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About this week’s guest
Alex Wakefield, CEO of Longbow Advantage, has over 20 years of experience in supply chain technology and implementations, including leadership roles at IBM and Blue Yonder (formerly JDA/Red Prairie), after beginning his career as a Supply Corps Officer in the United States Navy. As CEO of Longbow, Wakefield’s focus is on enabling distribution teams to better manage, leverage, and action their data across the supply chain through the use of Rebus, a real-time warehouse visibility and labor platform purpose-built for the supply chain.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 00:01
How visibility in the DC can affect other areas of the supply chain. New research for the trucking industry. And the top priority supply chain executives need to address. Pull up a chair and join us as the editors of DC Velocity discuss these stories, as well as news and supply chain trends, on this week’s Logistics Matters podcast. Hi, I’m Dave Maloney. I’m the editorial director at DC Velocity. Welcome. Logistics Matters is sponsored by Softeon. Softeon delivers powerful warehouse management, warehouse execution, and distributed order-management solutions, delivered on time, on budget, and on results, with the market’s only track record of 100% deployment success. That’s why logistics leaders including KC Stores, the Duluth Trading Company, Do it Best, Saddle Creek Logistics, and many more are powered by Softeon. Visit them at softeon.com. As usual, our DC Velocity senior editors Ben Ames and Victoria Kickham will be along to provide their insight into the top stories of this week. But to begin today, how can improvements in warehouse operations improve other areas of the supply chains to address that topic? Here’s Victoria with today’s guest. Victoria.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 01:23
Thank you, Dave. Our guest today is Alex Wakefield, CEO of supply chain technology company Longbow Advantage, and he’s here to talk to us about how better visibility in the warehouse can help supply chains overcome transportation bottlenecks and challenges. Welcome, Alex.
Alex Wakefield, CEO, Longbow Advantage 01:39
Thanks, Victoria. Appreciate you having me.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 01:42
I’ll start by saying we continue to see tight capacity in transportation markets and congestion in logistics networks worldwide. How would you assess what’s going on, and how it’s affecting businesses of all shapes and sizes?
Alex Wakefield, CEO, Longbow Advantage 01:56
Well, I think that we’re seeing a lot of the capacity constraints throughout all areas of the network—manufacturing, transportation, distribution. I think that transportation is most visible. It’s easier to see a mode of transportation. It’s easy to take a picture and report on it. We hear a lot about plant capacities, with some semiconductor shortages and commodity capacity constraints. From a warehousing standpoint, though, it’s sort of difficult to see inside the warehouse and, there’s really a mini, pretty high-velocity operation in there that I don’t think really gets a lot of the focus as to where some of the supply chain constraints are seen. But I think all of this is driven by top-level demand, by consumer goods, food and beverage, household items. People are at home and have more disposable income, so areas of supply chain are pretty stressed.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 02:49
Agreed. What about smaller businesses? I wanted to ask, you know, what unique challenges are they facing in the current market?
Alex Wakefield, CEO, Longbow Advantage 02:58
Well, I think small businesses, it cuts a little bit both ways. I certainly think they’re being hurt a little bit more than helped. They don’t have the purchasing power that large companies have, so that certainly hurts in bringing materials in. Labor constraints at the local level are pretty significant, so it’s hard to hire and retain people with some of the incentives to not work, or competition with with large organizations. Those are the things, I think, that hurt the local companies. But I think one thing that does help them is there is, in my opinion, a shift towards local sourcing, buying local—things like that. So, I think that helps. But overall, their competitive stance against large organizations, I think still continues to be an issue, particularly, you know, with all the material constraints that we’re seeing, and some of the issues we talked about in your first question.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 03:48
So how can better visibility in the warehouse, you know, help all companies of all sizes, as we’ve been talking about here, with these transportation problems and congestion that we’re seeing across the supply chain?
Alex Wakefield, CEO, Longbow Advantage 04:01
Yeah, I think transportation visibility has been coming around for a few years now, and certainly Covid heightened the focus on moving goods as efficiently and quickly as possible. But candidly, transportation networks don’t generate nearly the volume of data that warehouse operations do. So warehouse operations have many more moving parts, much more technology, much more highly engineered than any other supply chain. So when you think about those high-velocity, and try to make the operations as efficient as you can in the warehouse, getting visibility to what’s going on as it’s happening can be critical. The ability to make changes throughout the day, minute by minute, hour by hour, can make a huge difference in generating revenue, in optimizing your labor force, increasing customer sat, ultimately making you more competitive. So, the focus on doing those things is really high. The level of accomplishment, I think, is just a little bit challenged, but warehouse visibility, from what I see in the market is a huge area of focus. It just really hasn’t been tackled very well yet.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 05:10
And that requires, I would assume, you know, heavier use of data and analytics to solve some of these problems. Are you seeing any changes in the way company leaders kind of view the importance of that, of those elements in sort of getting at these visibility issues?
Alex Wakefield, CEO, Longbow Advantage 05:27
I definitely see a change in the way leaders are thinking about data and analytics in the warehouse. But candidly, I think their expectations are too low, and I think that because I see the misapplication of technology to try to create warehouse analytics and visibility. So, they may look to traditional supply chain optimization tools and algorithms that really aren’t designed to process huge datasets. So, WMS and, you know, warehouse control systems, and other technologies in the warehouse, run your warehouse really efficiently. But they’re not designed to actually process and report against those huge datasets that they generate. So normally, companies will look internally to their corporate IT team or their analytics team or their supply chain analytics team, and those teams come to the table with candidly, pretty expensive, slow solutions. And the reason those are expensive and slow—like a traditional data lake with a business intelligence tool attached to it—it’s because the teams that the design those aren’t used to operating in minute-by-minute operations. Sales, marketing, finance—they don’t need real time information like the supply chain does. It’s really the only organization that’s physically moving. So when you get down to the warehouse level, and you try to report against what’s going on as it’s happening, I just see the misapplication of technologies. And because of that, and because leaders are sometimes not aware of what’s possible, I think their expectation should be higher, to be honest with you.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 07:03
So, what can companies do to sort of reassess this? How did they start to look at it differently, or look, you know, look at it in the correct way?
Alex Wakefield, CEO, Longbow Advantage 07:13
I think the best thing they could do is get a little bit outside their comfort zone and understand just a bit more about technology, even, you know, it’s not really something you can go after, supply chain database technology. But informing themselves enough to work more effectively with their IT team, because where we’re seeing success is functionally oriented analytics and visibility applications specific to the warehouse, for instance, right? So I have conversations with with some of the largest companies in the world, and they would agree, Look, the data lake and the BI [business intelligence] plugin is good for historical analysis of smaller datasets, but if I’m trying to optimize my network, in a highly capacity-strained environment, that is a expensive, legacy, slow way to do it. So, the more successful executives and leaders that I work with are looking at their operation and accepting that they’re going to need point solutions that understand the process and the key metrics associated with their operation. So they make investments with technology designed to process huge data sets. That’s where I think they’re going to get much more value, and where we see really effective companies, candidly, turning the corner and leapfrogging their competitors in how they can run their operation.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 08:35
Your company recently conducted some research on warehouse technology in general. Can you tell us some of the general trends that you saw, particularly as it relates to how business leaders view the warehouse today, compared to say, five years ago?
Alex Wakefield, CEO, Longbow Advantage 08:52
Well, what we see in the warehouse, is there certainly a significant trend towards automation, right? There’s robotics, there’s cobots, and there’s robotics that are specifically designed for different types of operations. So, there’s a huge move towards robotics. I think that’s actually driven by two things. It’s driven by trying to improve process optimization, but it’s also driven by the labor constraints that we’re having, finding and retaining people. So, it’s a way to actually make sure you can process all the volume. So, I’m actually—I’ve talked to multiple logistics companies, distribution companies that are starting to turn down work, because they don’t have the facilities and they don’t have the ability to deploy some of the technology—which I haven’t seen before. It’s very interesting. So when you think about where the investments are being made, they’re being made so they can actually process goods and robotics. Companies are trying to optimize with technologies such as AI and machine learning. How do we improve automatically along the way across different process streams in the warehouse? I think there’s lots of different companies going after that. How successful they’re going to be, and who is successful, I think, is yet to be seen. And that’s where we come back to the the visibility and analytics piece, I don’t see many people trying to go after the data technology space effectively. And as you’re implementing all these technologies in the warehouse—which is the most engineered, honestly, complex area of supply chain—it’s just tough to see inside that box sometimes. With all the data being generated by these technologies, it makes it more and more difficult to process and use that data to optimize your operation. And it’s those data sets that really drive how good you know, your AI or machine learning is going to be.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 10:48
Any other sort of last thoughts or advice on how companies can better manage the supply chain challenges we’re seeing, you know, from a warehouse perspective, or even overall? Any thoughts you have on that?
Alex Wakefield, CEO, Longbow Advantage 11:01
I think if you look at the physical movement, the logistics area of supply chain, and how to create visibility and integration across the entire chain, I think that’s where companies are going to see value. Because I mentioned transportation visibility, and that allows companies to better plan when freight is being moved—when it’s arriving on the inbound side, going out, customer deliveries. So, it allows that visibility so you have better planning. But even if you have, let’s just take an example in transportation, right? There’s congestion in the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It’s not really a transportation issue. It’s more of a port infrastructure issue, which is more labor and distribution. So, even though you have visibility into transportation, having visibility into your distribution operation, what does your inbound process look like? What does your yard look like? What does your outbound process and workload look like? Companies need to see where they have capacity, where their operation is constrained, so they can, throughout the day, make shifts inside the warehouse that honestly allows the entire chain to be optimized. So, that’s what I think is, as companies are able to create better visibility in warehousing, labor utilization, transportation, inventory, Ithink customers that get their arms around—companies that get their arms around that and try to optimize visibility in the entire chain, I think that’s going to make a huge difference in [a] company’s ability to optimize their investment, and honestly serve customers and drive revenue.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 12:33
Alex, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today. We appreciate it.
Alex Wakefield, CEO, Longbow Advantage 12:37
Welcome. Thanks for having me, Victoria.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 12:38
We’ve been talking to Alex Wakefield, CEO of supply chain technology company Longbow Advantage. Now back to you, Dave.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 12:47
Thank you, Alex and Victoria. Now let’s take a look at some of the other supply chain news from the week. Ben, you wrote about some key challenges facing the trucking sector, and how research can help the industry find solutions. Can you tell us more?
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 13:03
It’s a really interesting time, Dave, that’s right. The trucking sector, of course, has seen some huge challenges over the last year. We’ve seen drivers continuing to work throughout the pandemic, of course, as essential employees; a huge leap in e-commerce volumes that we’ve all contributed to, buying from home; a quick economic rebound that’s straining delivery networks; really tight freight capacity; lingering driver shortage. It’s a fascinating time to watch the sector. So, this week, we learned exactly which issues could be the most important for the sector and then the upcoming year, in 2021. Then that’s from a report done by the American Transportation Research Institute, or ATRI, that’s a trucking trade group. Every year, ATRI identifies a list of research topics through a survey of its members, and this year several of those topics had to do with the persistent driver shortage, and finding enough drivers to staff all those busy trucks—both in recruitment and retention. So, of the five topics that ATRI chose, first on the list was understanding how to best integrate 18-to-20 year olds into the trucking industry. There have been some recent regulation changes that allow younger drivers, for instance, to cross state lines, which they [weren’t] previously able to do in all regions. So, this new research will follow a case-study approach to document the best ways to recruit and train and retain those younger people. Another topic was marijuana and other drugs—the impacts of decriminalization of the trucking industry. We’ve seen a growing number of states decriminalize marijuana. I’ve lost count. I think it’s a dozen off the top of my head. So, this study would update previous ATRI research by looking at roadway safety and workforce impacts as those changes spread to multiple states. A third one, still about drivers, was about quantifying the impacts of driver-facing cameras on fleets and drivers. That’s the way that a lot of fleets use to train their drivers, to coach them. And that this would have focus on safety and litigation and workforce impacts.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 15:13
Well, it sounds like, from what you said so far, the labor issues are on everyone’s mind right now. What sort of other topics were on the list?
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 15:20
That’s right. There were a couple other subjects of those top five, and that was mostly about emissions, and green logistics, so that the fourth topic was the charging infrastructure considerations for electric trucks. Of course, we’ve seen a rise in research and a lot—mostly pilots and test use—of battery power trucks. They have been more frequently used in short runs—you know, around docks and drayage situations—but mostly pilots, in terms of the highway use. So, looking into the charging infrastructure, because you got to keep all those batteries plugged in every now and then. And the last one was understanding the environmental impacts of zero-emission trucks. So, that does a comparative impact study of the full lifecycle—that’s from manufacturing to operations to disposal of electric trucks, as opposed to the Class A diesel trucks. And that would touch on some research that I know Victoria has done a lot about, about recycling and various types of batteries, because it takes some very specific chemicals to make those run. So, it’s important, with any new technology, to look at the full lifecycle of how you apply it to the equation and make sure that you come out ahead.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 16:37
Yeah, sure. Well, those all seem like very good, interesting topics that we’ll certainly follow, and we’ll hopefully be able to share some of the results of those research initiatives once they’re complete. Thanks, Ben.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 16:48
Yep, we’ll be here to do it.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 16:50
And Victoria, you wrote this week about a new technology report that outlines top priorities for logistics executives. What does the report say?
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 16:59
That’s right, Dave, yeah. So, well, logistics executives say they’ll prioritize artificial intelligence and machine learning investments as they look at new technologies that can help them manage business in a post Covid-19 economy. This is according to research from supply chain software vendor Blue yonder, which was published earlier this week. So, essentially, the company surveyed more than 150 executives from a range of industry segments: manufacturing, retail,3PLs, transportation and warehousing companies, and they all had responsibility for logistics and manufacturing operations in the United States. I should say they titled the report “The New Normal of Logistics.” And about half of the respondents said they planned to implement or enhance their warehouse management systems and their cloud infrastructure in the next 12 months. And as part of that, they said that advanced technology solutions will be a prime route to meeting their overall technology goals. So they said—respondents said—they’ll focus on three key areas. The first was AI and machine learning, as we mentioned at the outset, and that was about 42% of respondents. The next is sales and operations planning, or sales and operations execution, that was another 42%. And also transportation management systems—that was around 41% of respondents. It all stems from the pandemic and the mounting pressure companies have been under to meet rising customer demand for fast and convenient service and delivery, and the research showed that more companies are realizing they need to invest in technologies that can help them do that, especially those that can provide real-time visibility across the supply chain, and that’s what all this is aimed at doing.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 18:43
Yeah, that’s all interesting. Did the study mentioned any other priorities for logistics executives?
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 18:48
It did, yeah. And one of the first things, or one of the the other main areas, was convenience and flexibility will remain a priority over the coming year. About 40% of respondents said they plan to maintain and even optimize the convenient fulfillment options they initiated. They’ll continue to do that in the wake of the pandemic, and those are services like curbside pickup; buy online, pick up in store; and home delivery. So, they’re going to focus on continuing to do that and really enhancing them as well. The other two issues were sustainability and labor management, which gets at what Ben was talking about earlier. About 57% of respondents said they plan to invest more in sustainable upstream operations. Those are things like focusing on materials sourcing, looking at their suppliers’ sustainability efforts, and also sustainable manufacturing. And that’s all aimed at making sure their overall sustainable footprint throughout the supply chain is a focus. When it comes to labor, they said they’ll implement a multipronged approach to managing labor shortages. And we’ve talked quite a bit about the difficulty many in the industry are having finding workers this year. So, I’ll just give you a few statistics of what these particular, this particular group of executives said. 40% said they’re being more lenient and specific on job-experience requirements to attract and retain talent in that tight labor market, so they’re kind of casting a broader net to find people, 54% said they plan to invest in workforce management technologies, and 51% said they plan to invest in enhanced workforce training procedures in the next 12 months. Finally, almost 50% said they plan to offer more flexible scheduling options as a way to attract people. So, these are just some of the steps logistics leaders say they’re taking to sort of move forward as we emerge from the pandemic.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 20:43
Yeah, they all seem to be very important priorities aimed to improve all of our supply chains. Thanks, Victoria.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 20:49
Absolutely. You’re welcome.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 20:52
We encourage listeners to go to DCVelocity.com for more on these and other supply chain stories, and also check out the podcast Notes section for some direct links on the topics that we discussed today. Thanks, Ben and Victoria, for sharing highlights of the news this week.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 21:06
Thank you, Dave.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 21:07
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 21:09
And again, our thanks to Alex Wakefield of Longbow Advantage for being with us today. We encourage your comments on this topic and our other stories. You can email us at email@example.com. We also encourage you to subscribe to Logistics Matters at your favorite podcast platform, and to give us a rating. We do appreciate your feedback and it really does help people to find us. The new episodes of Logistics Matters are uploaded each Friday. And a reminder that Logistics Matters is sponsored by Softeon. Softeon helps companies orchestrate order fulfillment at the network level with distributed order management and at the DC level with Softeon WMS+ warehouse execution system. Meet customer demand at the least possible operating cost with Softeon solutions. Learn how at Softeon.com. We’ll be back again next week with another edition of Logistics Matters, so be sure to join us. Until then, please stay safe and have a great week.
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