Logistics is a diverse and dynamic function that is flexible and changes according to the various constraints and demands imposed upon it. There is, realistically, no precise name or definition that can be universally applied because products, organisations and systems differ.
Many terms are therefore used interchangeably, in literature and in the humanitarian world. One quite frequently accepted view in the humanitarian sector is: Logistics = Supply + Materials Management + Distribution.
Logistics is concerned with physical material and information flows from raw material through to the final destination of the finished product. Major emphasis is now placed on the importance of information as well as physical flows, and an additional and very relevant factor is that of reverse logistics – the flow of products and packaging back through the system.
There is often confusion between “logistics” and “supply chain management”. Logistics is one activity of the end-to-end process of supply chain management. On the other hand, “Supply Chain Management deals with the management of materials, information, and financial flows in a network consisting of suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and customers." Prof. HauLee -Stanford Supply Chain Forum. Thus, while supply chain management has a rather narrow and specific role, logistics is more varied and difficult to constrain to a single role. However, for the purpose of clarity, the LOG will adapt the definition by Thomas and Nizushima, “The process of planning, implementing and controlling the efficient, cost-effective flow and storage of goods and materials as well as related information, from the point of origin to the point of consumption for the purpose of meeting the end beneficiary’s requirements.” Logistics training: Necessity or Luxury? (Forced Migration Review, no 22, Jan. 2005.).
Business logistics and commercial supply chains are sophisticated operations based on forecast demand, inventory control and a number of models that optimise a dynamic and fast moving system. Humanitarian supply chains are essentially the same but with the following significant differences:
Source, Balcik and Beamon, 2008, 102
The various elements in the humanitarian supply chain, ranging from assessment right through distribution to monitoring and evaluation, are represented as main topics in the LOG highlighting “best practices” in terms of information, templates, tools and standard procedures.