For the past several years, I have devoted my January column to predicting what lies in store for the supply chain in the year ahead. This year, it will be a little bit different, however. This is the 178th "Fast Lane" column I have written for DC Velocity, and regrettably, it will be my last. I have worked in this industry for six decades; but as Kenny Rogers sang, "You have to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em." That time has come for me. (Some might argue that it came several years ago.)
It has been a great run. I have loved (almost) every day I have been involved with logistics and supply chain activities. I have developed many great and long-lasting friendships, and have seen over a half century of progress in our industry.
The most exciting thing about working in the logistics arena has been the almost constant change we've dealt with for as long as I can remember. I witnessed the birth and growth of the first national logistics service provider in the warehousing industry. I also saw it quietly fade into history because of greed and a failure to understand how to forge strong outsourcing relationships. Then there were the pivotal events of 1980, when, after over 100 years of government regulation, Congress finally freed carriers and shippers alike to be more creative and innovative in their business dealings. Before then, they had very little incentive to attempt anything new because of government intervention and bureaucracy. It is difficult to describe to anyone under, say, 55 what it was like to manage a transportation function prior to 1980.
During my career, I have seen the leading supply chain organization change its name twice. What started out as the National Council of Physical Distribution Management became the Council of Logistics Management, then the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals. (If you think the acronym "CSCMP" is a mouthful, try "NCPDM.") One can only imagine what might come next.
And the list goes on. But what about the future? That has become increasingly difficult to predict. The winds of change are hitting us from all directions, primarily because of the sophisticated technology now available to us. Our industry has never been short on good ideas; we just lacked the technology to implement them. That has now changed. Whether it's blockchain, autonomous vehicles, robotics, taller warehouses, or drones, they've all been made possible through the magic of technology.
We hear a lot today about the "Amazon effect." Certainly, it is true that Amazon has changed the rules of the retail logistics game, but it's also true that the e-tailing giant has reset consumers' service and delivery expectations. Today's online shoppers take speed and visibility for granted. We must adopt the mindset that we are living in a world of instant gratification and must manage accordingly.
If I could leave with you with any advice for the future, I would offer guidance on two fronts. First of all, watch the political climate. Such things as the renegotiation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the current bias against trade agreements, increasing trucking regulations, and infrastructure needs all will impact the supply chain, and supply chain managers must keep a much closer watch on what's going on in Washington than we've had to in the past.
Second, and most important, we must become—and endeavor to stay—technologically competent. It will not be enough to just understand trucks, trains, and warehouses. Certainly, these are the backbone of the supply chain, but it's technology that will provide the tools required to manage them effectively.
Finally, in closing, I would be remiss if I did not express my deepest appreciation to the wonderful folks at DC Velocity who have provided me with a forum to discuss supply chain issues I felt were important. And to you, the readers who have taken a few minutes to read my rantings and ravings, thank you. I hope in some small way, they have been helpful.