A One-Year Journey with the Global Impact Team
By Ryan Purcell, LLamasoft Director of Global Impact
One of the best parts of working at LLamasoft is getting to meet and work with all the smart, interesting, friendly, and fun LLamas in our Herd – folks like Emily Cho. As an intern over the past year, Emily showed a willingness to work and curiosity to learn that left a positive impact across LLamasoft. She hit the ground running from Day 1, stepped up to own new challenges on multiple occasions, and – as evidenced by her reflections below – led and supported work across a number of subject areas. It’s impressive to see a student be able to make such consistent contributions in a corporate environment while balancing her engineering course load during a normal school year. But throw a global pandemic into the mix and you get an even deeper appreciation for Emily’s talent, ethic, and equanimity. Once a LLama, always a LLama – thanks for everything, Emily!
By Emily Cho, LLamasoft Intern – Global Impact
Well, this is it! The final few days of my internship with LLamasoft. The past year has been an amazing experience and I can’t believe it has ended so soon. I gained an up-close look at the future of supply chains, learned how technological innovation and sustainability will change the industry, and received countless gifts of llama paraphernalia from friends and family.
This goodbye is made all the more difficult since I have to say it from afar. Since I can’t see everyone in person, I thought I would write this farewell blog post to share some of the things I’ve learned over the last 12 months and what I’ll carry with me beyond this experience.
Sustainable Supply Chains
When I started at LLamasoft in June 2019, the Global Impact Team was just starting its discovery work on sustainable supply chains. Through my sustainability minor at UofM, I learned about business sustainability and was excited to see how LLamasoft planned to enable its customers’ sustainability efforts.
There are a lot of scary statistics that are thrown around regarding climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates we only have until 2030 to prevent the worst effects of climate change like mass extinctions and irreversible melting of ice sheets. To keep up with (pre-COVID) economic growth and do their part to prevent global warming, companies will need to cut their carbon intensity by 90 percent.
This may seem like an impossible number, but there’s an opportunity to make real progress toward that goal through supply chains. A typical consumer company’s supply chain accounts for more than 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 90 percent of its environmental impact.
The Sustainability team spoke to dozens of companies across many different industries over the summer. As an intern, this was an invaluable experience, to see how huge corporations are incorporating sustainability into their normal business operations. Amongst the companies with whom we spoke, there was a wide range in how advanced their sustainability practices were. For many companies, sustainability is a consideration but is not a key factor in typical supply chain decisions.
Corporate sustainability teams recognize supply chain changes must be made, but don’t know how, nor do they know that tools already exist to help them do it. Our team’s goal was to help fill this gap by identifying ways LLamasoft tools could support customers’ sustainability goals. We investigated specific business models, like circular economies, where sustainability improvements align with cost savings. We also researched ways to incorporate sustainability planning in LLamasoft technologies by identifying the key metrics set by sustainability accounting organizations like the Carbon Disclosure Project and Global Reporting Initiative.
Ultimately, I think the most important part of our work was starting conversations both within LLamasoft and with customers about sustainability in supply chains. Collaboration will be key to redesigning industry to support a sustainable future. Getting to see everyone excited about how we could make a difference on this issue during my final presentation was easily the highlight of my summer!
Last Mile Delivery
Once the summer ended, I switched to a part-time position throughout the school year and began working on a ‘LLamanomics’ internal research project focused on last-mile delivery. Through this team, I had the opportunity to work with LLamas from 4 different continents and learned about a side of supply chains I hadn’t been exposed to before. As I learned more about last-mile delivery, I quickly discovered how it fit into the larger picture of sustainability in supply chains.
In the World Economic Forum’s Future of the Last Mile Delivery Ecosystem Report (in which LLamasoft is cited as a contributor!) WEF predicts that there will be a 78 percent growth in urban last-mile delivery. Consequently, emissions from delivery traffic will increase by 32 percent, and traffic congestion could lead to an additional 11 minutes to the average city dweller’s commute. It’s clear there needs to be an alternative to this outcome, so emerging last-mile trends like drone delivery, parcel lockers, and electric vehicles are being considered as potential solutions.
Our team focused on Off-Peak Hours Delivery (OPHD), where last-mile deliveries are made at times where traffic is relatively low (usually late at night and early morning) to improve delivery route efficiency. We investigated whether businesses could improve asset utilization, reduce fuel consumption, and spend less time overall per delivery through OPHD. We started in São Paulo, Brazil, one of the most congested cities in the world, to see how OPHD might be a solution for companies who were wasting fuel and time stuck in traffic jams that can extend over 100 miles. From here, we expanded our models to include New York, Birmingham (UK), and Beijing.
Overall, we found that for companies operating in cities with high traffic congestion, OPHD is a promising solution for saving time and delivery costs. There are some implementation challenges, however, like higher labor costs for night workers both on the delivery and reception sides, so we also worked to build a profile for the kind of company OPHD is the right fit for.
It was really exciting that the LLamasoft customers we collaborated with on this project showed consistent interest in our work. I learned a lot through this research, and it further reinforced to me the value of collaboration when solving difficult problems!
COVID-19 and Supply Chains
The last two months of my time at LLamasoft have brought many unexpected learning experiences. COVID-19 is causing new challenges for industries everywhere, and it has been especially interesting to see these challenges from inside a supply chain company.
The trends our LLamanomics team followed in last-mile delivery have been upended by the pandemic, with traffic rates in our highly congested cities plummeting. My final project entailed researching how the pandemic might change last-mile delivery and predict what emerging trends might be accelerated as a result.
On the demand side, customers are ordering online more than ever before to avoid trips to physical stores. This sudden shift is straining delivery capacity, specifically at the local level, since consumer products are often bulky and expensive to ship. If the reliance on e-commerce is sustained once lockdown orders are lifted, we may see an accelerated adoption of rising last-mile trends like curbside pickup, parcel lockers, and delivery subscriptions.
The way packages are delivered could also change, with further development of both land- and air-based autonomous delivery vehicles. In response to the need to limit face-to-face contact during this time, China’s largest online retailer, JD.com, deployed its autonomous robot delivery technology to Wuhan in February. These robots, which have been operating in Changsha and Hohhot since January 2019, were upgraded to handle larger-size packages for medical and grocery stock-ups. Piloting these technologies during the lockdowns could fast-track the use of autonomous vehicles for mainstream usage.
Finally, in response to the erratic purchasing behavior throughout this crisis, use of historical data for demand planning may be replaced by AI and demand sensing algorithms. LLamasoft’s new app on llama.ai, the LLamasoft Demand Impact Analyzer recognizes that historical data is not much help for demand forecasting in the current environment. The app, which was developed over the past month, pulls in recent data sets for near-term demand forecasting.
When I started at LLamasoft, I never expected any of my projects would entail trying to make sense of a global pandemic. It’s a strange time, but it has been encouraging to see everyone working together to find a way through this!
All Good Things…
I came across this opportunity by chance, at the Michigan Engineering career fair, where I first learned about the Global Impact Team. Its mission to positively impact the world through technology really resonated with me, and I knew it would be a great fit. Over the past year at LLamasoft, I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I had the opportunity to complete my own research projects, give presentations on my findings to LLamas across the organization, and even learned how to use some of the LLamasoft tools along the way.
I also learned more than I could have imagined, and discovered a career path I didn’t know existed. I saw how I could incorporate solving the global issues that I am passionate about into a career, and gained role models in people who have dedicated their careers to making a difference.
This has been an amazing experience and I couldn’t be more grateful for all I’ve learned. To the entire Global Impact Team, my cubicle buddies in Customer Support, and the countless other LLamas who have gone out of their way to offer support and advice over the last year, thank you for making me feel like part of the herd!