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Commentary: Observations made on the future of supply chains from #FWLIVE Chicago

With FreightWaves
LIVE Chicago
now comfortably in the rearview mirror, and having
caught up on some work that had been piling up, I have been thinking about some
of the conversations I had with others who attended the conference. Personally,
on the rare occasion when I attend a conference, I try to reconcile the
conversations that occur at the conference with the relevant conversations I am
having with other people elsewhere on the same topic. I also try to reconcile
those conversations with what I am reading in books and research papers as I
build a venture fund to invest in early-stage tech startups creating disruptive
innovations to transform global supply chains.

Here are two observations I came away with.

It is time to put the pedal to the metal

Shelley Simpson, executive vice president, chief commercial officer and president of highway services at J.B. Hunt, delivered a keynote address during which she connected the dots between the past, the present and the future of innovation, digital transformation and disruption in freight logistics.

Shelley Simpson of J.B. Hunt, presenting at FreightWaves LIVE.
(Photo credit: FreightWaves)

She discussed how J.B. Hunt is adopting a
network and platform view as it thinks about the future of freight logistics in
North America as a total shift in how we move goods to one that is more
interconnected and collaborative than it has been in the past. This shift
requires carriers, shippers, brokers and other freight logistics service
providers to work more collaboratively with one another. Collaborative innovation
is a theme that runs through most of the conversations taking place at events
hosted by The New York Supply Chain Meetup and the other communities that are
becoming part of our growing network in The Worldwide Supply Chain Federation: Can Collaboration and Community Serve as Catalysts For
Innovation in Supply Chain?

Shelley also described how this shift in the pace of innovation in freight logistics is being driven by consumer expectations. Changes in consumer expectations affect how supply chain service providers operate their businesses, as well as the business models that they implement as those shifts occur.

Consumer preferences are also slowly affecting
how people expect supply chain technology to work. One may think of this
phenomenon as the consumerization of supply chain technology; the digital and
information technologies that have revolutionized consumer technology have led
people to expect enterprise technology to be just as simple and intuitive to

I previously touched on this phenomenon in Commentary: Key supply chain innovation issues to
consider in a world with VUCA
which ran on FreightWaves on June 11.
These days, consumers do not make a hotel reservation, book a flight or visit a
restaurant without checking out some reviews, browsing comments and comparing
ratings and prices.

Similar features will become the norm in
marketplaces for freight logistics. Transparency and visibility in supply chain
logistics will become the industry standard.

innovation in supply chain is going to be driven by multidisciplinary teams

On four separate instances in which I was
present, people asked variations of these questions: Where will differentiated
and unique innovation in freight logistics come from? What do the teams that
will invent disruptive innovations in freight logistics look like?

Matt McLelland of Covenant Transport Group, on stage with FreightWaves’ Emily Szink at FreightWaves LIVE.
(Photo credit: FreightWaves)

The diagram below helps put things in context. Matt McLelland, innovation strategist at Covenant Transport Group, shared this diagram during his conversation with Emily Szink on the second day of #FWLive.

Most incumbents live in the zones of activity
described in the diagram by continuous improvement and innovation. This is
where people like Matt spend most of their time. Though not all succeed, most
technology startups and the venture capitalists who fund them aim to operate in
the disruption zone.

In my opinion, the teams that create
disruptive innovations in supply chain will be teams of scientists, engineers,
mathematicians, designers and supply chain industry executives who take
theoretical and applied  research that
has lived in academic and industrial labs until now, and begin to implement
that research in industrial and commercial supply chains in order to solve
business problems. Disruption in supply chains will happen where
specializations intersect and clash, leading to the creative friction that will
birth ground-breaking and cutting-edge ideas about how to solve some of the
world’s most vexing problems. My co-founder, Lisa Morales-Hellebo, and I delve
into some of the factors that are driving this process in an essay we published
just a few weeks ago: The World Is A Supply Chain.

in supply chain technology will never move this slowly again

Thanks to the FreightWaves app on AppleTV, I
was able to watch David Rowan’s keynote presentation at the Transparency 2019
event in Atlanta in May 2019. I was unable to attend that conference, after
having been at Transparency 2018 where I emceed half the startup demos. He made
an observation about #FreightTech that I agree with – the future will never progress this
slowly again.

David Rowan, the former editor of WIRED UK, spoke at FreightWaves Transparency ’19 in Atlanta.
(Photo credit: FreightWaves)

Why? As we put it at REFASHIOND Ventures, the
world is in the midst of a secular refashioning of global supply chains, one
that is giving rise to the greatest and most exciting investment opportunity of
our lifetimes.

Communities of people, like those that convene
at FreightWaves’ events, have front row seats as this transformation occurs. Websites
like FreightWaves are helping to document the important milestones of that
transformation as they occur.

It is a challenging time for the world’s
supply chains. It is also an exciting time to be part of the process of
harnessing human ingenuity to build the supply chains of our future.

Brian Aoaeh and Graham Parker, CEO of Kontainers, on stage at FreightWaves LIVE.
(Photo credit: FreightWaves)

If you are a team working on disruptive innovations that
you believe have the potential to transform global supply chains, we’d love to
tell your story in FreightWaves. I am easy to reach on LinkedIn and Twitter. Alternatively, you
can reach out to any member of the editorial team at FreightWaves at
[email protected]

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