This Week in Logistics News (October 23-27, 2017)

My daughter and I are heading on a road trip this afternoon to visit a couple of universities. 13 hours of total driving time over two days. All to determine where I will send my future paychecks and life savings to.


On the bright side, this will be the first time in a long time that my daughter and I will spend some one-on-one time together, so I look forward to the laughs and conversations ahead.

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

I’ve been writing about the future of delivery lately (see here and here), and Amazon announced yet another permutation this week: Amazon Key, which allows customers to have their packages securely delivered inside their home without having to be there. Here are some details from the press release:

Using the Amazon Key app, customers stay in control and can track their delivery with real-time notifications, watch the delivery happening live or review a video of the delivery after it is complete.

This state-of-the-art technology doesn’t simply replace a key with a digital passcode. Each time a delivery driver requests access to a customer’s home, Amazon verifies that the correct driver is at the right address, at the intended time, through an encrypted authentication process. Once this process is successfully completed, Amazon Cloud Cam starts recording and the door is then unlocked. No access codes or keys are ever provided to delivery drivers. And, for added peace of mind, in-home delivery is backed by Amazon’s Happiness Guarantee.

Prime members can pre-order the Amazon Key In-Home Kit, which includes Amazon Cloud Cam and one of several compatible smart locks by leading lock manufacturers Yale and Kwikset. Customers can install the In-Home Kit themselves or take advantage of free professional installation. Amazon Key In-Home Kit starts at $249.99.

Call me old fashioned, or maybe it’s because I grew up in Brooklyn, but granting complete strangers access to my house — even with a camera rolling — is not something I would be comfortable doing. I can see, however, using Amazon Key to provide access to family and friends, as well as to service companies where a trusted relationship already exists.

(It’s sad and a little disturbing at how complicated we’ve made our lives, where just having the package delivered to our doorstep or asking a neighbor to collect our mail is not enough).

If you shop at Walmart, try not to bump into that robot roaming the aisles. As reported by Reuters, “Wal-Mart Stores Inc is rolling out shelf-scanning robots in more than 50 U.S. stores to replenish inventory faster and save employees time when products run out.” Here are some more details from the article:

The approximately 2-foot (0.61-meter) robots come with a tower that is fitted with cameras that scan aisles to check stock and identify missing and misplaced items, incorrect prices and mislabeling. The robots pass that data to store employees, who then stock the shelves and fix errors.

The robots are 50 percent more productive than their human counterparts and can scan shelves significantly more accurately and three times faster, said [Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce]. Store employees only have time to scan shelves about twice a week.

Maybe in the future, if we don’t order our goods online, we’ll send our personal robots in a driverless car to the store to do the shopping for us. I wonder if robot store employees would provide better customer service to robot shoppers than to humans?

On the software front, Kuebix announced a free transportation management system (TMS) “for unlimited rating, booking, tracking and management of shipments across LTL, truckload and parcel carriers.” Here are some comments from Kuebix Founder and President Dan Clark:

“At Kuebix, we believe all shippers should have the ability to rate, book and track freight directly with their carriers for free; similar to the way you can rate, book and track on Internet travel sites…Similar to how the widespread adoption of affordable smartphones changed the way we communicate and interact, a TMS that is available to all businesses and all budgets will have the same impact on the shipping community. As your smartphone has been the tool moving us into this collaborative digital era, the TMS will be that tool for the shipping world.”

This is another step toward the Software-as-a-Self-Service concept I wrote about more than seven years ago as online app stores and marketplaces started to take off. What I envisioned back then was the ability for a shipper to visit a website, enter their credit card information, go through a setup wizard, and within an hour or two be up and running with a TMS. If done right, this self-service approach would enable solution providers to reach, in a more scalable and cost-effective manner, all of those small and midsize businesses (SMBs) currently using spreadsheets and fax machines to manage their transportation operations.

As I wrote at the time, the success of Software-as-a-Self-Service is dependent on several factors, including:

  • A vendor’s ability to significantly reduce cost-of-sales. Using social media for lead generation and credit cards/PayPal for payment are some approaches.
  • Having a solution that is simple to activate, configure, and use. This may require vendors to re-architect their solutions. Using online videos for training and live chat for support services will also be required.
  • The solution has to deliver value. Sounds obvious, but in their quest to make a solution that is simple to download and configure, a vendor may end up with a solution that is relatively useless.
  • The business model has to be profitable. This one is linked to the first point, and since price points are relatively low, making money means bringing thousands and thousands of customers on board as quickly as possible.

What makes this free model even possible today? For starters, the rise and growing adoption of APIs for rating and tracking, which greatly simplifies the time and cost of customer onboarding. The rise, affordability, and scalability of cloud computing is another key factor.

Is this free solution the right fit for every company? No, just like an enterprise class TMS is not the right solution for every company either. There’s a large addressable market of shippers out there that ship almost exclusively via one mode, either less-than-truckload (LTL) or truckload, that don’t need integration with an ERP, and don’t need optimization or freight consolidation capabilities — that’s the sweet spot for this solution.

How will Kuebix make money? Via managed services and upselling to provide more enhanced functionality and integrations, if and when a shipper needs it (AscendTMS is employing a similar model in the logistics service provider space). The company also expects “tens of thousands of shippers to take advantage of this free technology, building a massive global community where Kuebix can efficiently help the industry match capacity to demand across supply chains.” Reaching that critical mass will be a challenge, but it’s a challenge worth pursuing if you believe in the power of networks and communities.

For related commentary, see TMS in the SMB Market: The Evolution Toward Software-as-a-Self-Service and Stuck at 33%: The True State of TMS Deployment.

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

Song of the Week: “Spent the Day in Bed” by Morrissey