This Week in Logistics News (October 27-31, 2014)

Ralph and Me (right) as Blue Men
Ralph and Me (right) as Blue Men

The last time I really got dressed up for Halloween was more than twenty years ago, when my friend Ralph and I transformed ourselves into members of the Blue Man Group. Being engineers, we even came up with a way to shoot silly string from our chests. It was a great costume, and we looked great — except we were living in Arizona at the time and nobody outside of New York City (the only place the Blue Man Group was performing at the time) had heard of them, so every time we showed up at a party that night, people would yell out, “Hey, look, Smurfs!” At first we tried to explain that we were Blue Men, but after many drunken stares and “La La La La La La” sing-alongs, we eventually gave up and spent the rest of the night looking for Smurfette.

What you can do with a can of silly string, duct tape, and string
What you can do with a can of silly string, duct tape, and string

Moving on to this week’s supply chain and logistics news…

2014 is turning into the year to refresh your corporate tagline, at least for third party logistics (3PL) and software companies. In late April, C.H. Robinson introduced a new tagline (“Accelerate Your Advantage”), and last month Menlo Logistics launched a new brand, website, and tagline (“Customer Innovation”). This week it was JDA’s turn, as the company “unveiled a new brand identity and logo for JDA featuring an important new tagline for the company: “Plan to deliver.” According to Kevin Iaquinto, chief marketing officer at JDA:

“Our new tagline clearly articulates our commitment to achieving customer success – that by working with JDA our customers can ‘plan to deliver’ like with no one else. It speaks to capitalizing on the unrivaled industry expertise of JDA’s employees and the unmatched end-to-end capabilities of our solution suites; we uniquely provide solutions that encompass everything from planning to delivery for retailers, manufacturers and distributors alike.”

The change makes sense for JDA, a company that has grown through many acquisitions over the years, including Manugistics, i2 Technologies, and RedPrairie. When you bring different companies together, with different cultures and focus areas, your corporate identity can get blurred. And I believe that’s the challenge JDA faced, similar to what David Byrne from the Talking Heads sings about in Life During Wartime: “I’ve changed my hairstyle so many times now, I don’t know what I look like!” Aligning everybody under a clear and succinct value proposition, along with officially appointing Baljit Dail as the new CEO earlier this month, is an important step for the company as it moves forward in this highly dynamic and competitive market.

The bigger question, however, is why the uptick in supply chain and logistics companies changing their taglines? Part of the answer, I believe, is due to the convergence taking place in the industry, which is blurring the lines between 3PLs, software vendors, and consultants (see Putting 3PLs and Software Vendors in a Box). This is forcing everybody to take a step back and re-evaluate their place and value proposition in the market — not from the standpoint of where they’ve been or are today, but from where they want to be tomorrow. And as I mentioned above, defining and communicating that direction and value proposition, as clearly and succinctly as possible, to employees, partners, and (most importantly) customers, is the starting point.

A few years ago, whenever I spoke to executives about the role of social media in supply chain management, I would always get the same question: How are Twitter and Facebook going to help me run my supply chain better? It was a fair question because those publicly-available social media sites lack any supply chain and logistics context, so it’s difficult to see how companies can use them to better manage their transportation and warehousing operations, for example. My response at the time (and today) is that social networking goes well beyond Facebook and Twitter — it includes virtually all of the leading software vendors that companies currently use to manage their business processes (see A Pulse on Social Networking for Supply Chain Management).

That said, IBM and Twitter announced this week “a landmark partnership that will help transform how businesses and institutions understand their customers, markets and trends – and inform every business decision.” Here are some details from the press release:

IBM plans to offer Twitter data as part of select cloud-based services, including IBM Watson Analytics, a new cognitive service in the palm of your hand that brings intuitive visualization and predictive capabilities to business users; and a cloud-based data refinery service that enables application developers to embed data services in applications.


IBM and Twitter will deliver a set of enterprise applications to help improve business decisions across industries and professions…With the development of new solutions to improve business decisions across industries and professions, IBM and Twitter will be able to enrich existing enterprise data streams to improve business decisions. For example, the integration of social data with enterprise data can help accelerate product development by predicting long-term trends or drive real-time demand forecasting based on real-time situations like weather patterns.

As I’ve written about before, social networking can play an important role in supply chain risk management. It can provide companies with more timely and insightful insights about emerging risks and events, enabling them to take corrective action sooner and thus prevent (or minimize the impact of) a supply chain disruption. According to a Wall Street Journal article (“Decoding Our Chatter,” Robert Lee Hotz, October 1, 2011), “When Virginia’s magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit [in August 2011], the first Twitter reports sent from people at the epicenter began almost instantly at 1:51 p.m.—and reached New York about 40 seconds ahead of the quake’s first shock waves…The first terse tweets also outpaced the U.S. Geological Survey’s conventional seismometers, which normally can take from two to 20 minutes to generate an alert.” The article also highlights how researchers and firms are mining Twitter messages “to monitor political activity and employee morale, track outbreaks of flu and food poisoning, map fluctuations in moods around the world, predict box-office receipts for new movies, and get a jump on changes in the stock market.”

Simply put, when it comes to enabling the social supply chain, the pace of change and progress is accelerating. For related commentary, see HP’s New Style of IT: The Social Supply Chain, Justifying Social Networking for Supply Chain Management, and The Perfect Answer to “What’s the ROI of Social Networking?

And with that, have a happy and spooky weekend!

Song of the Week: “Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo

Note: C.H. Robinson is a Talking Logistics sponsor