This Week in Logistics News (October 10-14, 2016)

I am writing to you this morning from Death Valley, CA where my Logistics Leaders for T1D Cure teammates and I are getting ready for our 102.7 mile JDRF ride tomorrow. Aside from attending a few meetings, meeting other riders, and doing a short ride, today’s main goal is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate because it’s sunny and hot out here (90F) and you burn off a lot of water just standing around, never mind spending hours on a bicycle tomorrow.

As I drink another glass of water and eat some salty snacks, here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

One of my predictions for 2016 was that we would see increased innovation to simplify and expedite trading partner (B2B) connectivity, which is at the heart of what Appterra does, a company Descartes acquired this week for $5.8 million. Here are some details from the press release:

For over eight years, Appterra has helped its customers connect electronically, automate supply chain processes [such as Order-to-Cash and Purchase-to-Pay], and enhance collaboration and visibility among global trading partners. Led by a team of domain experts that understand supply chain business document processes and data compliance standards across a number of industry verticals, Appterra provides B2B integration as a cloud service for its customers.

“Our Global Logistics Network helps isolate customers from the complexities of different protocols, semantics and end-user requirements for managing and transmitting electronic supply chain data and documents,” said Ed Ryan, Descartes’ CEO. “By adding Appterra’s technology and services to our business, our customers will have access to broader data integration capabilities for standardizing and automating buy-side and sell-side processes. Equally, Appterra’s customers will now join Descartes’ logistics community, presenting additional opportunities for trading partners to collect and share logistics data earlier in the business process.”

As I’ve argued many times before, software alone is not enough to enable supply chain processes and innovation. Companies also need B2B connectivity — that is, the ability to exchange data, documents, and other information with external business partners and their systems, and to do so in a scalable, flexible, and cost-effective way.

What’s new for Amazon this week? According to the Wall Street Journal, the company “aims to build small brick-and-mortar stores that would sell produce, milk, meats and other perishable items that customers can take home, [sources] say. Primarily using their mobile phones or, possibly, touch screens around the store, customers could also order peanut butter, cereal and other goods with longer shelf lives for same-day delivery. For customers seeking a quicker checkout, Amazon will soon begin rolling out designated drive-in locations where online grocery orders will be brought to the car, the people said. The company is developing license-plate reading technology to speed wait times.”

This initiative, known internally as Project Como, points to the convergence of many different trends: the rise of mobile commerce, the growing interest for “click-and-collect” fulfillment in the US (which is already popular in the UK), the expansion of same-day delivery in grocery, and the interweaving of physical and digital retailing. I’m out of breath just writing that sentence! In short, the pace of change continues to accelerate in the retail industry, and supply chain and logistics processes, people, and technologies are in the thick of it.

Finally, as I’ve written before (see A Kitty Hawk Moment in Drone Delivery?), I believe that the use of drones to deliver medicines to patients in remote areas, or using drones in humanitarian/disaster relief operations or in response to medical emergencies, is where we’ll see the first truly beneficial applications of this transportation technology. Another case in point: “Rwandan President Paul Kagame launched the world’s first national drone delivery service during a ceremony in the country’s centrally located Muhanga District,” according to a UPS press release. “Starting today, the Rwandan government will begin using drones to make up to 150 on-demand, emergency deliveries per day of life-saving blood to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of the country.”

Here are some additional details from the press release:

In Rwanda, postpartum hemorrhaging is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. Blood requires storage and transport at safe temperatures and spoils quickly. Because there are many different blood products and no way to accurately project future needs, many transfusion clinics do not keep all the blood they may need in stock.

During Rwanda’s lengthy rainy season, many roads wash out becoming impassible or non-existent.  The result is that all too often someone in need of a lifesaving transfusion cannot access the blood they need to survive.

Rwanda’s national drone delivery program enables blood transfusion clinics across the Western half of the country to place emergency orders by cell phone text message. The orders are then received by Zipline at its at its distribution center located in the country’s Muhanga region where the company maintains a fleet of 15 drones, called Zips.

Each Zip can fly up to 150 km round trip—even in wind and rain—and carry 1.5kg of blood, which is enough to save a person’s life. Zips take off and land at the Nest, and make deliveries by descending close to the ground and air dropping medicine to a designated spot called a “mailbox” near the health centers they serve. Zipline will make 50-150 emergency flights a day to 21 transfusion clinics across the Western Half of Rwanda and can fulfill orders in around 30 minutes.

So while using drones to deliver Amazon packages to your doorstep might be many years away (if ever), the technology is already being used for more noble purposes in places where it truly is the best transportation mode for the problem at hand.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Red Flag” by The Moth & The Flame

Note: Descartes is a Talking Logistics sponsor.