business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

In 1894, London faced an emerging problem of stunning concern. At the time, the streets of the city were clogged with horse-drawn conveyances of all types. The roughly 50,000 horses in London all had digestive systems, which meant that the streets of London also were being clogged by horse waste.

The problem wasn’t confined to London, of course. New York was estimated to have 100,000 horses producing 2.5 million pounds of manure daily not to mention the added problems of horse urine and dead horse corpses. The Times of London captured the concern of the day by predicting that by 1944 the streets of the city would be constantly buried under nine feet of manure.

Obviously that didn’t happen. The automobile was invented. And while automobiles weren't invented specifically to address the horse manure problem, this averted crisis can be seen as a good example of how even the most dire problems can be mitigated by smart solutions.

It also reminds us of how important it is to look forward and see where the storm clouds are massing, so we can come up with solutions sooner rather than later.

Supply Chain recently reported on a similar coming crisis, which got me thinking about those horses in London. Thanks to the explosion of delivery services, cities around the globe are just beginning to grapple with the challenge of what to do with all the traffic that entails. As Supply Chain Drive explains, New York is a prime (pardon the pun) example. As customers increasingly turn to delivery of goods, companies need find ways of handling that treacherous last mile.

It’s easy to see this already. The last two apartment buildings where my daughter has lived both remade their lobbies to accommodate the flood of packages arriving every day. Supply Chain Drive extrapolated what all those deliveries are going to mean to already-crowded city streets and projected that endless gridlock is in our future.

The website quotes a New York-based professor who pointed out that this rush to delivery makes it clear that old fashioned shopping trips done one shopper at a time are actually more efficient. So too is the notion of finding new ways to consolidate shipping to permit drivers to make many deliveries in a single trip.

For the moment, there is no solution at hand. Shoppers increasingly like and rely on delivery services and those services, in turn rely on roads and drivers - two commodities that are increasingly in short supply.

Rather than simply look at the London manure crisis as a model for hope, we would be better served to consider the likely realities of this situation. Increasingly congested roads will only lead to additional delivery problems at all parts of the supply chain and will only increase the pressure from existing driver shortages. So it behooves all of us to focus on logistics and how to possibly wring even more inefficiencies out of the system.

Go figure, it might even give stores an ability to provide environmentally aware shoppers with an important reason to do their own shopping rather than outsource it to, say, Amazon.

But most importantly, it reminds us to keep looking to the horizon for the problems and opportunities coming at us in tomorrow’s world and to find solutions that work for both our customers and us.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

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