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Ben Ames
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Skeptics may say the vision of a sustainable supply chain is a contradiction in terms, thanks to the emissions spewed by 18-wheeler trucks, cargo jets, containerships, forklifts, and parcel delivery vans as they whisk freight around the globe. The challenge may be tough, but a growing number of logistics service providers are convinced there are business benefits to going green. Just Monday, supply chain specialist APL Logistics Ltd. announced it is bolstering its sustainability practice by hiring an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps fellow to create a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculator. According to the Singapore-based 3PL, which has its... Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2019 at Dispatches
Conventional wisdom in retail circles holds that e-commerce is displacing traditional paper catalog sales in part because it allows stores to target individual consumers with tailored product recommendations generated by their buying histories. However, fans of the specialty toy and personal goods catalog “The Sharper Image” may have noticed that this winter’s holiday edition departed from that narrative. Instead of mailing its typical compilation of gadgets and gizmos, the “Holiday Preview 2018” version included a special twist. Thanks to modern printing technology, the catalog included virtual, digital “Post-it notes” superimposed over various pages, transforming the generic catalog into a list... Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2019 at Dispatches
A post went around social media over the New Year’s break, listing the ages in 2019 of a handful of consumer technology firms. The firms range from upstarts like the crowd-sourced, ride-hailing service Lyft (7 years) and the social network Snapchat (8 years) to stalwarts like personal computer pioneers HP (80 years) and IBM (108 years). The full list follows: Lyft: 7 years Snapchat: 8 years Uber: 10 years Twitter: 13 years Facebook: 15 years Tesla: 16 years Google: 21 years Mozilla: 21 years Netflix: 22 years Amazon: 25 years Apple: 43 years Microsoft: 44 years Intel: 51 years HP:... Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2019 at Dispatches
It’s December in the logistics industry, and that means one thing—it's holiday peak shipping season. The annual rush fills trucks and warehouses with piles of parcels, and it fills email inboxes with blizzards of electronic holiday cards. Many companies use the Christmas and Hanukkah season as a simple news hook to offer “holiday sales” for trade show tickets or to book briefings with company executives at upcoming conferences. But a few firms take the chance to share messages of generosity, care, or humor—here’s a roundup of notable examples. The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) sent out a cartoon drawing of... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2018 at Dispatches
Some good-natured heckling has broken out in the usually staid market for enterprise computing products. Tech firms usually ignore each other when their competitors hold conferences, even taking care to refer to other companies with a passing reference to their headquarters’ home state or to the color of their logo. So New York-based business software vendor Infor expected the typical ground rules to hold when it opened the doors for its Inforum user conference in Washington, D.C. this week. However, rival enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human capital management (HCM) vendor Oracle Corp. had other ideas. First, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based... Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2018 at Dispatches
Attend enough IT trade shows and you’ll quickly become accustomed to the soundtrack of thumping pop songs that preview the arrival of company executives on a keynote stage. So it was unusual when business software provider Infor strayed from that script at its Inforum user conference in Washington, D.C., yesterday. Even as the standard radio fare piped over large speakers, the crowd was distracted by the sight of a live marching band dressed in full regalia in the cavernous halls of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. A moment later, the group unleashed thundering drums, sizzling brass, and high-stepping dance... Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2018 at Dispatches
The first time readers met Jack Ryan was as a character in the pages of Tom Clancy’s 1984 spy thriller “The Hunt for Red October.” Clancy soon brought the fictional C.I.A. analyst back in books like “Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “The Sum of All Fears,” and a dozen more. Alec Baldwin played Ryan in the 1990 film version of Red October before Harrison Ford took over the drama and suspense franchise. Well, now Jack Ryan is back again, and he has a new cover identity—a supply chain logistician for the U.S. Department of State who stumbles onto a... Continue reading
Posted Aug 29, 2018 at Dispatches
A basic definition of blockchain isn’t that tough to grasp—it’s like a shared spreadsheet (a “distributed ledger”) that can’t be changed by any individual member without the approval of their trading partners. That distributed design model generates a high level of data security, which means the technology could be a helpful tool for supply chain tasks like tracking goods or making payments. For example, FedEx has launched a pilot project that uses blockchain to improve supply chain visibility by supporting digital data exchange among shippers, carriers, and retailers, company executive Sean Healy, senior vice president of transportation, international, planning, and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2018 at Dispatches
The typical e-commerce consumer of 2018 lives online, skipping between smartphone apps and social media feeds with ease. In a world of short attention spans, young shoppers view opening a new web page or dialing a phone number as a boring and onerous distraction. So where is an eager shopper supposed to turn when the item they purchased an entire day or two earlier has still not appeared on their doorstep? HighJump Software Inc. says it has solved that puzzle with an app that embeds a “Where’s my stuff?” function directly within the instant messaging feature of your Facebook profile.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2018 at Dispatches
Watching “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” with your 12-year-old son is a great way to share some guilty belly laughs and prurient giggles. But the 1994 comedy film starring Jim Carrey also offers a secret benefit to anyone following the fields of parcel delivery and last-mile logistics—it could serve as a reverse training video for customer service. The movie opens with a scene of Carrey impersonating a delivery driver for a well-known, Atlanta-based transportation and logistics firm whose name is a three-letter acronym. Dressed in the familiar brown uniform and ball cap of UPS Inc.—sorry, Carrey’s version is called “HDS”—the actor... Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 2018 at Dispatches
Football players for the Eagles and Patriots have been hard at work this week, preparing their pads, plays, and tactics for Sunday’s Super Bowl LII. But the big game has also triggered a flood of logistical preparation, as thousands of trucks roll toward Minneapolis, carrying souvenirs to sell to fans, food to serve a hungry audience, equipment to stock the NFL’s traveling interactive theme park--The NFL Experience--and even the television production equipment needed to host a live broadcast.That job demanded an estimated 300 trucks a day for seven days straight to supply Super Bowl host city San Jose, Calif., in... Continue reading
Posted Jan 30, 2018 at Dispatches
Attend a large trade show like the National Retail Federation (NRF)'s annual expo in New York City this past week, and it can be easy to feel lost among the tens of thousands of conventioneers. However, technology suppliers at the show are working hard to make sure that no one in a retail environment stays anonymous for long. From the moment you check in and don the required name badge at NRF2018, an RFID chip on the back begins to network with the chips attached to the badges of strangers in the crowd around you, one exhibitor reported. Working together,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2018 at Dispatches
Log on to your favorite online retailer to do a little holiday shopping this week, and you will be wooed at every click with offers of free shipping for your purchase. However, nothing in life is truly free. One of my favorite high school teachers used to write “TANSTAAFL” on the blackboard each morning as an acronym for the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” So e-commerce companies are getting creative in finding ways to convince consumers to pay for “free” delivery. Now Inc., the 800-pound gorilla of online retailers, is trying a new version... Continue reading
Posted Nov 29, 2017 at Dispatches
The president of MIT says a wave of industrial automation is about to sweep over society, and it is up to the developers and deployers of that technology to find a way to balance the rise of robots with the preservation of human jobs. “Automation will transform our work, our lives, our society,” L. Rafael Reif, president of Cambridge, Mass.-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wrote in an editorial today in The Boston Globe. “Whether the outcome is inclusive or exclusive, fair or laissez-faire, is up to us.” Faced with a culture where many Americans are worried that widespread technology... Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2017 at Dispatches
Our readers know better than anyone about the rapid flow of pallets and parcels through the nation’s supply chain nodes. But nothing can demonstrate the speed of material handling quite like a movie. Several major logistics players have released film clips in recent weeks that show the amazing potential of automated material handling to accelerate the flow of goods through worksites from ports to warehouses. California’s Port of Los Angeles recently completed a $103 million renovation of its TraPac terminal, helping the busy port increase its imports of twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) boxes from 4.1 million in 2015 to 4.5... Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2017 at Dispatches
Retailing behemoth Inc. is notoriously secretive with reporters about revealing details of its activities. The press is always caught by surprise, whether the Seattle-based company has filed papers as a “transportation service provider,” registered a patent for floating warehouse blimps, or acquired Whole Foods Market. A chink appeared in that armor, however, at a small technology conference held today at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The momentous event occurred during a panel session called “Robots at Amazon” at the TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics conference. Tye Brady, the chief technologist at Amazon Robotics (the former Kiva Systems), was fielding softball... Continue reading
Posted Jul 17, 2017 at Dispatches
Sit through enough keynote panels led by over-caffeinated executives, and you could be excused for being wary of the boasts and promises often proffered at industry trade shows. So skepticism was warranted when SAP SE CEO Jeff McDermott began to wax eloquent on the German software giant’s achievements in empathy to its customers, reduction of its carbon footprint, hiring of autistic professionals, and gender-neutral promotion practices. But at least one cynical reporter in the audience was chastened when McDermott then called on a succession of high-wattage, tech-industry women to join him on the keynote stage at SAP’s annual user conference,... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2017 at Dispatches
Any one of the 45,000 people who attended the ProMat trade show in Chicago this month saw a huge variety of material handling equipment on the vast floors of the McCormick Place convention center. From automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) at SencorpWhite and conveyors at Intralox and from the most basic racks, totes, and pallets to the latest augmented reality smart glasses at Zebra and the autonomous robots at Otto Motors and Locus Robotics. It was more warehouse hardware in one room than most people see in a year… that is, unless you have kids who are fans of... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2017 at Dispatches
Running a retail business from a distribution center is a great way to cut overhead costs like supporting and staffing a brick and mortar store, but the strategy has an additional benefit—it can be just plain fun. Hard-working logistics professionals don’t often have a chance to get a chuckle out of warehouse work, but when Dollar Shave Club founders Mark Levine and Michael Dubin launched their company in Venice, Calif., in 2011, they needed a way to recruit new customers to their innovative startup. The video they produced of Dubin pitching the business as he strolled through their warehouse became... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2017 at Dispatches
Supply chain technology provider HighJump Software Inc. introduced a lineup of high profile speakers during the keynote events at the firm's "Elevate" user conference in Orlando, Fla., this week. Attendees heard from Olympic gold medalist Dick Fosbury, whose innovative “Fosbury Flop” technique earned him the top height in track & field’s high jump event at the 1968 Mexico City games, and from Lori Jackson, the hard-charging director of operations and fulfillment for Dollar Shave Club, who succeeded in leading the construction of multiple DCs for the fast-expanding online retailer of razors and grooming products. But the speaker that may have... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2017 at Dispatches
Ask any transportation professional about challenges facing the trucking industry and you’ll soon hear about the chronic shortage of truck drivers. That specter has been looming over the industry for years, so perhaps it is no surprise that three software startups have offered solutions in the past two weeks: Enlistics matches people to jobs by screening their social media data for keywords, Stay Metrics has developed a research-based predictive model for driver turnover, and WorkHound reduces driver turnover by collecting worker feedback through a smartphone app. Each app approaches the problem from a very different angle. Enlistics: Trucking is a... Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2017 at Dispatches
Add FedEx Corp. to the list of carriers looking into self-driving delivery vehicles. The Memphis-based transport and logistics giant is investigating ways to incorporate small vehicles that could drive around neighborhoods and make deliveries without human drivers, FedEx CIO Rob Carter recently told the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Technology Review magazine. The move would follow similar initiatives from Uber Inc., which recently acquired the self-driving truck firm Otto, and from Inc. and UPS Inc., which both recently ran public tests of package delivery using flying drones. Another entrant in the field is the British robotics startup Starship Technologies,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2017 at Dispatches
Last-mile delivery service Postmates Inc. is adding same-hour alcohol delivery to its suite of on-demand restaurant and shopping parcel courier service. The offer is available only in San Francisco and Los Angeles for now, but the company plans to expand the service to other markets soon. The San Francisco-based urban logistics startup promises 24-hour, on-demand delivery from restaurants and stores in the cities it covers, across a network of cities in 25 states. Postmates partners with retailers by offering an application programming interface (API) software tool that merchants can add to their websites and instantly start offering home delivery. The... Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2017 at Dispatches
Research into self-driving vehicles has been advancing at high speed in recent months, with American roads already bustling with robo-cars like Alphabet Inc.’s Google autonomous car, Tesla’s Model S in “autopilot” mode, and Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-steering Ford Fusion. The technology is impressive when it works, but one question that still stumps government regulators is how to safely test the machines. Leaders are caught between the need to capture a valuable business opportunity by hosting the nascent industry and the duty to protect local drivers from potential collisions with these unmanned, two-ton, rolling science experiments. For example, while Austin, Texas,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 24, 2017 at Dispatches
Stop by your local Starbucks coffee shop and you may see a strange phenomenon; there can be a dozen steaming-hot prepared drinks waiting on the counter, but only a scattered handful of people on foot standing in the café to get them. What gives? Is the popular coffee chain going out of business? Are the busy employees just training, learning how to make the latest designer latte and generating a stack of free drinks? No, it turns out that Starbucks is doing just fine. In fact, the unclaimed drinks are a sign that its latest e-commerce fulfillment effort is a... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2016 at Dispatches