It's been a busy spring in the world of logistics. Some very significant events are afoot, which could have profound effects on the way businesses operate in the not-very-distant future.
Many of those are deliberate efforts by businesses to revamp the way they deliver products to customers. Others are thrust upon logistics managers.
Perhaps most significant in the latter category is a development in the world of trucking: It seems that the driver shortage may be upon us and that a real capacity crisis is already at hand. Senior Editor Mark Solomon recently reported on a study by FTR, a consultancy whose monthly index of trucking conditions shows "unprecedented capacity constraints." Part of that was due to bad winter weather, but the firm expects capacity to remain tight and truckers to have the upper hand in rate negotiations for the rest of the year.
The tight capacity is a result of several factors, including strong demand in a rebounding economy. Demand will shift over time. But other concerns may be more ingrained in the industry, the lack of qualified drivers perhaps most concerning. I've been writing about logistics for more than a quarter of a century, and the coming driver shortage has been a major topic at seminars and conferences throughout that period. But this time, it may be for real. The driver force continues to age. Regulatory changes aimed at keeping bad drivers off the road—a good thing, of course—have shrunk the pool of available drivers. In his story, Solomon reported that even Walmart, which operates an enormous private fleet, is having a hard time filling its driver slots.
Other news we've reported recently suggests logistics operations in the U.S. are on the cusp of enormous change. Another logistics giant, Amazon, is reportedly making major shifts in its fulfillment operations—including the development of a private fleet to serve its top 40 markets, which comprise about half the U.S. population. That speaks to some important changes in the way businesses—retailers, in particular—meet customer demand. Which brings us back to Walmart and its response to the omnichannel revolution that's sweeping through the retail industry. Walmart announced recently that it has shifted responsibility for the backroom in 3,288 supercenters from store management to its logistics division. That may evoke a yawn from most of the world, but for those of us who work in or write about logistics, that is a major development.
The skies may be safe from unmanned drones making deliveries—that's still far off. But in the meantime, the ground may be shifting under our feet right now.