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Freight Transportation

Collaborative Logistics Requires an Expanded Focus Frame

Alex Stark | April 23, 2015

Today, consumer product companies manage their own discrete lines of supply to retail customers. This creates a ton of excess cost and carbon emissions.  

The antidote is more of a collaborative logistics approach in which individual shippers join together to utilizetunnel-vision-TonyFischerPhotography-3810944998_c50def25f2_m a shared, 3PL-operated distribution infrastructure to get products to market. Think about how commuters, who are all going to the same place, use mass transit and shuttle buses to avoid the cost and congestion of a car commute. With colloborative logistics, instead of people we're transporting freight.

The model makes perfect sense and we write about it in our paper "The Power of We," but too few companies are embracing this revolutionary approach. One reason may be the way we're taught to think -- within a limited focus frame.

We're taught to narrow our thinking

By and large, today's college logistics majors are taught more of a company-centric view of the supply chain. The case studies that are used illustrate how individual companies optimize their own supply chains. So students leave with a focus on solving one company's problem, not an entire industry's problem. Their focus frame is narrowed. You can't get to a true collaborative logistics model from there.

Thnk about it, you're walking through a narrow tunnel toward the light at the other side and spot a patch of sand on a quiet beach that could be perfect for a picnic lunch.You begin making plans and can almost taste the egg salad. When you get to the end of the tunnel and your focus frame widens, you see that your patch of sand is just a small area surrounded by heavy equipment and dozens of workers planning to build a pier. Not the best place for a picnic.  

The current model for consumer product distribution is broken, with tens of thousands of companies managing their own lines of supply to a handful of the same retailers. But individual shippers cannot see the enormous waste inherent in such a model because they see only their small piece of it.

True collaborative logistics won't happen until we expand our focus frame. Until we move away from a "me-centric" perspective about how "I" get "my" goods to "my" customers. 

Instead, consumer product companies need to collaborate to determine how to get "our" products to "our" mutual customers in the fastest, cheapest way possible.

Retail product distribution is not the batleground of competitive advantage. That happens on the shelves, not in the back of a truck.  


The Power of We