July 2008 | Commentary | Checking In

Change: Count On It

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In my 25 years with Inbound Logistics, I can recall few times of such rapid change. One was the dot.com era and the promise that new technology would help us make our logistics networks more efficient and our companies more responsive to customer demands.

Another was the advent and meteoric growth of the 3PL segment during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Both were changes driven by optimism and confidence.

Much of the change today, however, is driven by the reality of our turbulent economic condition. (For a look at the cold, hard facts of the economic downturn and its effect on supply chain practices, see the State of Logistics Report recap.)

The need to continuously adapt and change, no matter what the catalyst, is a constant challenge to business logistics managers.

"Positioning and planning for the future is contingent on how we strategize for a surge in business, not a slump in business," agrees Kevin Smith, senior vice president, supply chain and logistics, CVS Corporation. Accordingly, the constancy of change is also a theme woven through this issue.

Sometimes change starts at the top, as you'll read in From the Backroom to the Boardroom: Logistics Gets on the Agenda. Executive attitude sets the tone for transformation to a supply chain-oriented culture, and can have sea-change repercussions on how businesses intrinsically change to support best logistics practices.

Other times logistics changes can have a personal impact. For instance, I love to eat, but hate to cook. So I was thrilled to find my favorite Bertolli pasta sauce now available in microwavable pouches. Thirty seconds and ding, dinner's ready!

Did Unilever change its pasta sauce packaging to make my life easier? Well, maybe a little. But mostly they did it to become a better environmental steward, which also pays dividends in reducing packaging, waste, inefficiency, and cost, as you'll see in Bill Atkinson's article Waste Not, Want Not.

Amidst this rapidly morphing business environment, 3PLs remain a steadfast force for change. In the 1980s and 1990s, 3PLs and their visionary customers were logistics explorers. They pushed the boundaries of what was possible, tearing down functional silos, and advancing from providing simple contract warehousing, freight forwarding, and truck leasing services to managing sophisticated demand-driven supply chains.

In 3PLements: Outsourcing=A Formula for Change, Amy Roach Partridge reveals how 3PLs and their customers harness the power of people, process, and technology to become positive forces for change.

3PL Perspectives, our annual survey of the $100 billion-plus 3PL segment, documents plenty of change, extending you the chance to gauge its trend lines for strategic decision support.

And, in recognition of the vital role 3PLs play in supply chain management, we also present our annual 3PL Market Insight Survey, offering perspective into who 3PLs serve, how their roles are changing, and what factors affect them most.

Finally, we deliver a list of the sector's best entities in our Top 100 3PL Providers list, a resource you'll find handy as you explore your own 3PL needs.

And every year is an election year at Inbound Logistics, as we tally your votes for the Top 10 3PL Excellence Awards. You'll find a profile of this year's all-stars at www.inboundlogistics.com/digital.

Leading logistics partners and carriers—even vendors and customers—can help navigate logistics and supply chain changes in ways you expect. But, given the current global economic climate, keep an eye out for ways they can act as business process change agents.

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