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.
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 use.
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.
Disruptive 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?
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.
Things 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.