Cloud Computing: Think Globally, Leverage Locally 

Q: What are the elements of a successful cloud-based logistics IT solution?

Heimbeck: The “cloud” means different things to many people. I think of it as a highly structured, shared working space with three dimensions that work harmoniously to create a productive alternative to our current bricks-and-mortar-based method of doing business.

The three dimensions are:

  1. A Web-based system that uses low-cost, hyper-lightweight global telecommunications to extend the reach of a single computer server to any place in the world that has electricity and telephone connectivity, even cell phone connectivity. This brings everyone within an organization—agents, vendors, and customers—into a single global environment.
  2. The system on the cloud needs to be an end-to-end business solution so that everyone in the organization has functions and roles in the solution.
  3. A cloud-based solution should tie users to other essential services such as Customs, carrier portals, insurance companies, and financial institutions. Participating in a cloud-based solution means not having to build these connections yourself.

Q: Why do you think international logistics is particularly well-situated to benefit significantly from cloud-based computing?

Heimbeck: No other industry is as geographically challenged. International logistics requires many more parties than domestic-oriented companies to work together seamlessly to deliver a single deliverable. Imagine if an assembly line had to stretch across continents or oceans. Yet, in many ways, logistics is the assembly of pivotal information and command sets that represent and create the digital picture of a shipment. Each participant has to hand off key information to the next all along the line until the shipment is delivered at destination. This means across time zones, cultures, and languages. In the United States, logistics providers manage business from origin to destination because there are only three time zones, everyone speaks English, and all that is required is to pick up the phone and go to work. International logistics does not work that way.

Q: What are the biggest stumbling blocks when companies elect to go on the cloud?

Heimbeck: They want to keep working locally and thinking locally. “Cloud” computing means thinking globally, leveraging locally.

Q: Where are the biggest productivity gains?

Heimbeck: The two biggest gains come from not having to re-key data, and not having to fix problems well after the point when making the fix would have been easy or inexpensive or both. Problem-solving comes a large part from visibility. Spotting a problem early on can be the key to making quick interventions that avoid penalties, costly re-routes, or time-consuming alterations. Traditional systems have built-in time lags that create opaque environments where everyone hopes that the job is being done right on the other side. Simply put, “you can’t really manage what you can’t see.”

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