there was a series of interrelated physical activities such as transport, storage, materials handling and packaging that could be linked together and managed more effectively. In particular, there was recognition of a relationship between the various functions, which enabled a systems approach and total cost perspective to be used. Under the auspices of a physical distribution manager, a number of distribution trade-offs could be planned and managed to provide both improved service and reduced cost. Initially the benefits were recognized by manufacturers who developed distribution operations to reflect the flow of their product through the supply chain.

1970s – This was an important decade in the development of the distribution concept. One major change was the recognition by some companies of the need to include distribution in the functional management structure of an organization. The decade also saw a change in the structure and control of the distribution chain. There was a decline in the power of the manufacturers and suppliers, and a marked increase in that of the major retailers. The larger retail chains developed their own distribution structures, based initially on the concept of regional or local distribution depots to supply their stores.

1980s – Fairly rapid cost increases and the clearer definition of the true costs of distribution contributed to a significant increase in professionalism within distribution. With this professionalism came a move towards longer-term planning and attempts to identify and pursue cost-saving measures. These measures included centralized distribution, severe reductions in stock-holding and the use of the computer to provide improved information and control. The growth of the third-party distribution service industry was also of major significance, with these companies spearheading developments in information and equipment technology. The concept of and need for integrated logistics systems were recognized by forward-looking companies that participated in distribution activities.

Late 1980s and early 1990s – In the late 1980s and early 1990s, and linked very much to advances in information technology, organizations began to broaden their perspectives in terms of the functions that could be integrated. In short, this covered the combining of materials management (the inbound side) with physical distribution (the outbound side). The term ‘logistics’ was used to describe this concept. Once again this led to additional opportunities to improve customer service and reduce the associated costs. One major emphasis made during this period was that informational aspects were as important as physical aspects in securing an effective logistics strategy.

1990s – In the 1990s the process was developed even further to encompass not only the key functions within an organization’s own boundaries but also those functions outside that also contribute to the provision of a product to a final customer. This is known as supply chain management. The supply chain concept gave credence to the fact that there may be several different organizations involved in getting a product to the marketplace. Thus, for example, manufacturers and retailers should act together in partnership to help create a logistics pipeline that enables an efficient and effective flow of the right products through to the final customer. These partnerships or alliances should also include other intermediaries within the supply chain, such as third-party contractors.

2000 to 2010 and beyond – Business organizations faced many challenges as they endeavored to maintain or improve their position against their competitors, bring new products to market and increase the profit-ability of their operations. This led to the development of many new ideas for improvement, specifically recognized in the redefinition of business goals and the re-engineering of entire systems.

Concepts of Logistics
Objectives of Logistics

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