Innovation within globalisation

An ASDA Mercedes-Benz Sprinter delivery van.

Last week I was looking out of my hotel room into a dreary Hannover morning and observed a guy delivering some cartons. The event was so commonplace that only someone with all the time in the world would have noticed anything out of the ordinary. I was that someone.

So this guy pulls up in front of the hotel, gets one wheel on the pavement and parks this van. He gets out of the driver’s cabin, goes around to the back of the vehicle and presses a button and half the back slowly opens, coming to a horizontal position to become an extended platform. The guy climbs on and disappears into the back of the van. A few seconds later I can see a pallet stacked with the delivery merchandise come out onto the ‘platform’ and the guys manoeuvres it to sit at a funny angle on the far side. He ducks back in and wheels out a manual forklift which he fits under the pallet, pumps the handle to pick up the consignment and then presses another button that brings the platform slowly down to road level. He pulls the forklift and proceeds to deliver the cartons, comes back and quickly reloads the forklift back on to the van, shuts the back and drives away to the next drop off. All this is accomplished in about 5 minutes – less than the time it took for me to write this post.

I am wondering why we don’t see this efficiency in India. Then it clicks. I have just been able to save myself from falling into the trap of wanting to ‘lift’ something from Germany and plant it in India. My mind whirrs at a pace I’m not used to.

I’m thinking …

1. It must cost a bomb to get to the level of engineering I had just witnessed. Would it make as much sense to invest into automation in a land of people abundance? Where’s the trade-off between automating and employing human beings from a purely commercial perspective.

2. To be able to fully leverage automation we might have to modify all the existing ‘interfaces’. for example, the pavement would have to be a certain height so the van could climb easily to park. We would have to ensure that all pavements are clear of unwanted, illegal junk. All buildings might need to have access ramps that would also facilitate access for wheelchairs, etc.

3. The business case for automation might have to account for the availability and cost of human labour. If we were able to find a go-between in terms of providing higher levels of safety to workers and reduce the strain of carrying and conveying, would we have a different automate/don’t automate paradigm for countries like India.

Globalisation needs us to think in ways that can leverage technology and human resources – in local contexts. One size will not fit all any longer.

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