Genesis of Modern Logistics

Looking back at the genesis of modern logistics, it is pretty clear that World War II military requirements played a major role in the modern system’s development. Many modern solutions have a military base, as the problems became known with multiple effect due to the very size of the organization. During World War II, the entire effort of supplying the troops with equipment, supplies, and food, and knowing where each unit was located was a massive effort.

Obtaining supplies from various suppliers, and a lack of standardization of terms was causing problems that needed to be solved. A whole new language eventually developed due to these problems. During the war, each branch of military Service had their own names for identical items used by each Service. The problem was multiplied by the fact that various manufacturers also had different names for identical items. If an item was short of supply in one branch of Service, another may have had extras, but the two were unaware of the supply situation.

Following World War II, the Hoover Commission determined that a system of standardized reference must be created so each Service would refer to identical supplies by the same name. This became law and the Federal Catalog System was created and used with success. NATO followed suit, and soon other countries did as well. Improvements were made in the 1960′s with the use of computers and standardized information exchange and computer communication. The system became the key to military logistics, ordering and processing, shipping, and supply management.

The genesis of modern logistics in the commercial world occurred somewhat later, with the inroads to business made via the internet and e-business. There were a variety of standardization systems, within industries and at various manufacturer levels. They did not have the advantage of the military organization to demand conformance at all levels. But, the standardization that did exist went a long way to help with improving supply management in the commercial world.

Manufacturers and users may have different coding systems. The bar codes are a great leap forward for inventory management, but those used by a manufacturer and a seller may vary. The user, or seller, will apply their own Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) to inventory as it is received, to work with their electronic systems of inventory counting. The manufacturer bar codes work for both the manufacturer in their processes, and for the buyer to help with purchasing. What the buyer does after receipt of inventory does not have to coordinate with the manufacturer bar codes. This is different than coding systems used by the military, where matching is advantageous. At buyer level having their own internal bar codes helps with the buying process, especially when receiving identical merchandise from different suppliers who will have different bar codes of their own.

In today’s military, logistics specialists utilize PCs and hand held scanners to track material, equipment, and personnel. Every piece of material has to have a tag, and the improvements over the 1991 war are immense. Items and troops can now be found, and shifted around between Services as needed, quickly. Using radio frequency (RF) and Automated Information Technology only works with a system of standardization. A corresponding system at use in the commercial world can be seen in the method of JIT (just in time) delivery of parts. Being able to obtain materials quickly when needed is the objective of all modern logistics.

The military juggles almost five million items, and this system for logistics is the nation’s largest and most controlled. The best way to control logistics is to control the data as it is entered, at the beginning. Planning and implementing a modern logistics system requires thought and planning from the start. Using standardization also helps to maintain quality control of items brought into the system. This also helps reduce defects at the manufacturer level, by requiring strict conformance to specifications that meet the logistics descriptions for that part.

Even with the best logistics system, communication between humans is essential for practical working of the system. The military again is at the forefront of development, working on compatible catalog systems. A system of item names was created with the ability to be translated into other languages, to afford compatibility between nations. They basically created a parts and supplies dictionary and language of its own to facilitate ordering.

In conclusion, standard logistics data is the genesis of modern logistics. The current and future systems for logistics management depend on the standardization of data. A system that has worked well for the immense size of the military has proven its worth and usefulness. It’s success under pressure has made it a hallmark for other systems of inventory management in the commercial world.