What is Logistics really?

What is Logistics?  It is the most incredibly simple question – unfortunately the answers have not been.  So we set out to solve the problem – what is a simple yet all encompassing definition of Logistics?

And as we will show you  – we got one!

So Why is It so Hard for Logistics to Accept a Simple Definition?

We reviewed the hundreds of logistics definitions and were to say the least underwhelmed. Many definitions read like war and peace, with every possible caveat being added.

The question is why, why make it some complex.  The reason we came up with is that far too many people in Logistics are embarrassed to say that they are Logisticians.  Why because it sounds boring and unimpressive, because other people perceive as warehouses, boxes and trucks.

Therefore many definitions of Logistics that exist are based on trying make logistics sound important or impressive.
The reality is Logistics is critically important additionally we all know Logistics is complex, exciting, technology leading and has tremendous impacts on a company’s or military’s success.

Definition of Logistics

We developed this definition of What is Logistics, and we will explain why it works. The definition as will be shown equally applies to the Commercial, Not for Profit and Military sectors.

What is Logistics: The cost effective and timely delivery of the right resource to the right place with minimal risk in order achieve a planned outcome.

Why this Definition Applies Equally Across all forms of Logistics

Our definition applies to all forms of logistics as will be explained, because it focuses on the objective of logistics not the how.  Our definition is not out to impress others, it there to succinctly articulate how as Logisticians we add value.

So whether you moving planes, trains or trucks, patients, guest in hotel, cheque books in a bank, evacuating a battlefield, feeding thousands at a concert or planning a wedding reception it is all logistics.  But let’s be more specific and look at the main ones.

Inbound Logistics

Inbound logistics is about ensuring the right raw materials or consumables are at the place of value adding at the most cost effective price, at the right time and in with the least risk (right specification and done safely) in order for production to commence adding value. This can be applied to commercial logistics or military logistics.

  • Commercial Logistics:  Raw materials that are purchased to a specification and supplied ready to be consumed a production process at the time they want, in the condition they want, at the pre-budget cost and all whilst being achieved in a safe manner.
  • Military Logistics:  Materials whether men, equipment, spares, etc delivered to a pre-planned place in the condition required, using an economy of effort  (cost effective) with minimal risk.

Outbound Logistics

Outbound logistics is about having the right products at the right location at the time they are wanted by customers, in the most cost-effective manner with the least risk.  Our definition of what is logistics equally applies to outbound logistics as explained above.  The key words cost effective, right condition, right place, right time and least risk are all covered or implied.

But what about …Logistics Planning

The argument of some is that well that definition does not include the science of planning what is required.  Well if the resources are not there to achieve the planned outcome, then Logistics has failed.  So implied in the definition of “What is Logistics” is the need to plan. And as discussed below this means planning cost effectively so as to not to create unintended costs or resource effort.

Logistics Information

Well in order to plan you need information if you are to achieve a cost effective solution of delivering product in the right place, right time, right condition for least risk.  That is again the need for Logistics Information is implied.  In commercial world this may mean marketing customer demand forecasts for a given location or in the military in can be Operations forecast action intensity rates.

But what about inventory, warehousing and transport

Again these are processes of Logistics, they are not by themselves a definition of Logistics.  As the definition of What is Logistics that we use states it is about “timely deliveries”. So if a company has to store and manage inventory in a warehouse in order to achieve the stated outcome, then that is a process of Logistics.  Yes, but this means we could have lots of inventory everywhere and that costs money or resources.  Yes is does, but it also means that you don’t achieve the cost effective phrase of the definition of What is Logistics.

Maintenance part of logistics

Maintenance is part of logistics and it is implied in our definition, “..the right resources”.  If resources are not right, which could mean not maintained,  then the stated outcome is not achieved, as stated in the definition.


As crude as it may sound, the definition also covers the movement of people and patients.  The resources in this case are people or patients.  Either way the right ones have to be moved to the right place at the right time in the most cost effective and minimal risk manner.

Contingency/ Disaster Logistics

The definition can still equally apply albeit that the place is unknown, ie stock is held in anticipation of an unforeseen event.
Equally it can argued that contingency or disaster logistics are anticipatory planning methods, where planning or stockpiling is part of creating the ability to have the “The cost effective and timely deliveries of the right resources…” ready to go to the right place (when it is known).

Reverse Logistics and Disposal

Reverse logistics is still about having a the right product to a place cost effectively… ie as per the definition.  So whether its recycling material being collected from the kerbside for delivery to the processing plant, or a product warranty return is still covered by the Logistics Definition we use.
Note disposal where care needs to be taken due to environmental issues etc, is still about right product cost effectively delivered to right place at minimal risk


In short our definition may make Logistics sounds simple – but as we all know its not.  But our view is Logistics is not about impressing people with words its rather its about impressing people with the results delivered.

What are your thoughts, post your comments on our facebook page

Mike Wood

Mike is qualified in both Civil and Mechanical Engineering, with Post Graduate qualifications in Logistics and Business Administration and is a qualified RABQSA/Exemplar auditor. The initial phase of his career involved public roads and transportation authorities in technical and management roles with both VicRoads and the Victorian Ministry of Transport and designed Melbourne’s time public transport system Mike then moved into private industry and over several years, held General Manager positions with major logistics service providers with turnovers in excess of $500 million. As his expertise and knowledge grew he moved into consulting and became Principal Consultant with Dawson Consulting, one of the largest Supply Chain and Logistics consulting companies in Australia Mike is now Managing Director of LATUS Business Solutions, which is a highly regarded Business Improvement practice, operating in 3 major area; • Supply Chain & Logistics design; • Compliance implementation & management; • Risk analysis& Safety management • Leading training provider (RTO) in the area of Lean Logistics & Business He has been a Director of transport and logistics industry associations in Queensland and Victoria.

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