3PL Panacea: The Flexible Mobile Supply Chain Platform


The third-party logistics (3PL) business is tough, because it covers a wide gamut of service offerings, that include some combination of:

  • Just move my boxes and/or pallets.
  • Move my boxes and/or pallets and store them in your warehouse.
  • Move my boxes and/or pallets and operate my facility.
  • Own all the labor and activities in my facility.
  • Offer all distribution services for my product (All I will do is download my orders into your system/supply chain).

I’ve even run into more complicated models of operation, including both tightly and loosely coupled models.  In a tightly-coupled model, the supply chain systems of the 3PL, including orders, inventory, transportation, advanced shipment notices, purchase orders, and more, are tightly integrated into the shipper’s supply chain systems. All this information seamlessly flows between both supply chain systems of the 3PL and the shipper. They stay in synch with each other and the parties perform the functions in their respective systems.

In a loosely-coupled model, no such tight system integration exists. The 3PL personnel have access to the shipper’s supply chain systems because they are operating a shipper’s facility. There is no system integration whatsoever.  However, 3PL personnel are trained to log into the shipper’s systems and are can do just about any function. The 3PL owns everything in execution including labor and accountable for the labor costs.

No matter what model is chosen, flexibility is key to winning and keeping business.  An inability to integrate with shipper’s systems or support the shipper’s systems could mean losing multiyear 3PL contracts.  Particularly with the sunset of Windows CE, which begins this year, a flexible mobile supply chain platform is invaluable.   In the past, Windows CE was the default system offered for the mobile computers, scan guns, and wrist mounted devices from Microsoft. I believe that Windows CE is one of the most clunky, least user friendly, and least customizable platform available. It became even more clear to the industry when Steve Jobs demonstrated what was possible in such a small form factor with the iPhone and the super-easy-to-use UI/UX.

For enterprises, Android is emerging as a very good alternative. With this OS, flexibility can be taken to another level in a variety of ways compared to the Apple platform:

  1. The Android platform is open, compared to Apple’s severe restrictions.
  2. The powerful Android Mobile Supply Chain Platform makes adding capabilities is as simple as adding another app.  Possible extensions include Telnet emulation, voice-enabling a warehouse management system (WMS), image-enabling the supply chain, learning management systems (LMS), smart glasses integration, or an indoor positioning system.
  3. Android allows for the quick addition of language support to support a wider variety of workers.

The possibilities are endless.

We just finished a call with a multi-billion dollar 3PL, and these guys were very clear that they don’t want to just move boxes and participate in a transactional relationship that competes via a lower cost model.  Instead, they wanted a partner to offer high value trusted advisory services delivering ROI and leveraging innovation.  For this customer, systemic flexibility is an important asset because while bidding for contracts, they can confidently say that they can make any system work with their supply chain infrastructure.

If you really think about it, that’s all any CIO really wants. The good news is truly flexible supply chain systems is coming. How flexible is your mobile supply chain platform? How would that make your life easier? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

See how Android can improve your operations here.

Puga Sankara
Puga Sankara is the co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC. Smart Gladiator designs, builds, and delivers market-leading mobile technology for retailers, distributors, and 3PL service providers. So far, Smart Gladiator Wearables have been used to ship, receive, and scan more than 50 million boxes. Users love them for the lightweight, easy-to-use soft overlay keyboard and video chatting ability, data collection ability etc. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 17 years of experience in deploying capabilities in the logistics and supply chain domain. His prior roles involved managing complicated mission-critical programs driving revenue numbers, rolling out a multitude of capabilities involving more than a dozen systems, and managing a team of 30 to 50 personnel across multiple disciplines and departments in large corporations such as Hewlett Packard. He has deployed WMS for more than 30 distribution centers in his role as a senior manager with Manhattan Associates. He has also performed process analysis walk-throughs for more than 50 distribution centers for WMS process design and performance analysis review, optimizing processes for better productivity and visibility through the supply chain. Size of these DCs varied from 150,000 to 1.2 million SQFT. Puga Sankara has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He can be reached at puga@smartgladiator.com or visit the company at www.smartgladiator.com. Also follow him at www.pugasankara.com.
More articles by: Puga Sankara

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.