This Week in Logistics News (October 8-12, 2018)

The VP of Supply Chain and Logistics at our house (aka my wife) has been out of the country this week. This is the first time in many years that I’ve had to assume all of her responsibilities in managing the complex operations of a house with three kids (our oldest child is in college, which you would think would make things easier, but she lost her prescription eye glasses, so I had to pick up a new pair at the store, box them up, drive to the post office, and stand in line to mail them to her.)

I’ve learned a lot this week: my kids eat a lot, they dirty their clothes a lot, they have to be driven to many places a lot. Did I mention they eat a lot? I have to go to the grocery store again today to replenish our inventory (yeah, I don’t shop for groceries online; as the son of a bodegero, I’m old fashioned that way.)

I also learned that my wife is truly an amazing woman and I have a deeper appreciation for everything she does to make our work and home operations run so smoothly.

So, while I count the days and hours and minutes until she gets back, here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

Hurricane Michael: How Can Logistics Professionals Help?

Hurricane season is upon us, and the latest one, Hurricane Michael, has caused serious damage and disruption in the Florida Panhandle region and beyond. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this storm.

The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), an industry-wide organization that provides supply chain assistance to disaster relief organizations and other non-profits, has expanded its hurricane micro-site (www.alanaid.org/operations/) to include key details about Michael’s impacts and related logistics needs.

From its press release this week: “ALAN encourages those who are interested in helping with Hurricane Michael relief to visit the site often over the next few weeks (reminding people that the greatest volume of its requests for warehousing, transportation and material handling equipment usually arrive well after a hurricane has passed) or to consider fulfilling one of the many Hurricane Florence logistics requests that are already showcased there.”

With over seven weeks remaining in the hurricane season, Florence and Michael won’t be the last storms to affect us this year. So if you can provide warehousing, transportation and/or material handling equipment to support disaster relief efforts, I encourage you to contact ALAN. It’s during these times that our industry and its people truly shine the brightest.

Alexa in the Warehouse

Back in 2013, in a post titled “Siri Comes to Enterprise Apps,” I wrote the following:

Instead of manually executing tasks with a mouse or touch screen, why not speak them? We already see this in the consumer realm with smartphones, and in the warehouse too with voice picking technologies. It’s only a question of time before speech recognition gets embedded into other enterprise and supply chain applications. A TMS user, for example, can say to the system, “Show me all uncovered loads,” or an inventory manager can ask, “Which stores have less than three days inventory of product X?” and up come the results on the screen.

Then in December 2016, one of the my predictions for 2017 was that “The Migration from Traditional User Interfaces to Chatbots and Virtual Assistants Begins.”

Well, it’s taken a bit longer than I originally predicted, and Amazon’s Alexa has taken the spotlight away from Apple’s Siri, but the use of chatbots and virtual assistants in supply chain and logistics continues to evolve.

Earlier this year, for example, XPO Logistics unveiled voice-enabled delivery tracking through Amazon.com Inc’s Echo or Alphabet Inc’s Google Home speakers. And this week ShippingEasy announced its integration “with Amazon Alexa to ship with your voice!” Here’s their demo video:

While this solution is not for high-volume, highly-automated warehouse operations, it demonstrates nonetheless the future of enterprise software user interfaces, where keyboards and clicks will ultimately be replaced with voice commands and finger swipes.

Transplace Acquires Yusen Logistics’ Intermodal & Freight Brokerage Group

Based on past history and current ownership, I expect more acquisitions from Transplace this year and beyond, not only to augment the services it provides to existing customers in Chemical, Food & Beverage, and Manufacturing, but also to expand into new vertical industries, such as Retail and Electronics, where Transplace has a smaller presence today.

That’s what I wrote back in May following Transplace’s Shipper Symposium conference, and true to expectations, the company announced this week that it has acquired Yusen Logistics’ intermodal marketing company/over-the-road freight brokerage group. Here are some details from the press release:

The newly acquired intermodal operations, with locations in Jacksonville, FL, Cincinnati, OH, Memphis, TN, Chicago, IL and Dallas, TX, will operate as part of Transplace’s intermodal division – Celtic Intermodal, which is led by President Doug Punzel.

According to Punzel, “As more shippers are looking to integrate intermodal into their transportation operations, Transplace is committed to best positioning itself to enable its customers to take advantage of the opportunities available with intermodal. The addition of Yusen Logistics’ intermodal operations will allow our customers to better take advantage of this highly effective and efficient mode of transportation in a time of high transportation rates and capacity constraints.”

Historically, when trucking capacity gets tight, which is the case today, demand for intermodal goes up. Simply put, as shippers take a more holistic approach to transportation network design, procurement, planning, and execution, all modes are on the table for consideration. For logistics service providers, having the ability to offer shippers a diverse set of solution options that provide the right balance of cost, service, and reliability is imperative to success these days, which is why Transplace and others in the industry keep making strategic acquisitions.

Money Keeps Flowing to Logistics Companies

Over $38 million in investments were announced this week by Shipwell, Deliverr, and Loadsmart. I’m out of time and space to comment on each of these investments, but it’s sufficient to say that investors remain bullish on delivery and transportation technology and services companies. Many of these companies will fail or get acquired over time, or they’ll pivot in a different direction, but a few will turn out to be smart bets and become leaders in their niche.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “She’s Kerosene” by The Interrupters

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