Data-entry errors, subcontractor snafus, three-day lags in "real-time"
Web tracking systems, and the occasional head-scratcher as to where in the
world a given place actually is — such were the perils and pitfalls of the annual
"Great Package Race."
Part logistics competition, part rite-of-spring for students
at Georgia Tech's Supply Chain & Logistics Institute, the contest pits major
freight carriers against one another to see which can deliver packages to remote
corners of the world faster and cheaper.
Boxes full of Georgia Tech swag (T-shirts, baseball caps, and so on)
were sent via DHL, FedEx, and UPS to multiple continents and remote island
nations. How remote? Most people couldn't find Florianopolis, Apia, or Yangon
on a map even if they were labeled. While Prof. John Bartholdi says the race
offers the thrill of "vicarious travel" (one package touched eight cities in five
countries), the real goal is to test carriers' global distribution networks. "A huge
part of the world is within range of these highly optimized distribution networks,"
he says, "but it's woollier out there at the edges."
Woolly indeed. One-fifth of the shipments never arrived, and costs fluctuated
wildly: UPS charged $336.60 to send a package to Harare, Zimbabwe, while
DHL (this year's winner) charged about a third that price. Subcontractors often
handle the last mile, which is where many problems creep in.