From moving processes to the cloud to drone delivery, the procurement, logistics and distribution field has been subject to constant disruption and innovation. Between the explosion of tracking and sensor technologies, the shifts toward artificial intelligence-based just-in-time resource management and provisioning, everything is moving at lightning speed.
Companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce expenses and the need for analysts, as well as automate decisions based on past performances. These are just some of the reasons why businesses are moving towards AI when it comes to logistics and distribution.
This technology is changing everything, including the way that physical and non-physical goods are procured, purchased, shipped and managed.
We asked you, our readers, who you think is leading the innovation in logistics and distribution. We wanted to know who the visionaries are, who the important voices in the field are, who is working ahead of their time, and which companies are doing interesting work.
You came through for us again, and with that, B2B News Network is proud to bring you our 2016 list of the most interesting, influential and up-and-coming people in procurement, logistics and distribution.
Who he is: Marc Kuo, Founder and CEO, Routific
There were many amazing entries at Startup Weekend Vancouver in 2012, but the winner was clear – Marc Kuo had something that would change the way local businesses would run.
Kuo’s company, Routific – a logistics platform that empowers local delivery businesses to run more efficiently – was born after Kuo completed a thesis on route optimization algorithms several years prior to his starting the company with his wife Suzanne Ma.
In finding the shortest, most fuel-efficient path for a multi-stop route, he found he could cut waste in the transportation and logistics space. That’s when he knew he was onto something.
“We started Routific to help eliminate waste in last-mile logistics,” said Kuo. “We were shocked to learn that only very clumsy and expensive route planning software was available to businesses that desperately needed a better solution.”
Kuo made it his mission to bring route optimization technology to every local delivery business by creating software that’s affordable, intuitive and easy to use.
Routific helps local delivery businesses plan routes more quickly and efficiently, saving them up to 40 per cent on driving time and fuel.
Technology has changed procurement, logistics and distribution, Kuo said.
“We meet with businesses every day that are still relying on manual processes – pen and paper, spreadsheets, dispatchers, and human route planners – to help them figure out rather complicated logistics,” he said. “It’s an epic waste of time and resources. But we’re also watching many businesses transform very quickly after they start adopting technology.
“The first thing we usually hear about are the savings – hours of time saved every day, fuel savings of up to 37 percent, and in some cases, companies have slashed operational costs by nearly 30 percent. All this gives businesses more time to focus on growth and the happiness of their own customers,” he said.
Later, businesses who have continued to leverage technology to help streamline their operations have reported exponential growth – some doubling or even tripling their fleets in less than a year, Kuo said. This, he added, is “thanks to a number of initiatives, chief among them the adoption of software.”
Routific team members also use software and technology to make their own jobs easier.
“We use services like live chat software or shared inboxes to help us provide exemplary customer service,” he said. “And we love using ZenHub, a project management tool inside of GitHub that keeps our engineers in close communication with our marketing and sales teams, allowing us to carry out ambitious sprints with brilliant synergy.”
According to Kuo, exciting things are ahead for logistics and distribution.
“The logistics ecosystem has always lagged behind on the adoption curve,” he said. “Only now are businesses modernizing with technologies, so I believe that plenty of innovation is to be had in the short term.”
In the long term, Kuo predicts that there will be a proliferation of driverless, autonomous cars.
“As this kind of technology becomes more mainstream, we’re going to see more reliance on smart algorithms that will drive efficiencies, help eliminate human error, and make the roads much safer for everyone.”
Who she is: Catherine Graham, CEO, Commonsku
Find her on Twitter: @commonsku
When Toronto-based Rightsleeve – a promotional products agency that designs branded swag for media and consumer products companies – went through a period of rapid growth, CEO Catherine Graham started looking for a management platform that went beyond supply chain management.
She wanted a solution that was robust, rich and flexible and suited to her industry, which had many complex and different relationships to manage. Processes had to be automated and activities tracked electronically with access to that tracked data available to stakeholders.
When she couldn’t find what she was looking for, she and her co-founder and husband, Mark Graham, along with Rightsleeve’s in-house developer built the solution – a cloud-based business management platform for the promotional product industry.
Commonsku – where Graham now acts as CEO – was formed, and has since branched off to become its own company.
A great example of how industry-specific tools on the cloud are being created and maintained to streamline and track procurement and logistics processes, Commonsku allows clients to have greater flexibility in terms of where and when they work and how they interact with their colleagues, suppliers and each other.
The social media model has enabled the company to promote from within and mentor the development of people it had previously been working with.
In a previous interview, Graham told B2B News Network: “I can see what is happening when someone signs up a new client, when they have a meeting with a client. As a result, we have collaboration, transparency and community in our day-to-day operations and it frees me up to deal with larger strategic issues when we are face-to-face.”
Who they are: What3words (Giles Rhys Jones)
Find them on Twitter: @what3words
If you regularly get packages you ordered delivered to your door without issue, you’re among the lucky ones. According to what3words, around 75 percent of the world suffers from inconsistent, complicated or inadequate addressing systems.
To these people, the problem goes beyond missed mail – inadequate addressing systems mean that around four billion people are invisible; unable to report crime or receive aid; and unable to communicate where they live. This also means that in remote locations, water facilities can’t be found, monitored and fixed; and schools, refugee camps and informal settlements remain unaddressed. More than an inconvenience, this is life-threatening and growth limiting in developing nations.
The solution is simple, yet eloquent. A location reference platform based on a global grid of 57 trillion three-metre-by-three metre squares, what3words gives everyone on the planet an address.
Here’s how it works: “Each square has been allocated a unique, fixed three-word address,” what3words Chief Marketing Officer Giles Rhys Jones told B2B News Network. “Street addressing is irregular and incomplete and whilst GPS coordinates are accurate and universal, they are prone to errors in transcription and communication. what3words gives everyone, everything and everywhere a simple address.”
No Internet connection? No problem – what3words functions without a data connection. This solves a perpetual constraint when in remote and unaddressed locations, or in areas with poor connectivity.
This universal addressing system is touted to be far more accurate than a postal address. Using words means non-technical people can find any location accurately and communicate it more quickly, more easily and with less ambiguity than any other system like street addresses, postcodes, latitude and longitude or mobile short-links. People’s ability to immediately remember three words is near perfect. As a result, what3words can revolutionise the human side of this experience for everyone.
“The beauty of what3words is its simplicity,” said Jones. “A 12mb algorithm containing all the addresses in the world that can be used offline, has built in error detection and in over 10 languages. With approximately two hours of coding our API can be added to any business for whom communicating a location represents a problem.”
The what3words’ error detection is nearly foolproof – despite using a wordlist of 25,000 to 40,000 dictionary words, the wordlists go through multiple automated and human processes before being sorted by an algorithm that takes into account word length, distinctiveness, frequency, and ease of spelling and pronunciation. The company’s website states that offensive words have been removed from the list, as have words that sound like others, which can cause confusion. This makes things easier for users.
While simpler, more common words are assigned to more populated areas for ease of use, and the longest words are used in unpopulated areas.
The system is also nearly human error-proof: if a three-word address is entered slightly incorrectly and the result is still a valid what3words result, the location will be so far away from the intended area that it will be immediately obvious to either a user or an intelligent automated error-detection system.
Jones agreed that technology has changed procurement, logistics and distribution.
“Technology can reduce customer frustration and drive efficiencies,” Jones said. “Poor addressing and imprecise geocoding means last mile delivery is problematic and costs 28 percent of overall delivery costs. UPS estimates that saving each of their drivers one mile equates to a $50 million a year saving for the business. In the UK, 0.5 percent of all deliveries fail due to poor addressing. Many postal and delivery services can’t offer door-to-door services. Customers provide a mobile number and the driver has to make phone calls to get directions, making each delivery expensive, slow and annoying for the customer.”
With all the steps being made, big changes still lie ahead for logistics, said Jones, who said there will be a “dramatic increase in cross-border, autonomous and drone delivery along with the requirement to deliver to a customer anywhere rather than a home or office.
“All these developments rely on a simple way to talk about and validate a location,” he said.
Who he is: Matt Tillman, Co-founder and CEO, Haven
Years ago, Matt Tillman was having great difficulty trying to ship a Jeep to South America ahead of a long pan-American road trip.
“Even once I’d found a forwarder, I had nothing to compare them to – no market, no site that had standardized rates, there was nothing,” said Tillman.
At the same time, Jeff Wehner was having the same challenges during his time in supply chain management at Apple and later Nest.
“I couldn’t believe that large shippers were having the same issues as I was,” said Tillman. “For decades, this wasteful process was just how business was done. We knew that we could make the process better.”
In 2014, Tillman and Wehner formed Haven, an automated logistics platform built specifically to solve shippers’ biggest challenges.
Built for commodity traders, food producers, and consumer goods companies that need to ship cargo frequently, Haven’s platform automates freight and logistics using a single, transparent interface. The ability to quote, book, and ship cargo with the right set of providers allows the world’s largest trading firms to lower costs and increase their margins through technology.
Headquartered in Singapore with offices in Switzerland and San Francisco, Haven is transforming global trade by radically reducing supply chain risk, Tillman told B2B News Network.
Using data optimization to finding the right partners for the right route, Haven connects companies transparently with more than 1,200 providers including the top ocean carriers. Transparency is important to Tillman. “Instead of introducing opacity to take advantage of customers, Haven provides back-to-back pricing with no hidden markup,” he said.
Tillman believes that making the freight buying process efficient transforms the global supply chain and reduces barriers to trade. Haven’s team in San Francisco builds all of its own technology, so the company is able to make the platform efficient and easy to use – both things usually neglected by the logistics industry.
Many changes still lie ahead for logistics and distribution, said Tillman.
“The industry is changing; supply and demand are out of balance leading to an overcapacity problem which is shifting how buyers and sellers interact with each other,” he said.
Technology will become even bigger. Shippers and their providers will increasingly incorporate technology since it solves problems for both sides of the market, Tillman added.
Currently for most shippers, logistics services are conducted using a few middlemen, relying exclusively on telephones, email, and fax machines, said Tillman.
“Even the largest shippers rely on spreadsheets and existing relationships to conduct business; they connect with only a fraction of the potential providers when transacting which means they limit their opportunity.
“While humans will remain a critical component of the supply chain, it’s clear that global trade is no longer a purely human-scale problem,” he said. “Increasing realization of the power of data and new forms of automation is going to lead to some big shifts towards machine-scale solutions in the industry over the next five years.”
Who he is: Karl Siebrecht, Co-Founder and CEO of Flexe
Follow him on Twitter: @flexe
Some people need warehouse space. Others have too much and would like to rent some out. A Seattle-based company has found a way help both these sides.
A seasoned technology executive with leadership experience at large, global corporations including advertising technology company AdReady and SaaS-based solution for energy efficiency management EnergySavvy, Karl Siebrecht launched Flexe in 2013.
Along with his team of technology entrepreneurs and logistics experts, Siebrecht honed in on a major problem in the logistics world – while a typical warehouse lease runs from three to five years, suppliers are left wondering how to deal with seasonality, unpredictable business cycles and other business opportunities that require on-demand warehouse space.
The solution was Flexe, a first-of-its-kind, cloud-based marketplace that connects retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers needing short-term storage solutions and warehouse operators with extra space.
Flexe makes things as easy as possible for all of its clients, as the process is similarly uncomplicated for suppliers and distributors. Using Flexe requires only web-enabled devices and an Internet connection. It is free for warehouse owners to list their facilities with Flexe, and all services are set by each warehouse owner. Flexe requires no technology investments or long-term leases. Using search and discovery tools on the website, users needing space can choose among dozens of facilities to match their specific distribution needs.
The Flexe platform also incorporates a cloud-based pallet tracking system. This system enables buyers to manage an infinite number of pallets across multiple warehouses in North America to gain real-time insight into their inventory, transit scheduling and billing – all from a single program.
The result: adding storage capacity is now more flexible and more cost effective than ever before, and dealing with inventory peaks, executing product promotions, testing new markets, and reacting to unforeseen events is easier and faster.
Siebrecht writes a well-written and well-read logistics, supply chain and warehousing blog at https://www.flexe.com/blog.
Who he is: Jeff Ashcroft, Business Development Professional, Supply Chain Network
A self-described business development professional, Jeff Ashcroft is more than that – he’s a logistics veteran and expert, with more than 25 years in the field. He’s got experience in all aspects of logistics, from working on the warehouse floor to inside boardrooms of major retail and third-party logistics organizations. As a result, he knows the industry inside and out.
On his LinkedIn profile, he states that his experience has “given me a solid base of capabilities and practical approach to helping organizations develop and implement logistics solutions that work.”
That experience was recognized when he was named one of the most important influencers in Supply Chain Sustainability by SAP Community Network in 2014 and one of IBM’s 20 Global Futurists Relative to the Future of Commerce in 2015.
He recently held the position of Director Business Development, Omni-Channel Retail at SCI Logistics. For SCI Logistics – a leading Canadian third-party logistics provider that offers customized supply chain solutions to clients in the retail, e-commerce, technology, healthcare, and financial sectors – Ashcroft developed a vision for the retail and e-commerce markets. He supported retailers entering the Canadian market for both store distribution and or e-commerce and has helped some of the world’s largest retailers successfully enter Canada.
Previously, he was vice-president and principal analyst of social supply chain management at Constellation Research, principal facilitator at Supply Chain Network, vice-president logistics/supply chain at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and president of Strategic Logistics Partners.
Ashcroft is known for coining the terms “matrix commerce,” and “matrix retail,” which he referred to in one of his past blog posts as a “series of intersecting layers of combined physical and digital experiences, media, mediums, products and environments through which retailers attract, interact, engage and do business with consumers.”
Now is one of the best times for retailers to revisit their logistics network strategy and supply chain design to prepare for an omni-channel retail future that’s rapidly emerging, Ashcroft stated on his LinkedIn page.
He continued, “There are number of opportunities/challenges related to inventory, store size, technology and sustainability which have potential to turn current retail distribution models upside down. Those who understand and prepare will reap competitive advantage as others struggle to reset their retail networks in response.”
Who he is: Justin Coetzee, CEO, GoMetro
Transport app GoMetro first launched in September 2012 after founder and CEO Justin Coetzee found that there was a lack of information coming from public transport in his home of Cape Town, South Africa.
Coetzee, a civil engineer by training with a Master’s degree in transportation engineering has designed and built roads and related physical infrastructure all over South Africa. He realized that a sustainable city system relies on public transportation systems.
With the goal of making public transit schedules easier to navigate, Coetzee created a mobile platform that allows commuters stay informed by delivering real-time train timetables, updates, line information and other key services to public transport users.
The GoMetro app allows travellers to contribute information to let others know if their public transit has been delayed, and to get updates from people riding the same route.
Commuters can access information they require about their mode of transportation by inputting their current locations and final destinations into their smartphones. Once the information has been entered, they will be able to see what was happening with their transit service in real time.
Coetzee’s startup immediately caught on and has since won numerous awards, more recently the title of “Best Innovation in a Growth Market” at the San Francisco Mobile Global Forum in 2014 and Frost and Sullivan’s “Global Best Practice Award in Transportation Value Added Services” in 2015.
GoMetro has since expanded beyond its South African beginnings to serve public transit riders around the world.
Who she is: Erica E. Phillips, reporter, The Wall Street Journal Logistics Report
Find her on Twitter: @EEPhillips_WSJ
If you want to know who or what is making the news in logistics this week, simply read Erica Phillips’ Logistics Report in the The Wall Street Journal.
A Los Angeles-based reporter for WSJ Logistics Report, Phillips specializes in reporting on issues surrounding global supply chain, transportation and distribution. She holds a Master’s degree in specialized journalism from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in economics from Haverford College. In the past, she has worked on the national news beat for The Wall Street Journal on topics including the environment, economics, education and criminal justice, and at The Daily Journal, where she covered legal affairs.
Most recently, Phillips has written about logistics firms including what3words, Fetchr and OkHi; a new law requiring containers to be weighted before they are loaded onto ships; low vacancy rates at warehouses; a weak peak season for shipping in the U.S. and a recent drop in air freight volumes.
Who he is: Rajesh Yabaji, Co-Founder and CEO, BlackBuck
A former business manager and a supply chain manager for ITC Limited in India, Rajesh Yabaji already had experience with the whole value chain of logistics – planning, warehousing and transportation – when he formed BlackBuck, a Bengaluru, India-based freight-booking service company along with logistics experts B. Ramasubramaniam and Chanakya Hridaya in 2015.
Back in the day, the customer had no information or control on the status of their freight once it was already in transit. BlackBuck is a freight management solution that addresses the needs of every stakeholder in the transporting industry, including the customer, truck owner and the driver.
BlackBuck allows companies and truck operators to meet, while overseeing the whole process. The company’s clients proved that the demand for these services was there – it has served some of India’s biggest brands and has tens of thousands of truck owners registered.
Although the company’s goal is to connect people and revolutionize transportation logistics and the freight-booking logistics sector, Yabaji also cares about drivers – another company goal is to improve the lives of truck drivers by improving the infrastructure along driving routes.
Who he is: Julien Smith and Caterina Rizzi, Co-founders, Breather
It’s amazing how the right space can encourage people to do their best work. Breather supports workers by connecting them with private on-demand workspaces to focus, meet, or just relax – in the end making for more productive meetings and working sessions.
This is for all the people out there who try to block out distractions while working from home, or end up working from a Starbucks: Breather allows clients to book peaceful or practical spaces for periods from 30 minutes to a full day from their smartphones. Once the space is reserved, the Breather system issues a unique PIN code to unlock the door.
Breather helps both workers find their ideal spaces, and people with spaces to put their extra spaces to work for them by turning them into extra cash.
The company handles the bookings, the collection of the payment, optional design and furnishings and even the cleaning while property owners generate income from dozens of underused spaces in Canada (Montreal, Toronto Ottawa and London) and the U.S. (New York City, SF Bay Area, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC).
Who he is: Aidan Heavey, Founder and CEO, Tullow Oil
Find him on Twitter: @TullowOilplc
Headquartered in London, England, Tullow Oil is a leading global independent oil and gas exploration and production company.
The company was founded in Tullow (about 35 miles south of Dublin, Ireland), after company CEO Aidan Heavey heard from a friend that there were opportunities to rework old small oil fields in Africa that had been left behind by the majors. Although he didn’t know anything about the oil and gas industry at the time, it didn’t stop him from setting up Tullow Oil.
Tullow Oil focuses on finding and monetising oil in Africa and the Atlantic Margins by executing exploration campaigns, maintaining production and ensuring it is financed through a mix of diverse funding options and portfolio management. Company values include using sustainable operations; protecting its staff and workers; maintaining high standards of governance coupled with strong and effective risk management; and working with an engaged multi-disciplined, diverse and entrepreneurial team.
It’s also interested in making communities where it works better places – by making positive and lasting contributions and protecting the environment with sustainable practices.
Who he is: Oscar Salazar, Chief Technologist and Head of Product at Ride
Find him on Twitter: @ride
When it comes to logistics, few people know it as well as independent entrepreneur Oscar Salazar. One of three inventors and co-founders of Uber, along with the better known Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick, Salazar was actually the company’s first chief technology officer, although he left the company soon after its launch.
He is also the Chief Technologist and Head of Product at Ride – a similar logistics company to Uber – which launched in 2014.
Unlike Uber, which allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request which is then routed to Uber drivers who use their own cars, Ride focuses on serving commuters and carpoolers in places where public transportation is not readily available. Also unlike Uber, which offers one-off rides, Ride is meant for long-term, repeated use. The app works by getting companies to sign up and participating company employees download the app and input their addresses, car types, and whether they are looking to become passengers or drivers. The Ride app then focuses on matching a company’s employees with their colleagues with similar routes and departure times in order to save gas money. The app even provides drivers with directions for pickup of their fellow commuters.
As Ride is meant for repeat users, the program automatically bills users daily per mile travelled unless they choose to opt out that day. The app collects the money from the riders and pays the driver to offset the cost.
Salazar is responsible for yet another well-used program – he’s also a co-founder and the chief product officer of Pager, which allows smartphone users to order visits from a doctor or nurse.
Image credit: Amazon.com
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