Tech Innovation to Transform Logistics: Just Not Yet

JOC.com— Unquestionably, a wave of technology innovation is rolling across the transportation and logistics space, forcing literally every firm to take a hard look not just at technology but where the impact leaves them competitively. And, ultimately, that is what all this change amounts to: who will be best positioned to profitably offer the services customers demand, and who alternatively will be rendered obsolete and fade away.

It’s an exciting but risky time. Because tech innovation isn’t native to incumbent players, the risks of a wrong decision are inherently greater and are compounded by the accelerating pace of development and the increasing presence of tech-native players asserting themselves in many segments of the market. “I am very excited about the pace of technology development in our industry. It’s a renaissance, an opportunity to develop something we haven’t had in our space before,” Jon Slangerup, CEO of American Global Logistics, told the inaugural JOC Logistics Technology Conference (https://events.joc.com/joc-logistics-technology) in Las Vegas in late October. “The level of innovation that is occurring is mind boggling. It comes with confusion, but it comes with incredible promise in the marketplace.”

Tech conference — separating hype from reality

The goal the industry set for itself in Las Vegas was to attempt to separate hype from reality in logistics technology, an area swelling with startups flush with venture capital cash but where the actual impact is, even today, more difficult to see.

The discussions around blockchain were a case in point. A technology that a year ago was touted as the solution to all inefficiency is moving forward at what can only be described as a snail’s pace. As Randy Lawson, senior technology analyst for JOC parent company IHS Markit, told the conference, blockchain is making headway in a number of areas including remittances and over-the-counter trading, and it is, of course, the foundation of bitcoin trading.

But it’s encountering headwinds in this market. “We do need to get the other carriers on the platform. Without that network, we don’t have a product,” the IBM lead for TradeLens, the IBM-Maersk joint venture bringing blockchain to shipping documentation and visibility, told CoinDesk earlier in October. Whether other carriers (https://www.joc.com/maritime-news/container-lines) will share data with a competitor without a stake in the business, however, is unclear, given the historically high level of distrust among container carriers.

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