Large conferences can be a bit overwhelming, but certain themes do persist within professional-based organizations. Over the years, CSCMP has tried to grow beyond their roots as a logistics-community-only forum to a broader supply chain organization. And although the magazine and membership reflect this, the real attractions are still logistics topics and logistics-centric solution providers.
Attendance, down from the all-time highs of the late 1990s (around 8 or 9k to today’s ~2,500) is not a reflection of the importance of the industry. In fact, globalization and the emergence of new global brands from Asian, Africa, and South America actually point to the growing importance of logistics—and the growth of the solutions providers who serve these markets.1 But this article will not be about marketing for the conference business, thank goodness, but a snapshot of a few perceptions about what might be hot, and some important take-aways from the conference.2
Warehouse Management May Not Be Cool, But It Is Definitely Hot
How about working in a profession that has a shortage of knowledgeable workers? Seems like the place to be in this economy. My old motto is, “Ifmanufacturing goes east, then logistics must go west.” And that is what we have been experiencing in the industry for almost a decade. In spite of the ups and downs of the economy, firms that design and build warehouses (real-estate, facilities design, materials-handling warehouse equipment, and warehouse software) are doing quite nicely. In fact, most companies told me that they were fully utilized and looking for people.
And cloud for Warehouse? Of course. LogFire was the most prominent player on the trade floor, with a fully enabled cloud WMS solution. Missing in the solutions area were some cloud folks from last year. Too bad, since cloud is an idea whose time has truly come. (More on warehouse in the cloud here.)3
Vesting and Collaboration Is Very Hot
As usual, Kate Vitasek gave a session that leads the industry forward. Besides collaboration technology, there is a broader set of human relationships that must be addressed. I was stunned to learn that some of the largest, most successful brand companies don’t even have supplier contracts! In fact, according to Kate, as soon as you write it down, the focus then becomes one of compliance, rather than innovation. If you want your suppliers to help you grow in the market—and not just present a cost you drag along with you—the nature of your relationship with your suppliers might need to change. Change—that probably means you. Kate’s series on Vested Outsourcing (continued with her second book, The Vested Outsourcing Handbook) can help address how to write a contract that helps build collaboration.
Risk Management Is Burning
With losses mounting on Wall Street, taking stock of your supply chain—and your suppliers—is now a burning issue. Story after story abounds about cyber issues, counterfeiting, wayward suppliers, or agents who pick suppliers unknown to the manufacturers. Talking to attendees and a few new solutions providers, I was interested to hear about firms moving manufacturing and equipment to new contract manufacturers, or in-sourcing after multiple frustrations with out-sourcing.4
Green Is Not Hot
This is a sad commentary on the companies that use logistics services. I talked to about a dozen logistics services companies and none of them said that green energy or sustainable practices were a factor in any deals they made for warehouse or delivery services. In fact, most said that they were not even asked about it by end users.
But before you service providers get hot under the collar, the 3PL and carrier companies said it was not stopping them from looking at green strategies. Naturally, conservation of energy saves money—a lot of money. Clearly that is big within the service companies.5 And most do have strategies to reduce waste and save energy.
TMS Is Hot
This market is no longer about routing and scheduling or carrier rates, but the whole end-to-end supply chain in the cloud. Web-based total life cycle transportation innovations are coming from platform providers like Descartes, GT Nexus, MercuryGate and newcomer TICONTRACT.6 Today most of these players also provide mobile apps to integrate information to the carrier-level status. We look forward to the next step, which will be item-level tracking. (More on these players in Platforms—Integrating the Supply Chain Vision series in the brief.)
Software suite providers like Logility and JDA continue to do well, since the need to understand and optimize the logistics network is stronger than ever. These solutions save dollars—lots of them—and with dynamic global populations, the logistics network constantly needs to adjust.
And how about a mobile warehouse? Here was an interesting solution I learned about while chatting with the KNAPP folks. Their KiSoft Mobile Warehouse module provides a dynamic warehouse experience with goods in motion, rather than optimizing the load beforehand and hoping that the routes don’t change.
Cold Is Hot
Clearly, government mandates plus consumer illnesses are getting to the food and Pharma companies. Cold Chain is a global issue. We learned a lot about this topic with a small, but clearly, dedicated audience (that did not leave the Cold Chain sessions) that tried to obtain all the cold chain nuggets of information they could digest.7 Firms like FoodLink, Intelleflex,SYSPRO, and ImpactFactor along with standards group GS1 really helped to cook up some important insights about cold chain challenges and where we need to go from here. With over 30% of the world’s food going to waste, it seems like there is a huge ROI across the supply chain, if we can just dig our forks into it!
Managing the global logistics network is getting more—not less—challenging over time. It’s not that we have not learned and not that there aren’t great solutions to support our requirements. It’s just that with our greater learning, we develop deeper insights into how to make the supply chain—and quite possibly the world—better.
That means making our supply chains safe and secure. Supply chains that deliver high quality and safe products into the market is the goal. That can only be done with more collaborative working relationships that reduce risk and improve visibility across the trading network. And with these, maybe the supply chain community can lead the world to a better tomorrow!
1 You will see this info reflected in several series from ChainLink—Platform series and our upcoming Transportation and Logistics Technology markets. If you want to be included in the research and articles just contact ChainLink Research.
2 Given the limitations of one small person’s ability to cover the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
3 It also appears that some players who will provide cloud are still formulating their strategies. Though a few traditionalists messaged cloud, they were not prepared to articulate what they actually do.
4 Possibly, some of Li & Fung's current financial woes are beyond the financial markets, but firms are seeking suppliers outside China due to risk issues with some suppliers managed by Li & Fung.