April 2011 | Commentary | Checking In

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

Tags: Logistics I.T., Global Economy

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

As baseball’s Bard of Brooklyn, Yogi Berra, once said, “It is tough making predictions, especially about the future.” Those who orchestrate supply networks and supporting transportation and logistics operations in volatile economic times face stark reminders of how difficult predicting future product flow requirements can be.

As if that weren’t true enough, Yogi also said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Beyond the day-to-day logistics and supply unknowns you face in this economic environment, earthquakes, tidal waves, civil unrest, revolution, piracy and drug wars, terrorism, rising fuel costs, currency fluctuations, bailouts, and other disruptions are now the norm.

In the past, those types of disruptions were more isolated, more manageable. Today, however—even with good supply visibility and the best logistics technology—globally interconnected supply lines and markets cause those discordant ripples to range far and wide.

Is Yogi right about the future we live in? Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear emergency significantly cut global car production estimates even though demand is growing, say analysts. For example, 60 percent of Japan’s engine and transmission plants halted production temporarily; rolling power restrictions impacted other plants. Component shortages are also reported.

It’s not just the automotive sector taking the hit. Boeing, Sony, Nokia, Caterpillar—and perhaps your company, too—report disruptions at the point of product origin affecting the point of demand.

Then there’s the 800-pound gorilla in our future: inflation. “Cost increases are starting to come through at a rapid rate,” Walmart CEO Bill Simon warned recently, adding that U.S. consumers face “serious” inflation on most products.

It is impossible to completely solve issues like these as we struggle to manage our own supply networks. We can attack these challenges, however, using some effective tools: the best and latest logistics technology. For many, logistics technology’s fundamental mission has been to improve internal-facing enterprise operations, such as warehouse throughput, yard management, and TMS. Its other mission, and perhaps more important one given the future we live in, is externally facing—solutions designed to foster vendor/customer integration, gain the visibility to make value chain operations quickly scalable, and better link marketing to production and supply chain management.

Your mission to keep your enterprise globally competitive likely includes a blend of both. That is why our annual Logistics Technology issue assembles the latest information on solutions offering the visibility and vision to help you tame thousands of variables and master your business logistics demands as efficiently as possible.

Like the man said, “The future we live in ain’t what it used to be.”