This Week in Logistics News (November 12-16, 2012)

Get your Twinkies and Wonder Bread while they last. Hostess Brands is going out of business.

In more important news…

Routing and scheduling, mobile, and telematics solutions continue to converge, as evidenced by Descartes’ announced acquisition this week of Exentra, a UK-based provider of software-as-a-service (SaaS) driver compliance solutions for the European Union, for about $17 million in cash. Here are some details from the press release:

In the EU, every vehicle over 3.5 tons is required to have a tachograph. A tachograph is a device fitted to a vehicle that automatically records its speed and distance, together with the driver’s activity. Exentra’s cloud-based compliance management platform, Smartanalysis, helps customers leverage the data from a vehicle’s tachograph to comply with EU-wide legislation governing driver compliance, such as the EU working-time directive.

 

“The EU driver compliance legislation has been in place longer than comparable regulations in North America. In the EU, not only is every vehicle required to have tachograph hardware, but the hardware is standardized and fitted during vehicle production,” said Steve Fisher, CEO of Exentra and Director of Compliance at Descartes.

Descartes also made some other product-related announcements at its annual Descartes Evolution Global User and Partner Conference, including the unveiling of Descartes Community, a cloud-based service that allows Descartes customers “to more deeply interact in their daily business within their industry and find new ways to grow.” Some additional details from the press release:

Descartes is making its industry leading Standard Messaging Format (SMF) communication protocol publicly available for use, free of charge, to those wishing to connect to Descartes Global Logistics Network (GLN). Designed to help build communities and enable industries to improve their productivity and performance, the Descartes Community service offers members the ability to connect with Descartes GLN members through collaboration tools and automate multiparty processes by utilizing the SMF business document definitions [emphasis mine].

In many ways, Descartes Community is aiming to provide the same type of communication and collaboration capabilities that GE is enabling with its GE Colab social network platform, except Descartes’ network extends across different companies. What started out as B2B connectivity is now morphing into a social network platform for supply chain and logistics, with apps to execute processes. Other software-as-a-service providers with built-in trading partner networks, as well as 3PLs, have the same opportunity, and I know of at least two other providers that are moving in this direction too.

Speaking of B2B networks, E2open announced the availability of the newest version of E2 Cloud Connectivity that brings “industry-first productized maps that speeds data transformation across industry standards such as X12, EDIFACT, OAGIS and others.” Lorenzo Martinelli, Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy, at E2open says the following in the press release:

“One of the biggest challenges to rapid and cost-effective trading partner connectivity is the traditional practice of one-off, custom, point-to-point maps for transactions and data. Working with some of the most complex supply chains, and hundreds of customer deployments, we have created a next-generation model that enriches our network content using open canonicals and cross-standard maps.”

B2B connectivity is not a sexy topic, and the technical details are lost on most people, but it’s a critical piece of the IT puzzle. Without it, most supply chain applications would be worthless, like a Web browser without Internet connectivity. Many companies still build and maintain their own connectivity networks, but I believe B2B connectivity should be accessed as a service, like electricity or any other utility. And by plugging in to an existing multi-party network, you gain access to the collaboration and social networking opportunities mentioned above. Just my two cents.

In other technology news, LeanLogistics announced the release of On-Demand TMS® version 12.3.0 that “enables shippers to enact compliance, risk management, governance and control specific to global logistics.” Part of this new functionality is enabled via partnerships with INTTRA and Amber Road. Here are some additional details from the press release:

LeanGlobal enhancements in version 12.3.0 include connectivity with leading ocean carriers and NVOCCs to facilitate booking management. In addition, version 12.3.0 provides global trade compliance that includes product classification, import and export control checks, documentation determination, restricted party screening, ocean freight settlement and global business intelligence all within the On-Demand TMS.

Finally, UPS introduced UPS Order Watch, “a cloud-based technology platform that allows customers to more efficiently collaborate with international suppliers and better manage their inbound supply chains.” According to the press release:

Enhancements to the service include added capabilities to enable greater accuracy and timeliness of overseas vendor bookings; improved processing and management of suppliers; automated exception management; near real-time shipment status and detailed line-level visibility of in-transit inventory; improved internal operational processes; and facilitation of purchase order (PO) consolidation and optimized shipping plans.

This is yet another example of how the business models of software vendors, 3PLs, and consultants continue to merge. Simply put, if you are looking for supply chain and logistics technology, you have many options besides the “usual suspects” of software vendors. 3PLs and consultants might have the solution you’re looking for.

Also, did you notice that all the solutions highlighted above are cloud-based? Are there any other kind these days?

Have a great weekend! Gonna grab me a Wonder Bread and mayonnaise sandwich.

Song of the Week: “Feel Again” by OneRepublic.

(Note: Descartes, LeanLogistics, and Ryder are Logistics Viewpoints sponsors)

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