This Week in Logistics News (October 24-28, 2016)

I should have gotten the email by now. Every October around this time, for the past decade or so, I receive an email from Professor Marius Solomon at Northeastern University asking if I’m available to speak to his class before Thanksgiving. I learned yesterday why the email never came: Professor Solomon “passed away peacefully” on September 28.

Shock, and sadness.

Looking back on my career path, there are many people who have helped me get to where I am today, and Professor Solomon was one of them. He was one of my instructors at Northeastern as part of the supply chain certificate program I completed almost 15 years ago. The case studies we analyzed and discussed in his class opened my eyes and mind to the beauty of supply chain management, a field that was still relatively new to me at the time. A few years later, when Northeastern was looking for an adjunct instructor to teach the Executive MBA supply chain course, Professor Solomon recommended me to the director and I ended up teaching the course for several years, which was a rewarding experience for me on many levels.

Professor Solomon’s research was a bit on the technical side, which is why he didn’t have a high profile outside of academia, but his contributions to the industry were well recognized. In 2012, for example, he was elected as a fellow of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), where he served as chair of the Sections and Societies Subcommittee and as president of the Transportation Science and Logistics Section.

Thank you, Marius, for your friendship, support, and confidence in me. I am forever grateful.

To all who knew and loved him, may his memory be a blessing.

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

It appears that a driving force behind the development of drones and driverless trucks is the need to find new and better ways to deliver beer. Almost three years ago, Wisconsin beer company Lakemaid used a drone to deliver beer to ice fishermen, an operation the FAA quickly shut down. This week, as reported by Reuters, “Otto, the self-driving truck subsidiary of Uber, shipped a truckload of Budweiser from Fort Collins, Colorado to Colorado Springs last Thursday with the driver monitoring from the truck’s sleeper berth for the entire two-hour journey.” Check out the video below:

Here are some other details from the article:

  • The average speed of the truck during the journey was 55 mph (89 kph)
  • Otto was paid the market rate of $470 for the job using one of its trucks outfitted with the new technology.
  • Otto and Anheuser-Busch enlisted the support of the state of Colorado before the drive, and the state patrol monitored it, although Colorado and most other U.S. states do not expressly prohibit self-driving trucks.
  • The only time the truck driver delivering the beer took to the wheel was while driving on and off the highway ramp.

Check out my recent post “Driverless Trucks: Heading Somewhere or Nowhere Quickly?” for additional insights and perspective on if, when, and how driverless trucks will play a role in supply chain and logistics.

Who is a supply chain software vendor? As I’ve written many times before, the answer to that question continues to blur as the business models of consultants, technology companies, and service providers converge. The latest example is Jabil, which according to the Wall Street Journal, “will begin making its internally-developed supply chain management software available for subscription in the first quarter of 2017.” Here are some more details from the article:

Don Hnatyshin, Jabil’s chief supply chain and procurement officer, said software could eventually generate $100 million annually for Jabil, which reported $17.9 billion in net revenue last year.

Jabil already uses the cloud-based platform to monitor its suppliers and its customers’ suppliers, and react more quickly to potential disruptions in their supply chains from natural disasters and other factors. When an earthquake struck Kyushu Island in Japan in April, for example, the software helped a customer identify a supplier that lost power, and within hours found an alternative supplier outside the region that had sufficient stock to fill the customer’s need—a response that would have taken weeks to do manually, the company says.

Jabil is not the first to head down this path. Back in February 2014, for example, Flextronics spun off its internal software into a startup called Elementum. Again, rather than repeat myself here, check out my previous posts on this trend:

But I will repeat this: Simplicity-as-a-Service is why the business models of third-party logistics providers, software vendors, and consultants are converging today. As I wrote a couple of years ago in Putting 3PLs and Software Vendors in a Box, the reality is that manufacturers and retailers have a diversity of options today in terms of who can help them, and the right partner is the one who can provide them with the right mix of technology, services, and advice to help them achieve their desired outcomes.

And with that, have a happy weekend.

Song of the Week: “Baby (Hold On)” by the James Hunter Six