Consume, consolidate, optimise: continuous DC improvement


Donald Hastie, Group CEO of BlueSky Creations, explains the company’s new Optimize solution, and how it harnesses integrated data to drive constant improvement in distribution centres. 

BlueSky Creations started out four years ago with the ambition of providing companies with complete solutions aimed at automation and optimisation – bringing to bear the best in data analysis, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

While BlueSky’s solutions cover many areas – including solutions aimed at management of international rugby teams – the company has recently launched its Optimize solution with an eye to precisely address the challenges and opportunities of modern distribution centres. 

What Optimize does, says Donald Hastie, Group CEO of BlueSky Creations, is bring all the separate components of DC management – from labour management, to tracking incoming and outgoing units, and more – under one module such that data can be interlinked, understood, and acted upon in a comprehensive manner.

“But we also appreciate that many organisations already have discrete solutions for different components,” Donald says. “So, we don’t want them to lose the benefits of Optimize just because they don’t wish to replace one component – if they don’t want to replace their current time and attendance solution, for example. And that’s why we knew we had to build a very strong API integration model that can seamlessly gel with the solutions already in place.

“Completeness is critical, as is the ability to integrate. The secret sauce comes in where we apply the very latest mathematics, with IBM solvers, to concurrently view data and view multiple constraints at the same time to make better decisions.”

Donald says that for those wanting to optimise their DCs, the main thing they’re after is a way to better plan and better understand in advance the volume they’re going to manage, and how to match labour requirements precisely to the job in a flexible and dynamic environment. Greater visibility in advance as well as greater live tracking of how expectations are or are not being met. 

“Many traditional planners are exceptional individuals and spreadsheet wizards, but there’s only so far that they can go without integrated data and a complete solution,” he says. “Better planning requires mathematically determining your roster in terms of constraints – constraints that might involve, for instance, unexpected roadworks on the M1 which will make your truck half an hour later to the store. The ability to make those changes – to start half an hour early to get the pick on time – and manage those constraints is key.”

On top of that, the ability to react to what’s happening on a DC floor in real time is crucial, Donald says. 

“For example, our solution allows you to know that at 11:00am your team was supposed to have picked 93,500 cartons, while in reality at 11:05am 84,500 have been picked,” he says. “We are able to present that information, graphically, to the team leaders on the DC floor, such that they can ask: ‘What are our opportunities to deal with this latest information?’ The team leaders are only blind for five minutes, other than that they have full clarity. Full clarity on where people are working on tasks they shouldn’t be, or where their labour is being taken up by indirect tasks – which can be a nightmare for DCs. 

“Optimize can integrate with WMS systems harmoniously, so we know that the forklift driver, reporting from the voice unit on his truck, has picked 500 units – that kind of information is being supplied every five minutes and the DC operators are completely up to date.”

The Optimize Dashboard allows for sophisticated but accessible forecasting.

Donald says that BlueSky’s Optimize solution recently reaped dividends for a major retail distribution centre. 

“They were finding it very difficult to get proper visibility of their operations, and they didn’t want to rely just on industry standards – but they lacked the integrated data-focused capability to do anything else,” Donald says.

Using BlueSky’s Optimize they were able to assess DC operations in all their variability to come to an objective answer as to which DCs were working better than others, and why. 

This included granular analysis of costs. “What we could do is tell the DC at 11:05am exactly the dollar amount – to the cent – they had spent. And the numbers could further be broken down by task, by employment type, and so forth. We were able to show them how much was spent on labour hire, on fixed staff – the true costs including on-costs and payroll taxes. With Optimize they could now see the exact cost per task, per individual.”

Naturally, this meant that labour could be better allocated depending on the comparative advantages of individual workers performing different tasks.

“This organisation got a significant uplift in overall work rate,” Donald says. “But what we’re now going to see are small, incremental changes. It’s about continuous improvement, by point-one of one per cent at a time. Because – like in the 100m sprint – it’s the tiny improvements at the margin that make the difference.”

Distribution centre team leaders can track their success in reaching KPIs in real time, for better informed, flexible decision making.

Donald says that Optimize by BlueSky is the only solution that is truly complete and offers the possibility of mathematically fine-tuned, integrated, data driven decision making. 

“At the end of the day, it’s about visibility. It’s about forward planning. It’s about continuous improvement. Consume real-time data, consolidate on what’s working, optimise what’s not. Consume, consolidate, optimise. Consume, consolidate, optimise – rinse, repeat!”

For more information on BlueSky, click here.

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