Bringing the ‘Meta’ change in supply chain through VR

Virtual Reality. What comes to mind when I first think about it? Well, probably like everyone else, I am immediately transported to Facebook’s recent change of its name to Meta Platforms Ltd. or Meta in short. Why not? It is the latest ‘buzzword’ to capture our attention. But what is Metaverse and why is there such hype around it?

The term was first used in the fictional novel Snow Crash in the year 1992. But almost 3 decades later, I realize that a fictional concept has now become reality. Metaverse is an ‘environment’ that stirs virtual reality with other technologies. It is a virtual community where, through their VR and AR headsets/glasses and smart devices, people can connect with each other for social, professional or just leisure purposes. It essentially enables you to lead a virtual life as seamlessly as your real one.

The metaverse is touted to be a revolutionary concept, especially in a post COVID world giving an edge to the work-from-home scenario. This does intrigue me to a point of asking myself whether virtual reality can be utilized to enhance other than our social lives at large.

And I think – can VR disrupt the logistics and supply chain landscape as we know it, to bring about changes we haven’t encountered yet? The answer is rather simple. Technology has been making its way deeper through the logistics and supply chain industry, particularly in post-pandemic India. There has been a significant increase in the use of automation (both hardware and software) and robotics, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to simplify operations and enhance user experience. 

I recently enlightened myself with the fact that DHL – the global logistics mammoth – has trained its employees to use AR for making the picking process less prone to error. It enhances efficiency from something as basic as fitting items in the cart to find out the best route for delivery.

Another area that can benefit immensely from the application of VR is employee performance and training overview. There are multiple levels at which this could work. Firstly, rather than conventional methods, an immersive virtual environment can be useful to train employees on, say, the dynamics of warehouse and supply chain operations. This will not only employ the do-and-learn strategy but will also reduce the trial and error risk by large while training them on real-time decision making in high-risk situations. Secondly, a client, manager or trainer sitting in New Delhi can address/review/train the employees of a warehouse/logistics company based in Chennai without having to fly in physically. In addition to the advantages mentioned above, there will be a major reduction in cost and time (travel, lodging, tools). The cost of investing in VR Tools like glasses, headsets, smart devices will, at the end of the day, be justified with the reduction of cost and time saving resultant of using VR.

The warehousing sector in India is growing with leaps and bounds. New and better warehouses are cropping up not only in Tier-1 but Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities as well. In the case of warehouses, VR’s interactive visualization capability can be leveraged as it will allow engineers, architects and designers to shift through designs and blueprints, and evaluate them on the spot. Not to forget is the VR’s ability to connect people from different corners of the world in a common virtual environment, and reduce the costs of creating physical prototypes along with early experimentation. With this, the increase in efficiency is imperative along the process.

There are various other benefits that Indian logistics and supply chains can derive from the application of VR in operations. However, it should be noted that since all organizations have their own model of running, VR should be induced keeping in mind the strategic game-plan of the organization. A slow and steady adoption of a new technology will, in most cases, be better than a rapid roll-out.

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