July 14, 2014
Column | big picture

Summer reading

They may not be beach reads, but our upcoming stories on intermodal's evolution, ways to reduce warehousing costs, and how voice tools fit into omnichannel operations are good reading nonetheless.

By Peter Bradley

Years ago, I frequently wrote stories about intermodal transportation. The gist of those stories often was that domestic intermodal held out lots of promise, but those promises would remain unfulfilled until providers drastically improved service reliability.

The service providers—brokers, intermodal marketing companies, the railroads themselves—all knew what the issues were. But the answers were never simple, and often the parties had competing interests, making progress difficult.

We have come a long way. Mark Solomon reports this month on the big gains intermodal players have made in providing predictable and broader services and converting much over-the-road linehaul traffic to the railroads. In many respects, big motor carriers like J.B. Hunt and Schneider National have been their allies in this. Intermodal service can help the over-the-road carriers grapple with some intransigent problems like the ever-present driver shortage, high fuel costs, and increasing highway congestion. Today, Solomon reports, the railroads carry more than 19,000 intermodal containers per calendar day, and more shippers than ever are giving intermodal serious consideration.

It is not, of course, freight transportation nirvana. The longer the dray, the less attractive intermodal becomes. Shifting freight to intermodal, which is more often than not a slower option than door-to-door trucking, may require adjustments to network or inventory strategies. But if you have not looked at intermodal service in a while, it might be worth a second look. At the very least, read Solomon's story this month for insight on how the business has evolved.

Elsewhere in DC Velocity: A large part of intermodal's success has come through improved technology. And technology, as we all know, is critical across supply chains. Have we reached the era where "big data" will drive supply chain decisions? In an article that has remained one of the best read on our website, Senior Editor James Cooke wrote that the time may be at hand when the next person you hire for your logistics team might have to be a data scientist. Manipulating and managing data for competitive advantage has long been crucial to business, but we are just at the dawn of efforts to sift through the massive amounts of data that today's systems produce. Data tools are likely to become intrinsic to every part of business, particularly logistics. Are you prepared for that? Separately, Descartes' Chris Jones, in his DC Velocity blog, voices his doubts about the industry's readiness. See his piece on our website, "Is Your Company's IT Strategy Stuck in the 90s?"

We have a lot more coming in the month ahead for the dog days of summer: updates on batteries and chargers, our continuing series on site selection (next up: Illinois), a look at how voice tools fit into omnichannel operations, and some new tips on reducing warehouse costs. OK, maybe not beach reads, but good reading nonetheless.

About the Author

Peter Bradley
Editor Emeritus
Peter Bradley is an award-winning career journalist with more than three decades of experience in both newspapers and national business magazines. His credentials include seven years as the transportation and supply chain editor at Purchasing Magazine and six years as the chief editor of Logistics Management.

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