Recently, DCLI’s CEO, Bill Shea, and Blume Global’s CEO, Pervinder Johar, were asked to respond to questions about logistics technology for a Journal of Commerce article. The article contained excerpts from their responses. The full Q&A contains even more detail and interesting insights – you can read it below.
What are the latest technological innovations you believe are making an impact on the business of freight logistics? What changes are they generating?
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data – and specifically the ability to capture and make sense of, and take action on, massive amounts of data – are radically transforming freight logistics and the entire supply chain ecosystem. What was built as a human-centric endeavor, and the many manual processes, interactions, touch points, hand-offs, and even the physical assets inherent in it, has the potential to become entirely orchestrated and managed by software systems and machines with minimal human intervention. We have been talking for a long time about visibility and efficiencies across the supply chain but technology innovation and recent technological disruptions enable us to be much more aspirational in thinking about an open, real-time, learning and improving ecosystem, powered by technology.
We already see the impact. Today, the majority of what we see is in driving greater efficiencies through automation of tasks that software can do better or faster than people can. But we are starting to see intelligent systems, powered by AI and machine learning, factoring more prominently into how we think about the movement of goods across assets and the supply chain. Things like predictive capabilities in demand, real-time visibility into inventory, collaboration or co-innovation across trading partners, precision around availability or real-time status of orders, smart contracts, managing by exception, and so on. We are just at the beginning of this intelligence and learning side of technology, thinking beyond efficiencies and optimization, but even just the notion that these things are now possible is driving change.
Beyond the impact on businesses, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of technology innovation on people. We can clearly see a new role for supply chain professionals going forward as the strategists and orchestrators of a real-time, connected, global trading network. As technology helps us to leverage data and insights to continuously improve the systems and software that run the network, the people designing, developing, and orchestrating these systems become much more strategic to an organization. At the same time, work that can be automated means bringing new skills to those coming up, and re-skilling those who are displaced by technology.
We want to lead this transformation in a way that considers all aspects – the tremendous potential of a digital supply chain for businesses, the potential to create a more purpose-driven approach in reducing waste, and the education, training, and re-skilling that need to happen.
What is the developing role of online marketplaces in the logistics business?
The notion of marketplaces in the logistics space is very familiar to us as we have been enabling this years in the chassis and container space. The role of marketplaces will only strengthen as people and businesses become more familiar and comfortable with the power of technology to enable their supply chain aspirations. There are certainly other functions within the logistics space that are conducive to online marketplaces in the procurement of transportation services which can be further enabled by digitization. Industry challenges and seasonal volume fluctuations require a more dynamic methodology to secure spot rates or to support variable demand pricing. The future success and adoption of marketplaces requires platform neutrality, data quality, and security which also enhances the ease of doing business to support both upstream and downstream events from booking through freight audit and settlement.
What business practices have actually changed as a result of technological innovation, and why?
Every business practice has changed in some way due to technological innovation. This is because technology, by its nature, is disruptive. It enables us to do new things, to design new things, to deliver products or services in new ways, to communicate in new ways, and so on. It also displaces or replaces in many cases. In the future, the disruption will be more significant – driverless trucks may be one first step, but the ability to 3D print locally will upend entire industries. Business practices will continue to change with each major disruption, as they always have.
Briefly summarize what technologies your company has been developing lately.
We have a strong history as a trusted neutral platform in the intermodal space. Going forward, the aspiration is to be the enabler of a global supply chain ecosystem, an ecosystem that is collaborative, purposeful and focused on value creation. For example, we are building on our existing solutions and platform to deliver a real-time, digital supply chain platform. We are building out capabilities in our platform in machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, blockchain, big data, and IoT. Many of these capabilities are available in the platform today, with more to come. Beyond the technology platform, we are also building out the solutions we bring to BCOs and shippers, asset owners, logistics service providers, and all partners in the trading ecosystem, including solutions for managing the entire asset lifecycle, optimizing the global supply chain, improving shipment execution including first and last mile, enabling freight audits and payments, and more.
Is blockchain the magic bullet many are claiming?
There is rarely a magic bullet in technology. Blockchain is not different in that sense. However, there is tremendous potential in what blockchain can enable. Blockchain for smart contracts, for example, opens up new ways of doing business for the entire supply chain ecosystem. The ability to remove the manual, expensive, and slow processes around contracts between partners has the potential to be transformational. It enables companies to vastly accelerate the pace of business. At the same time, supply chain stakeholders must carefully assess technology partners to ensure that they have the vision and commitment to developing digital solutions that support integration to the blockchain architecture.
Will autonomous trucks become a significant factor in the next ten years?
Yes. Historically all of the focus has been on the driver as the central point for knowledge and insights, the physical movement of goods, and the closure or completion of transactions. We believe all of this can be digitalized onto a platform. When trucks become just another digital asset in the supply chain ecosystem, without the driver, we can rethink the role of trucks entirely. However, autonomous driving is just a first step. Beyond this, we can easily imagine a future when we don’t have any trucks on the road at all. Drones and other modes of domestic transportation are already in use. Further down the line things like 3D printing, once at an accessible cost for consumers, will bring another wave of massive disruption.
What role does technology play, if any, in attracting and retaining drivers during the ongoing truck driver shortage? Can it help make trucking “cool”?
As a company that delivers technology to truck drivers that helps make a their jobs easier and more efficient, and ensures that the driver can get paid in a timely manner, technology can and does play a role in attracting and retaining drivers. As with all jobs, there is an expectation that technology in the business world is as seamless, engaging, and easy as it is in the consumer world. That is our focus, and we do believe it can make trucking a relevant and attractive profession, especially to a younger generation of drivers that are coming up. Though other factors that impact driver shortages may continue, there is an opportunity to create a better, more modern experience for drivers through technology.
What are some of the latest developments in gaining control and visibility of the financial supply chain, and what are the benefits?
We look at the supply chain and the financial supply chain holistically, as we already provide a platform for managing assets within the supply chain and managing the financial payments and settlements between trading partners. Awareness is growing, and we have a unique ability to lead this. We believe a platform approach to this is critical. Partners on a neutral, real-time trading platform for moving goods, managing assets, and running the financial settlement creates efficiency but, more importantly, a holistic approach enables our customers to continuously innovate to drive more value. The challenge is that supply chain organizations still sit separately from the finance department, but we believe that an open technology platform that is trusted, proven, and designed to drive value helps these organizations converge and become much more strategic.
What technology tools are freight/logistics customers demanding today that they didn’t five years ago? What will they be using five years from now?
Anything and everything. They want mobile applications; they want actionable data and insights; they want automation that removes repetitive, tedious, manual work; they want applications that continuously learn and improve based on data. The list is infinite. At the same time, they want guidance on how to redirect their teams to more strategic work that takes advantage of these new tools and technologies.
What is the adoption rate of cutting-edge technology in the logistics space among front-line practitioners? Are we hyping capabilities that don’t actually get used? Would we be better focusing on existing technologies that need greater penetration, or do we need to continue to push ahead with new innovations to solve old problems?
There is always a hype cycle. However, in the logistics space, the time is really now for adoption at scale. AI, machine learning, and other technological advances are real, accessible, and affordable. All organizations, regardless of the space, are in a “cloud first” mentality. Companies that wait will be left behind. We have the ability to think beyond old problems and look at the supply chain as a core strategic part of any company – as a value creator.
If you could wave a magic wand over one technology-related problem in the logistics industry, what would it be?
We don’t see technology-related problems as much as we see the challenge for many customers in knowing where to start. It is not a lack of desire but rather it is often a challenge in defining the problem statement, then defining the first step and the next toward creating a digital supply chain. In our experience, this is the hardest part for most of our customers. The magic wand perhaps would be to simplify and ease this challenge. We work closely with customers to help them define where they are today, what the pain points are, what the strategic opportunities are, and what value creation means for their business today and in the future – and the manageable steps toward getting there.