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Material Handling Institute US Roadmap for 2015: Can't Wait for 2025!

NC State supply chain research students recently met with Dan Stanton, Vice President of Education and Professional Development at the Material Handling Institute.  MHI (“The Industry That Makes Supply Chains Work”) publishes an annual U.S. Roadmap, that identifies some of the major technology and logistics trends on the horizon.  As noted in their publication, some of the trends have been around for awhile, including the growth of e-commerce, relentless competition, urbanization, and Big Data/predictive analytics.  In fact, many of my predictions made in 2014 also appear in my 2015 predictions as well.  

However, the MHI study, conducted through interviews and surveys with logistics executives, provide a compelling view of what the future will look like.  The group held workshops in 2013 at several locations, and spent eight hours over two days discussing them…a team of academics from Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and MHI worked on the report.

On page 21, the U.S. Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics calls the Physical Internet an “ambitious, comprehensive vision that addresses a wide variety of [supply chain-related] problems.” 

The concept, put forth by Benoit Montreuil, Professor and Coca-Cola Chair in Material Handling and Distribution at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), proposes an open global logistics system that leverages interconnected supply networks through a standardized set of collaborative protocols, modular containers and smart interfaces that enable universal tracking and communication. The goal is to increase efficiency and profitability while promoting sustainability.  This is indeed an ambitious goal – but the details on the infrastructure, technology standards, and ownership of IP in such a system precludes it from happening in the short-term, unless major players take control and become the “owner” of these systems (in my humble opinion).

Another interesting proposal is the idea of sensors, data, and algorithms that drive technological capabilities, of the so-called “Internet of Things”.  One of the roadblocks here is the need to work with data in different formats, and the challenges around standard data formats.  I’ve seen this in person – witness the simple challenges associated with a “spend analysis” using structured data, and the challenges on trying to derive meaning from stuff companies already know they are buying! The roadmap predicts 2025 as the date when standards emerge….as well as appropriate forms of data sharing across boundaries to ensure real-time data.

Other predictions include total supply chain visibility – and development of GPS capabilities across transportation assets.  (Again the magic time frame is 2025 – which seems to be the magical year when all of this will come to fruition!  The ability to track things in real-time also applies to people – and UPS recently deployed this for their Xmas rush program…which went way over-budget by the way….resulting in a downgrade of their stock…so cost does in fact matter when investing in technology! The Atlanta-based company also warned that its 2015 earnings projection is now likely out of reach in part because of pension costs and currency fluctuations..

There is lots more in this report to read about…drone deliveries, shared-use self-service parcel delivery kiosks for urban areas (already a reality in China), shared-use distribution facilities, driverless vehicles – and lots more!  Any techie or futurist should have a look at what our future world is going to look like!