Six years ago today, Western Union sent its last telegram, a communication technology that was like magic when it was first introduced in the 1850s. As telephone service became more widespread and affordable, the telegram became less relevant. And then came the Internet, email, texting, and chatting, which spelled the end of the telegram.

Which technology will be next? When will the last email be sent?

Out with the old, in with the new…

Descartes, Ryder, Oracle, and FedEx all made announcements this week related to mobile technologies and supply chain visibility. You can read the press releases for all the details, but here are my takeaways:

  • You can’t ignore the importance of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). If optimization algorithms are the brains of routing solutions, then GIS is the heart. Your body needs both brain and heart in good health to survive, and the same is true for a routing solution to provide accurate, executable results and sustained value. Considering that many of Descartes’ solution offerings are highly dependent on GIS, it’s not surprising that the company decided to own and vertically integrate/innovate this piece of the puzzle.
  • Telematics solutions are getting smarter…and more affordable. Ryder’s announcement this week is a perfect example. The company launched “RydeSmart 3.0,” the next generation of its onboard telematics system. Key new features include an improved user interface, enhanced mapping capability, multi-vehicle following and route tracing, vehicle history playback, traffic monitoring, and analytic reporting. In addition, RydeSmart is now offered as a software-as-a-service product, which will make this technology more affordable to a broader cross-section of the market.
  • Investments in Mobile Workforce Management solutions are growing. Last March, for example, Steve Banker wrote about a large food and beverage manufacturer that is using a mobile resource management solution to track and manage the activities of thousands of merchandisers. Oracle’s announcement this week about its Utilities Mobile Workforce Management 2.1 solution is another example. Simply put, routing, scheduling, and tracking solutions are not just for trucks and other mobile assets anymore; companies are starting to apply these solutions to gain greater visibility and control of their mobile workforces too.
  • The convergence of RFID, GPS, and sensors continues. Back in April 2009, I wrote a posting titled “Everything Will Be Tracked Wirelessly in 10 Years,” and I discussed several things that needed to occur for this to happen, including “The development of hybrid Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) devices that integrate a combination of technologies, including barcodes, passive and active RFID, satellite communication, GPS, cellular, and sensors. These devices will need to have different configurations, form factors, and price points depending on the application and business case.” The news from FedEx this week shows that the industry continues to make progress in achieving this goal.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) is predicting that “in 2035, the average real price of crude oil in the Reference case [will be] about $145 per barrel in 2010 dollars, or about $230 per barrel in nominal dollars.” But as the chart below shows, there are scenarios (which the EIA will detail in the final version of the report due this spring) that could result in oil prices reaching $200 per barrel in 2010 dollars, and others that could drop it to about $60 per barrel. The net takeaway: there’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen to oil prices in the years ahead.

EIA Oil Forecast (Source: EIA)

I’m out of time for today, so I’ll discuss the “National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security” announcement by the White House in a future posting.

Have a great weekend!

(Note: Descartes, Ryder, Oracle, and SAP are ARC clients)

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