So Much for Change …
The Logistics IT market is now big, sexy, and shiny
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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