This Week in Logistics News (May 22-26, 2017)

By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to Baseball Heaven with my sons for a baseball tournament. They will play at least 8 games between the two of them over three days. For many people, including my wife and daughters, that doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend a holiday weekend, but I love baseball. Like Babe Ruth, I believe that “baseball was, is, and always will be, to me, the best game in the world.”

I started coaching my boys (now 12 and 15 years old) when they were in kindergarten, and coaching them and many other neighborhood kids in our Little League has been a fun and meaningful experience that I will always cherish. The game and coaching have taught me a lot, and they have inspired several blog posts over the years:

First pitch of the first game will be at 7:00 pm tonight. I know these games and trips won’t last forever, so I’ll enjoy the moment, win or lose, and create some memories with my boys this weekend.

Moving on, here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

In the transportation management systems (TMS) realm, MercuryGate announced the launch of ezVision, “a new user experience for the MercuryGate TMS solutions designed to make transportation management easier, faster, and more dynamic by providing customers with quick access to the most critical and frequent functions done on a day-to-day basis.” Watch the short video below for an overview of the key enhancements:

As I wrote about a few years ago in “Will Supply Chain Software Vendors Start Competing on Design?,” one of the things supply chain software users like to complain about the most is the user interface (UI) and user experience (UE) of applications. This was true 18 years ago when I started as an industry analyst, and it’s mainly true today. Simply put, many user interfaces…

  • are crammed with too many features and too much information that users don’t need or want to accomplish their tasks;
  • have non-intuitive workflows that don’t align with the way users are accustomed to working (or the way they want to work);
  • force users to open multiple windows and tabs, and click countless times, to accomplish what should be a straightforward task.

I also wrote…

Software vendors and those involved in the purchasing decision have always viewed “function” as more important than “form.” Their focus has been predominantly on checking off the feature/function list (can the software do this?), with only passing consideration on the user experience (how easy and intuitive is the software to use?).

Software vendors and customers need to think beyond features and functions. Of course, evaluating whether a software application meets your functional requirements remains critically important. But after that list has been checked off, you need to give equal time and consideration to evaluating the user experience. You also need to give power users, the people who have to work and deliver results with the application every day, a greater voice in the purchasing decision.

The good news, as evidenced by MercuryGate’s announcement, is that in recent years, enterprise software vendors have started to think beyond features and functions and have started investing heavily, including hiring UI and UE consulting firms, to improve the usability of their solutions (both desktop and mobile), often with inspiration from social networking and consumer apps. If vendors hit a homerun with their usability enhancements, users will have to find something else to complain about in the future.

Ryder and Jabil might not be the first names you think of when it comes to supply chain software, but both companies made somewhat related announcements this week. Ryder announced the launch of Ryder NaviShare, “a cloud-based platform that provides real-time shipment visibility, predictive alerts, and exception dashboards.” Here are some details from the press release:

NaviShare provides real-time information regarding load status, tracking status, carriers, shippers, customers, origins, and destinations. The underlying visibility technology behind this platform was developed in partnership with FourKites, a provider of real-time tracking and supply chain visibility solutions. A user – which can be a shipper, carrier/driver, or dispatcher – is able to toggle among multiple features for each load, including stops, maps, updates, and messages. If there is a delay in a shipment while in transit, NaviShare alerts the shipper and recipient, and provides the shipper with a list of re-routing options. The software application also has the capability to track shipments at a SKU/part level and to monitor the condition of the load. The NaviShare platform is transportation management system agnostic.

Meanwhile, Jabil introduced InControl, “a multi-tenant, intelligent digital supply chain cloud platform that provides ubiquitous connectivity, advanced analytics and machine learning technologies to optimize real-time decision-making for supply chain practitioners.” As detailed in the press release, “Jabil has developed five integrated applications to provide much-needed visibility, collaboration, risk management and diagnostics:

  • Supply Chain Visibility: Gain valuable insight through real-time reports and alerts on orders, compliance, event risk, problem resolution and financial performance
  • Event Risk: Minimize loss from unforeseen disruptions by recovering faster through instant alerts, impact analyses and detailed recovery options
  • Design for Supply Chain: Understand the impact of different product decisions and avoid high-risk components through early assessments during product design and prototyping stage
  • Risk Management: Reduce vulnerability and ensure proactive continuity through dynamic and customized risk scoring that weighs availability, complexity, delivery and other critical supply chain risk factors
  • Supply Chain Diagnostics: Gain deep actionable insights across the demand and supply network to improve sourcing and partner collaboration while delivering root cause analysis of missed KPIs and key metrics

Jabil is following in the footsteps of Flextronics, which developed its own supply chain visibility and risk management platform and applications and ultimately spun them off as Elementum in February 2014.

Both of these announcements underscore a point I made in Putting Software Vendors and 3PLs in a Box: That the answers to “What is a third-party logistics provider?” and “What is a supply chain software vendor?” don’t fit so neatly in a box any more. The boxes and labels of yesterday are giving way to a single amorphous category: “Providers of Supply Chain Software and Services.”

They also underscore an ongoing truth in the industry: that the quest to achieve timely, accurate, and complete supply chain visibility is a never-ending one. For related commentary, see There’s No Silver Bullet for Supply Chain Visibility.

And with that, I’m out of time. Have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “People are People” by Depeche Mode