Edition 128, December 2023

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Continues to Impact Reverse Logistics Operations

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth, American Public University

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology and reverse logistics continue to create new futures for businesses. The business employees and executives are being forced to change with this technology. Even Congress and the White House are involved in how AI has exploded into business as well as into college courses. AI and robots are even in K-12 education areas.

What has happened over the last two or three years is the recognition of a reverse logistics middleman, or middleperson, in retail and wholesale business. This person is needed to be the manager or overseer of the information flow and transportation flow of goods and services that create the new wave of reverse logistics activities needed for the business world of 2023, 2024 and beyond. Academics are now exploring ways to develop and test this concept of these reverse logistics managers of recycled information.

American Public University (APUS) is one of many educational institutions that offer certificates and degrees in reverse logistics. APUS offers a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Master of Arts (MA) degree in Reverse Logistics Management. Many community colleges also offer a variety of RL education for both military and civilian operations. That is, jobs and promotions.

Today’s secondary markets are ripe for both positive and negative impacts. AI has broad access to millions of pieces of business data that can help create new opportunities by enabling more efficient and personalized matching of buyers and sellers, recommending products as setting prices.

AI can help improve the quality and sustainability of such secondary markets. AI can do in minutes what usually takes days for inspections, verifications, and certification of products. It can help track and trace the reuse, refurbishment, and recycling of materials.

But this new AI wave covering our businesses still has some issues. You must have someone to check the accuracy of the data and information coming from such AI applications. You may have seen in the recent news how the writers are striking over possible loss of their jobs due to AI. Well, a similar situation can be at play for AI-created data that may cause a privacy and ownership of that data problem. There could even be ethical issues that could lead to legal problems. And with the labor strikes in the news, even labor dynamics could be a result of such AI application.

AI is also becoming part of refurbishment. Machine learning to diagnose faults is becoming common these days. And just like a professor, AI is ready to suggest viable solutions that used to take weeks of team talking, and now can be done in seconds. The robotic or automation of tasks has become common as well. And when dealing with different languages in our global marketplace, AI can perform natural language processing to help make decisions faster.

AI can even help with repairs. AI can offer solutions or recommendations for pricing of repairs, which also helps customers to be a bit happier. One big area is that AI technology can identify any challenges or risks associated with repairs. And, if necessary, AI can offer some level of legal guidance for your lawyers to make sure the repair is valid, legal and ethical.

AI and RL are a combination of business forecasting tools that have a new and expanding return value. Today, RLA is poised to give businesses a huge impact with the combined impact from AI and RL operations and capabilities. What is emerging in this new AI world is that reverse logistics is becoming even more of a critical resource to the global logistics and supply chain sectors of business and trade.

While APUS was the first university in the United States to offer a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree program in reverse logistics, we are excited to continue to work with RLA members as students and advisors for upgrading courses and certification for workplace opportunities.

The new APUS president, Nuno Fernandes, tells everyone that, “We’re not just thinking about the future of education, we’re shaping it.” And that is what RLA members are doing for the future of reverse logistics applications.

President Fernandes also says, “I am a big believer that the technology advancements that we are just starting to witness will impact humanity in an unimaginable way. They will open doors for new job creation, longer life expectations, better quality of life, additional wealth creation, and will change the future of education. There is no doubt in my mind that the current higher education model will experience more transformation in the next 15 years than it did in the last 1,000 years. At American Public University System, we want to be at the forefront of this transformation by providing innovative and job relevant academic solutions, including within the realm of reverse logistics, to our students. We are only here to serve our students; nothing else – and we do that, through innovative teaching and learning practices inside the digital classroom.”

This vision is what is driving our improvements in reverse logistics courses working side-by-side with RLA and its members. It’s exciting to watch the differences and similarities in AI and RL and imagine which will do what over the next decade.

Who knows, maybe next year RLA will have a combined RLA/APUS conference on reverse logistics and how AI is impacting each RLA member company and the global RL business world?

Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth

I am the Program Director for the Reverse Logistics Department for the American Public University System. Prior to joining APUS I was a tenured Associate Professor of Logistics at the University of Alaska Anchorage for nine years. My research and teaching interests are in military logistics, global logistics, reverse logistics, hybrid aircraft, transportation, supply chain management, lean operations, RFID technology, disaster logistics, knowledge management, business logistics, and project management. I earned my Ph.D. and masters degree in Engineering Management from Old Dominion University while also working for TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command) at Fort Monroe. My work experience includes 28 years as a civilian operations research analyst on transportation and logistics systems with the Department of Defense. I shuttled from the Pentagon, Crystal City, Fort Monroe, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Lee and Fort Belvoir while conducting cost and operational effectiveness analyses, developing computer models, and artificial intelligence applications for logistics and combat systems. I eventually rose to the rank of GS-15. One of my really cool assignments was as the initial Director of the Artificial Intelligence Center for Army Logistics, Fort Lee, 1985-1990. I am also the former Director of Data Management for the Army Model Improvement Management Office, 1981-1984, Fort Leavenworth. After my life in DOD, I worked for GRCI, which eventually merged with AT&T, as a senior scientist on Army logistics program developments. I did write a real book, RFID Metrics, examining how we define problems such as reverse logistics to track and trace produce along their life cycles. It was published in 2007 by CRC Press.