Above the Fold: Supply Chain Logistics News (February 19, 2021)

How’s the weather on Mars?

For many here on Earth, especially in Texas, it’s been unusually cold and snowy, leading to all sorts of hardships and problems

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, in fact it’s cold as hell,” sings Elton John in Rocket Man. But from the first photo taken by the Perseverance rover yesterday after traveling 292 million miles to land on Mars, it looks a lot warmer over there than here. (I would bring a jacket, though, because you just never know when a cold front could move in.)

Weather: disrupting life and supply chains since the Big Bang.

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

Here’s a Challenge: Find a Way to Improve Route Planning

Yesterday, we published a guest commentary by Doug Hill from RouteSmart Technologies (a Talking Logistics sponsor) where he asks, “At what point did route planning become so complex?”

Coincidentally, Amazon announced this week, in partnership with the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, the “Amazon Last Mile Routing Research Challenge.” Here are some details from the website:

The Problem: Despite tremendous advances in route optimization over the last decades, there remains an important gap between theoretical route planning and real-life route execution: in real-life operations, the quality of a route is not exclusively defined by its theoretical length, duration, or cost. Experienced delivery drivers have tacit knowledge about the complex operational environment in which they serve customers on a daily basis. To allow for safer, more efficient, and sustainable last-mile delivery, it is critical to leveraging this tacit information for improved route planning.

The Objective: The primary goal of the Last Mile Routing Research Challenge is to encourage participants to develop innovative approaches leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, computer vision, and other non-conventional methods to produce solutions to the route sequencing problem which outperform traditional, optimization-driven operations research methods in terms of solution quality and computational cost.

Simply put, when it comes to last mile routing and delivery, a gap still exists between what should happen in theory and what actually happens in reality. How do you embed the “tacit knowledge” of experienced delivery drivers into the solution?

The search for continuous improvement and innovation can never end in supply chain and logistics because the challenges and opportunities companies face are always changing. This is particularly true in last mile route optimization and delivery, where we’ve moved so far beyond the traveling salesman problem.

Sign of the Times: Google and J.B. Hunt Partnership

Back in 2015, Meg Whitman, then the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, wrote a post on LinkedIn that included the following excerpt:

Every Company is a Technology Company

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we’re now living in an era of disruption, what we call the Idea Economy. Companies today can turn ideas into reality in a fraction of the time it took just five or 10 years ago. And it’s no secret that technology is fueling that speed.

Across every industry, IT strategy is now business strategy. Winners and losers are determined by how quickly they can adapt to take advantage of new opportunities or deal with competitive threats.

This inspired me to write a post at the time (“Is Every Company a Technology Company?”) where I wrote:

I agree with Ms. Whitman, especially with how she’s defined it — that across every industry, IT strategy is now business strategy, and that speed of execution will define winners and losers.

This is certainly true in the third-party logistics (3PL) industry, where we continue to see the convergence of business models, specifically the business models of service providers, technology companies, and consulting firms. Today, 3PLs are in the IT business as much as they’re in the freight-handling business

What was true in 2015 remains true today: the line between technology companies and logistics service providers has blurred to the point where there is almost no distinction between them.

I discussed this trend with Transplace CEO Frank McQuigan in a recent Talking Logistics episode (see “Technology Trends In 2021 And Beyond”), and this week’s announcement that Google and J.B. Hunt have formed a strategic alliance “to accelerate innovation in transportation and logistics” is just another example. Here are some excerpts from the press release:

Powered by Google Cloud’s innovative cloud technologies, J.B. Hunt will expand its J.B. Hunt 360°® platform that digitally connects shipments and available capacity, increasing efficiencies and enhancing visibility within the platform.

By leveraging Google’s Data Cloud, J.B. Hunt 360 will  better predict outcomes, empower users, and make informed decisions. Using advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools from Google Cloud, J.B. Hunt will develop new services to digitally transform the shipping and logistics experience for shippers, carriers, and service providers.

Google and J.B. Hunt are creating an innovation framework and roadmap that brings together each company’s engineering talents to create entirely new solutions that will be rolled out over time, including real-time visibility and predictive modeling. In addition, by leveraging Google’s data analytics solutions such as BigQuery, J.B. Hunt can now create a secure, scalable, and cost-effective data warehouse to support the J.B. Hunt 360 marketplace.

Yes, every company is a technology company. And it’s also true that technology often outpaces what companies are ready or willing to implement. Those that overcome this contradiction will be the winners of tomorrow.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Hysteric” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs