SJUK Exclusive: Solutions to solve the logistics puzzle

April 6, 2022


TBS explains how secure biometrics can help mitigate operational disruptions and protect critical supply chains.

The logistics sector is all about connecting, collecting at one point and depositing in another, carrying goods for further processing or directly to consumers. It’s an element for any organisation to find the balance between supply and demand, overproduction and stock capacity.

This is a sector that is so interconnected and interdependent that we can get what we want just moments after we click “order now” – and the smallest disturbance, such as a ship getting stuck in a canal, can have unforeseen ramifications.

Efficiency in logistics can only be achieved thanks to the connections between people on the ground, a combination of intelligent hardware and software, planning through procedures and communications and creating stability through safety and security.

Consumers only briefly experience the last step of the logistics chain; often the delivery person handing over a parcel at the doorstep. However, logistics is the backbone circulatory system of any economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this reality painfully evident and has placed the supply chain at almost the same level of strategic importance as public safety and healthcare.

Innovative yet vulnerable

The whole supply chain industry engages positively with technological innovation. The barcode and RFID revolutionised the management of stock and the traceability of deliveries. New improvement possibilities in the field of interconnection, interoperability and the convergence of data has unleashed a feedback loop where, the more you invest in intelligent systems, the better these become at increasing efficiency, speed, customer satisfaction and HR resources.

Where the limitations were once related with reach, capacity, competition and the transportation network, the challenges of today are rather different – digital efficiency, cybersecurity, site security, health and safety, staff availability and environmental impact, to name a few.

The impact of COVID-19 was harsh on SMEs working in the logistics space. Simultaneously, the large technological investments required to address security and health challenges further complicated their response. Moreover, experienced players in the market were also not immune and had to deal with a surge in demand for warehouse capacity, higher throughput in fulfilment centres and a huge competition for personnel which needed to operate a secure and safe environment.

Statistics suggest that ecommerce sales in the UK have risen £60 billion since 2020 alone. Simultaneously, we are witnessing increased labour shortage, lower unemployment rates and rising inflation. Finding creative ways to retain employees has become paramount. Ultimately, we all want a supply chain that is circular, lean and more efficient than ever.

Logistics sees in technology, a pathway towards increased resilience. IoT, AI and system interoperability has enabled the logistics industry to adopt automation, to efficiently use smaller decentralised warehouses, to plan better, to monitor and to increase the security of their daily operations. Despite all the advancements, there are still vulnerabilities in security – so much so that a single disruption can easily tip the scales, resulting in a domino effect of enormous consequences.

Embracing biometrics in the pursuit of security

Security threats to the logistics sector come in many forms: Internal or external; Preventable or unexpected or caused by machines, people or systems. Any breach in security can result in significant losses due to delays or unfulfilled obligations. They may even impact societies at large.

One can approach security by looking at physical and personal barriers, using CCTV, alarms and telemetry systems. However, individual identification as a key component to access can only be truly addressed through a proven technology like biometrics.

Biometrics integrated into supply chains dates back to 1999 at the Rotterdam seaport with the identification of lorry drivers. Coupled with cargo location, the system allows for traceability, thus optimising schedules, delivery and space management.

Importantly, biometrics avoids an unfortunate known phenomena where access to restricted areas in ports is obtained somehow by acquiring an RFID allowing the proliferation of illegal trafficking. In 2008, Heiko A. von der Gracht foresaw the wide adoption of biometrics in the logistics sector in ‘The Future of Logistics: Scenarios for 2025’ and stated that: “Biometric identification has become standard identification technology in logistics and enables fast and secure access control”.

Indeed, IT and technology innovation allows biometric access control systems not only to identify an employee at a warehouse but to also trigger alarms on the site, control environmental systems, activate machinery, account for specific employees in premises or on the road and qualify their access to areas. Biometric identification is therefore not an isolated security component but a daily and recurrent token in regular activities.

Addressing a connected solution

Biometric access control in the logistics environment can give a security system the necessary improvement it needs when it comes to external and internal security by addressing identification which cannot be challenged.

Biometric identification provides organisations with the necessary visibility of who has been in a particular place at a given time and who was also there at the same time. There is a legitimate interest in processing such data through biometry. Equally legitimate are the concerns related to privacy and data management.

In “Tracking and tracing COVID: Protecting privacy and data while using apps and biometrics”, the OECD cautions that the use of biometrics (including facial recognition) in response to COVID-19 raises a number of privacy and security concerns.

Biometrics for a workforce management solution

Even though biometric identity is more closely associated with pure security, a biometric marker has plenty of possibilities. As an identifier, it can be a signature, a personal token capturing a snapshot of time and space.

The adoption of biometrics for time and attendance application systems is somewhat prevalent but, from an HR perspective, far more can be done than just clocking in and out. By connecting different inputs and outputs, attendance is just the starting point of a workforce management ecosystem.

Workforce management can help when setting up measures to prevent the spread of diseases through biometry, by identifying (and providing access) to those who have the necessary health inspection clearance, identifying the presence of an individual with the necessary first-aid credentials or identifying groups of individuals who are potentially ill.

As opposed to absenteeism, “presenteeism” is becoming a phenomenon which HR departments must handle more often. Approximately 50% of employees in the UK go to work sick at least once a year because there are loyal staff and they care about other colleagues in peak time or they fear losing their job. This has good intentions but has serious consequences. Biometrics in workforce management can also be used to provide confirmation of an individual, whether they are staff working in security, facility management or maintenance.

Securing systems, processes and workflows

Intelligent systems for security and HR must address multiple areas, hence biometrics should be part of such holistic approaches. Likewise, biometric security and safety should be flexible, adaptable and context-specific.

Warehouses, fulfilment centres, post and parcel delivery services face very different challenges when it comes to the number of people employed, how spread out its operations are and even the products they specialise in; when a product at the centre of a logistics operation is of extreme value or risk, such as currency, chemicals or art, the challenge is to ensure business continuity in the face of a crisis.

As stated by the World Economic Forum: “[Logistics] has to be resilient and capable of adapting to major disruptions so that it can develop long term strategies and solutions to these complex challenges. Industry and academia are collaborating to develop innovative and sustainable practices.”

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This article was originally published in the April edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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