This Week in Logistics News (January 18-22, 2016)

I drive my oldest daughter to school in the morning and the DJ on the radio station we listen to always asks a “mind twister” trivia question. People call in with their guesses, and my daughter and I try to guess too, but we seldom get the answer right. Here was yesterday’s question: There are two main ways to tell identical twins apart. One is by their fingerprints, the other way is…how?

I provide the answer below, after sharing this week’s supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention:

Amazon continues its streak of making weekly news, with rumors emerging this week that the company is thinking of buying Ocado, the British online supermarket. According to The Drum:

[This rumored deal] comes as Amazon looks to ramp up its Pantry offering in the UK following its launch in November. It currently allows customers to buy from a limited range of 4,000 grocery and household products, from big brands such as Kellogg’s, Ariel, Colgate and Kronenbourg, which it will then deliver. It’s looking to add fresh food items to the line-up but will need to invest in a storage and delivery infrastructure that could support it. A buyout of Ocado could provide that.

Uber also continues to ramp up its delivery ambitions, with news this week, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, that the company “is preparing to go live with a full-scale meal delivery service across 10 cities in the U.S., an expansion that will test the company’s ability to use its drivers to move goods.” Here are some additional details from the article:

The UberEats delivery service, an expansion of a lunchtime-only service Uber began offering in a dozen cities last year, will use its network of more than a million drivers to transport goods, in addition to people. In recent years, Uber has had mixed results when it tried its hand at local logistics, transporting everything from designer suits in New York to toothpaste in Washington, D.C.

One challenge will be converting Uber drivers into delivery experts. Delivering food creates new challenges for drivers, who have to get out of their cars to pick up the food from a restaurant, quickly shuttle it to their destination and sometimes park illegally while they wait for customers to appear at the curb.

With so much focus and investment on home delivery, driven by online shopping, I can’t help but think: We’re becoming such homebodies, aren’t we?

Moving on to emerging transportation modes, DHL was supposed to demonstrate its new drone this week but had to cancel the event due to…wait for it…bad weather! Sad how Mother Nature can get it in the way sometimes. Nonetheless, as the WSJ reported, Deutsche Post’s board member Jürgen Gerdes said “in the not-so-distant future, drone deliveries will no longer be a niche business.” It’s important to note that DHL plans to use drones differently than Amazon and others. As the article explains:

DHL aims to use drones for shipments to parcel lockers—like the thousands of the company’s existing Packstation delivery lockers. Customers receive a personal code to open a specific locker after a package has been dropped off. By delivering parcels to pickup facilities rather than recipients’ homes, DHL aims to avoid the risk of collisions in landing at unfamiliar locations.

DHL Senior Vice President Ole Nordhoff said the company’s new drone can autonomously place parcels inside a locker unit through a door in the top. The unit automatically sorts deliveries into specific lockers. “The locker station is packed with technology,” Mr. Nordhoff said.

All we need now is more sunny and windless days!

Still think Hyperloop is a pipe (pun intended) dream? Well, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT) announced yesterday “the filing of construction permits with Kings County to kick off construction activities in Quay Valley [California]. On site preparation activities will commence in the coming weeks with principle construction beginning by the end of 2nd quarter 2016.” Is this the beginning of a quixotic quest or the birth of a new transportation mode? Grab your popcorn and soda because this sci fi movie (or maybe comedy) is about to begin.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show was this week in New York City, and although I wasn’t able to attend, it seems (based on all the press releases I received) that omni-channel dominated the conversations again this year.  Among the new solutions unveiled at the Big Show was JDA’s Assortment solution. According to the press release:

This new release of Assortment is the first of several planned innovations JDA will be introducing this year as part of this next generation retail planning solution. [the first JDA SaaS solution built on Google Cloud Platform] has been designed to leverage retailers’ big data sources, enabling better merchandise financial planning, assortments, promotions, inventory investment and inventory placement. Future capabilities will further the user experience through a collaboration framework allowing merchants and planners to collaborate in real-time on item selection, and ranging and buy planning decisions, and ultimately, delivering tailored offers for each customer segment retailers serve.

In other technology news, Infor announced Infor Supply Chain Execution (SCE), version 10.4, which combines warehouse management, transportation execution, 3PL billing and labor management in a single, unified solution. As detailed in the press release, core enhancements include:

  • Dynamic Slotting Tailored for Retail and Omni-channel Fulfillment
  • Enhanced Inbound Quality Control
  • Support for New HTML5 Based Web RF UI
  • New Industry and Role Specific Dashboards
  • Extensibility Options to Personalize User Experience

The last three bullet items underscore, yet again, how software vendors and customers are thinking beyond features and functions and elevating the role and importance of the user experience.

Finally, in the transportation management systems (TMS) realm, DAT Solutions announced that its carrier onboarding product, DAT Onboarding™ is now integrated with MercuryGate’s TMS. Here are some excerpts from the press release:

With DAT Onboarding, carriers complete an online profile that includes their equipment type, services, geographic preferences, tax information and insurance agent details. Once completed, carriers can visit any broker’s site on the DAT Onboarding platform to sign that broker’s contract.

“Our customers are always looking for ways to improve efficiency and minimize errors when onboarding carriers to MercuryGate TMS,” said Todd Bucher, Vice President of Fleet Management for MercuryGate International. “DAT Onboarding reduces the resources required and speeds the time to carrier availability for accepting tenders. Combined with MercuryGate TMS and Carma for carrier management, the onboarding process can be 100 percent hands off. That’s a big win for our clients.”

This news ties into one of my predictions for 2016: that we’ll see increased innovation to simplify and expedite trading partner (B2B) connectivity.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

P.S. The answer to the trivia question: The other way to tell identical twins apart is by their belly buttons!

Song of the Week: “2 Heads” by Coleman Hell

Note: JDA Software and MercuryGate are Talking Logistics sponsors