Sometimes, one has to step away from something to truly feel the rate of change. This happens all the time with kids, where you might not see someone for a few years, and you’re just blown away at how much they’ve grown up. The parents know their children have changed, but the evolution is only shocking when time lapses, the old videos are played and the contrast is elevated.

After spending nearly 20 years helping to define the software category most commonly referred to now as “global supply chain visibility”, I stepped away and over into  the healthcare technology space to help drive change in an equally massive, challenging business environment 5 years ago.   

When I first arrived on the healthcare IT scene in 2018, the challenges they were facing were very familiar to what we dealt with in supply chain technology. There was no shortage of effort and impressive talk, but tangible results were hard to come by. The blend of massive scale, complexity, and data compliance made digital innovation and transformation hard, expensive, and slow.

During my time away, my love for the supply chain industry never waned. After a half-decade hiatus, I’ve returned as Chief Marketing Officer for Slync.

On my first day as CMO at Slync, I had the opportunity to travel to “Manifest: The Future of Logistics” conference  in Las Vegas. This was a new event that did not exist during my tenure at GT Nexus but has rapidly ascended to “must consider” status on the annual list of  supply chain technology tradeshows. 

With perspective fresh, I thought it would be interesting to share some  top-level observations on what I see happening today, in contrast to what was happening over the course of the first 18-years as a veteran in this space.

Greg Kefer, CMO,

The Logistics IT market is now big, sexy, and shiny 

Manifest 2023 Sponsors
Sponsors of Manifest conference hosted in Las Vegas, January 2023

Based on the number of sponsors on the Manifest logo billboard and scale of booths in the exhibit hall, not to mention rapper "Nelly" headlining a networking event; logistics IT marketing investment levels are strong. 

A welcomed contrast, as for the better part of the first decade, it was a struggle to convince executive leadership and IT departments to invest in any digital logistics innovation. Transportation was viewed as a cost center that wasn’t strategic but merely an executional means to what was being churned out of various planning systems. Too often, logistics teams ran under a “failure is not an option”, “exceed at all costs” mode because the ramifications of halting production at a factory because of a missing component, or not fulfilling that back-to-school promotion was even worse.

Today, the investments are being made. Trade show spending and activity are one measure, but new conferences don’t usually go from nothing to several thousand engaged attendees in two years without some greater traction happening. 

Lots of familiar faces

For me, it was hard to make it through any hall without bumping into all kinds of old friends. Many of the folks I once worked with in the early days to create opportunities for concepts such as “Cloud Supply Chain” and “Global Supply Chain Visibility” are still at it. Many have been promoted and are leading digital transformation initiatives at very large companies and there’s a new generation of digital nomads moving up the ranks that only know of the pre-digital world for their college curriculums

The internet was the inflection point that the logistics industry needed in the early 2000s. Planning systems were primarily software suites that were designed to run inside the four walls of a single company, on premise. Things broke down when orders (and data) went outside those four walls to suppliers, and into the vast world-wide web of global partners springing into action.  The internet, which eventually settled on “the cloud” took us a step further, but information sharing between companies is a digital challenge that should not be underestimated.  

The same old problems persist

After the first session I sat in, it was clear the industry still has a long way to go. Digital transformation is still hard, especially when dealing with vast, distributed global partner networks. Collaboration and data quality challenges are still a huge problem, despite advances in API technology and other information exchange advancements.

The hard truth of the matter, the number one go-to SCM technology remains to be spreadsheets, and by a large margin, followed by email. The same as it was 5 years ago.

While today some may be using very advanced, mature AI/ML technology to automate key parts of the shipping process, many companies are still holding fast to our beloved manual processes of babysitting email inboxes to pick up updates, scanning PDF confirmations, and re-keying other vital pieces of information between systems.

There is hope for real change

It may not feel like it but the hard part is actually behind us. Leaders and purchase influencers have now embraced the need to invest in technology infrastructure to optimize the way goods are made, transported, and delivered internationally. On the whole, as an industry, we know we need to do better. Technology has also advanced to the point where the old strategy, or hope, of convincing entire supply chain networks to implement  a particular technology to do their part is no longer required. 

It is unrealistic to expect a small vendor in China to change their systems, processes and the way they communicate. If it’s an email shipment status update in simplified Chinese, so be it. Let the technology consume, interpret, and link that information to a particular order or shipment. That capability is here today, handling millions of shipments.

The days of brittle EDI messages should be behind us and that excites me.  So much so, I came back for a second run to finally solve what we set out to do at GT Nexus over 20 years ago. This will be fun.

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