Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

The Many Facets of India


In the city of Pune, India, there are factories as modern and sophisticated as any you will find in Europe or the U.S., but to get to them you have to navigate a one-lane dirt road traveled by water buffalo, large masses of people, and other vehicles. Sometimes the bridge to these factories is underwater during the monsoon season.

I found contrasts like these everywhere during a recent trip to India, and they say as much about the challenges of globalization as the country itself.

Picture a family perched on a motor cycle that is sharing the road with fully loaded trucks. Or a delivery truck edging its way along a one-lane track behind a man pushing a hand cart full of produce on his way to market.

In one place I saw three vehicles in a line that summed up this land of contrasts. There was a roughly customized mini-pallet truck, a truck flamboyantly decorated by its owner, and a tractor trailer that could have driven off a western highway.

Many of these differences can be seen in the transition from urban to rural parts of the country. The road from Mumbai to Pune is a good example. Mumbai is the teeming megacity that to a westerner can seem like an alien world. It can easily take two hours to get from one side of Mumbai to another. The trip to Pune is only 94 miles. The highway that connects the two cities is what you’d expect of a modern road. However, once you reach Pune and are within mere miles of a factory, it can take as long as an hour to navigate the single-lane, dirt country roads to your final destination.

So what do images like these teach us about doing business in countries such as India?

The well known adage “think global, act local” comes to mind. Multinational shippers must operate globally to the highest standards of service quality and profitability. But they also must be responsive to the kind of local demands I’ve just described.

Delve deeper into the operational weeds and you will see how tough this balancing act can be.

A global shipper gauges the performance of their freight network with metrics such as payload utilization. But how do they apply the metric in a country where equipment comes in many, non-standard shapes and sizes? How can they measure on time performance in a place where an idling cow can reduce traffic to a crawl, or enforce safety standards on roads where motor cycle drivers carry children on their laps? Dealing with widespread corruption is another difficult challenge for international shippers.

So how do shippers find ways to operate globally and locally?  Despite problems that often seem incomprehensible, I believe we are headed in the right direction.

A major step forward is the development of transportation management systems (TMS) that manage the complexities of moving freight internationally and regionally. TMC’s control towerTM , for example, enables shippers to apply the latest performance measures across global freight networks while remaining sensitive to local demands. This theme appears in various past blog posts about TMC’s control towers.

I am not suggesting that TMS is a silver bullet for managing complexity. However, the technology can help you measure and improve your processes in this region, just as it does in other parts of the world. TMS solutions represent a step towards measuring and understanding the kinds of contradictions described above.

India is a beautiful country that is emerging as a major trading power. During my visit I was also struck by the scale of the nation’s infrastructural projects. It is only a matter of time before India has a transportation system that can rival anything we have in the west. How much time? That’s a question I can’t answer.

What I am sure of is that India symbolizes the changes supply chain professionals are tackling as a by-product of globalization. Traveling the road from Mumbai to Pune can be daunting, but navigating that road and your larger supply chain journey can be easier with the benefit of TMS technology.

- President, Managed Services
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