The AJOT’s annual Top 50 Logistics Tech Providers offers a glimpse into the future of the supply chain. The list, which easily could have contained two hundred Tech companies, was whittled down in part with the object of looking forward to a different supply chain than exists today. The companies chosen were in some cases small or startups and in other instances well established doyens of the digital supply chain.
Perhaps the key to understanding the digital transformation that the supply chain is undergoing begins with rethinking the supply chain itself. While the popular conception of the supply chain is one of connecting links – which plays well into the concept that the supply chain is only as strong as the weakest link – in reality it is more akin to a transatlantic cable with thousands of wires enabling interconnecting activities, both physical and electronic, working collectively to the goal of moving product. Although automation of cargo systems has been in play for many decades, the new supply chain is being built by ‘digital duplicates’ – the predominately physical and often repetitive tasks (physical and electronic) that are made digital.
However, much of what has happened in recent decades evolved as companies addressed problems in their own respective areas of operations. Most 3PLs, which are among the largest arbiters of digitalization, were originally trucking, warehouse or freight brokers, freight forwarders (see digital forwarders) and other industry providers. It’s not surprising from these routes that TMS (Transportation Management Systems) and WMA (Warehouse Management Systems) were early adopters of SaaS (Software as a Service). For some moving into digital was a natural progression. SMC3, for example, provided pricing for trucking, which almost seamlessly moved into the digital space. Others like Navis and Tideworks Technology began with TOS (Terminal Operating Systems) for container terminals. Somewhat in the same sphere, there has been a movement to link ports – a digital duplicate of sorts. PortXchange in Rotterdam and Innovez-One out of Singapore are examples. And the process is growing exponentially, as each nodule in the supply chain blossoms outward in its own digital expression.
There are a few logistics tech providers who are managing platforms to which they have added not only more “services” but acquired more tech companies. Toronto, Canada-based Descartes has become one of the big players though strategic acquisition along with organic development. The same can be said for Sydney, Australia-based WiseTech Global.
Emerge, based in Scottsdale Arizona, has emerged as a digital market platform. The company recently launched “Emerge Benchmarking,” which through “Machine Learning” takes “freight industry data and produces in real-time business intelligence.
Mark Derks, chief marketing officer, Bluegrace
Uber Freight, a sibling of Uber rider fame, started modestly but in 2021 acquired 3PL Transplace and now is among the platforms to be reckoned with. E2Open out of Austin, Texas is another provider with a B2B platform. Over the years, the company has added INTTRA, BluJay Solutions and Amber Road to its portfolio of logistics tech providers.
Still, with so many different logistics tech “evolutions” sourcing the digital revolution, there are substantial obstacles to achieving a smoothly functioning digital supply chain. In an interview with AJOT, Mark Derks, chief marketing officer for Bluegrace, a Florida-based logistics tech company working in the “managed logistics” space, offered his appraisal of some of the challenges. With so many different systems being deployed, Derks says, “Data cleanliness and accuracy is a widespread issue. All organizations are exposed to systems, platforms, transactions, etc. that generate data. This information [data] can be leveraged in numerous ways to manage a supply chain, e.g., optimization, planning, execution, control tower decision support and much more. There are countless situations where automated [or manual decisions] are made based on bad, inaccurate, or unclean data. Therein lies the problem. If you can reach a state of highly cleansed data that represents quality in transactions [or events] you can really start to employ new and innovative technology, such as AI, to drive faster decisions that lead to better outcomes.”
In answering how to navigate around the problem of dirty data, Derks added, “Data lakes are becoming more popular and a viable option for collecting data from multiple systems in to one common area for cleaning and use.”
Where does the next phase take us? Obviously, with so many emerging tech companies consolidation is in the cards for some tech providers. But with so many wires in the supply chain yet to be connected, it might take a while, before consolidation outruns innovation.