2018 was a banner year for logistics technology. Whether we were wrangling with the buzz around blockchain, figuring out how we're going to leverage the power of AI, or marveling at the influx of money into tech, everyone in the industry could feel the increased momentum.
I personally haven't seen this much excitement since the first wave of web portals launched almost two decades ago. Like the heady times of the dot-com boom, there are a lo
t of great things being built, and they're surrounded by a lot of meaningless noise.
Here's a list of some of the biggest trends and technologies in the space with some highly subjective commentary on each one.
TLDR: The buzz is too hot, but there is real value under the hype.
Of course, I had to start with blockchain. It got all the buzz. In fact, its outsized position in the conversation pushed way beyond the realities of the technology today.
I believe that blockchain will have a real impact in the industry, though the jury is still out on some of the more ambitious use cases.
While, I remain bullish on the technology as a whole, we definitely have to work out complicated business issues around privacy, intellectual property, immutability, and transparency before we can use it for more complex use cases. If we can do this, the sky is the limit. Of course, we've tried this before (see EDI), and a lot of failed projects will be left in the wake of the experimentation.
In the short term, I believe that narrowly focused projects will yield better short term returns. CargoX is bringing blockchain to the bill of lading. IBM is bringing traceability with Food Trust. And our own Vault by Chain.io delivers immediate value for trade compliance record keeping.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
TLDR: It's real, it's here, and it's going to be everywhere.
I feel bad for the AI crowd. They came out of 2017 with all of the momentum and then suddenly got lumped in with blockchain in so many articles and conference talks about emerging tech. This wasn't fair because AI is real, and it's ready to go today. Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of hype around this technology. There are also concrete applications.
The great thing about AI (contrasted with blockchain) is that you don't have to reinvent business models to see how it applies. Smarter, faster decision making is always in vogue, and that's what AI brings to the table.
The AI world is split right now between focused startups building AI focused tools (like Teknowlogi and TNX) and incumbents embedding AI into their platforms (like JDA and DHL). I think there's room for both approaches as AI pervades everything in the industry. If you can find data, someone will be using it for prediction or to direct resources more effectively.
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