Enterprise Software

No tech, no logistics: Inside the world's best supply chain

How India's lunchbox men earn their six-sigma rating...

...been run in much the same way for over a century, its members have adapted their service to fit the changing nature of Indian society in the 21st century.

"These days being single has become a fashion - more and more people are choosing to remain single. There's no one at home to cook food for them - so we collect food from the restaurants and deliver.

"If you want continental food, we serve it. If you want Mexican food, we serve it. If you want food without salt, we serve it. Whatever food you want, we serve it," Tripathi said.

A human storage system
The dabbawalas know what region of Mumbai to deliver each tiffin box to by a system of seven alphanumeric colour-coded markings that are printed on their lid, but the exact address of the home and office that the box travels between is not held in a database - it's kept purely in the memory of the individual dabbawala allocated to that area.

There is no technological back-up for the dabbawalas - their supply chain is run entirely on manpower.

dabbawala delivery tiffin box

The dabbawalas deliver some 200,000 lunches across Mumbai every day
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

A back seat for technology
According to Tripathi there are two reasons why the dabbawalas don't use technology in their supply chain. First, the literacy rates among workers: "The guys are not educated enough - they can't handle the complexity."

The second reason is purely financial: "Number two why we do not use technology, maybe the cost... will increase," he added.

It's often been suggested that the dabbawalas use RFID tags to keep track of the various tiffin boxes - which can pass through the hands of six dabbawalas before being delivered. However, adding the track-and-trace tags is just too expensive for such a financially lean organisation, where each customer typically pays 250 to 300 rupees a month – between £3.50 and £4.20 - for their service.

While the dabbawalas may tout their organisation as a "company that doesn't use any IT at all", even a system as ancient as theirs doesn't get by without any IT whatsoever. The dabbawalas now have their own website, email address and take bookings by SMS too.

About Jo Best

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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