Having a good product or service just isn’t enough. If you want to be chosen before a competitor, or command a premium, the whole package has to be right.
I am lucky enough to have a 2014 Mac Pro. Lovely piece of kit. When I got it the only Thunderbolt display on the market was from Apple, I was not prepared to move to a resolution lower than that of my iMac and I balked at the crazy price (three grand) for a 4K Sharp display. Apple Thunderbolt display it was, then.
Fortunately the LG 34UM95 34″ 21:9 Ultrawide monitor has arrived and it’s great. It has the same vertical resolution as the Apple display (1,440 pixels) but it’s much wider (3,440 v 2,560). It’s a lovely piece of kit, with good connectivity (it’s the only Thunderbolt display other than the Apple and has HDMI) and display quality that is the match of the Apple’s. And that width means the display can be used as two split screens.
So the LG is a new model, 34% bigger real estate and better connectivity, yet it sells for about the same price as what is now quite an old Apple model. There are a number of reasons Apple kit commands a premium, but I’d like to look at something simple; packaging.
Apple’s Jobs-inspired design focus is legendary and that even extends to packaging. Take a look at these two photos:
A greater contrast in styles is difficult to imagine. The Apple box is practical (see the neat carrying handle) but relies on nothing more than a picture of the monitor.
The LG box by contrast is brash and packed full of features but just lacks class. It does give Advanced Viewing Pleasure, but I’m not sure I need it shouted at me from the packaging.
It would be crazy for LG to try to out-Apple Apple, but that difference in design is an important element in the brands’ identities and that translates into pounds and pence.
What makes a good definition? Take a look at a good dictionary and you’ll see plenty of examples. Even complex ideas can be summarised succinctly. This definition of relativity comes from the Oxford English Dictionary:
The dependence of various physical phenomena on relative motion of the observer and the observed objects, especially regarding the nature and behaviour of light, space, time, and gravity.
Now that’s not going to help you get a first in physics but it is a good general definition for the educated layman. It is:
So why does defining 4PL give so many such difficulty? A quick trawl of the net produces the following examples (there are many more).
Everybody seems to start with Accenture’s landmark 1996 version:
A 4PL is an Integrator that assembles the resources, capabilities and technology of its own organisation and other organisations to design, build and run comprehensive supply chain solutions.
As I have already said, I can’t find the original but this is the most often quoted version. As far as it goes it’s fine, but I think the problem we logisticians have with it is the same as a physicist would have with the relativity definition above; it might be good enough for the layman but for the practitioner it just doesn’t go into enough detail.
I think there are a couple of problems with it, though. First, it uses the word ‘integrator’. Using the conventional definition of the term (a person or thing that combines things to make a whole – thanks again Oxford) that’s OK, but in logistics integrator has another connotation, the parcels carriers like UPS, Fedex and DHL. It therefore potentially fails the ambiguity test.
Second, it doesn’t address what for me is a fundamental issue. A 4PL doesn’t execute the physical storage or movement of product. Were it to do so it would be a Lead Logistics Provider (‘LLP’) wouldn’t it? This makes it difficult, but not impossible, for third-party logistics operators to run 4PLs and, I suspect, was in the minds of those at Accenture that came up with the concept. They are not in the business of coming up with great ideas for which they don’t get paid.
Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals
This august body chooses not to define 4PL but to distinguish the concept from that of third-party logistics (3PL):
Differs from third party logistics in the following ways; 1) 4PL organization is often a separate entity established as a joint venture or long-term contract between a primary client and one or more partners; 2) 4PL organization acts as a single interface between the client and multiple logistics service providers; 3) All aspects (ideally) of the client’s supply chain are managed by the 4PL organization; and, 4) It is possible for a major third-party logistics provider to form a 4PL organization within its existing structure.
Hmmm. Let’s go through those one by one:
.…often a separate entity … joint venture or long-term contract it might be a JV and I’m not sure an entity can be a contract
… single interface between the client and multiple logistics service providers. Tick that one.
All aspects (ideally) … of the client’s supply chain are managed … No, that doesn’t follow. There are plenty of inbound 4PLs, or finished goods examples.
… possible for a major 3PL to form a 4PL … Tick that one too, but it needs explanation.
The award for chutzpah goes to Concargo, who explain that they ‘conceptualised and envisioned this initiative as early as 1988’. Shame they kept it to themselves.
And Logistics List only adds to the confusion with the statement: ‘That said a 4PL (also sometimes called a lead logistics provider) …’ Sorry guys but 4PL and LLP are very different things, as I hope to explore real soon.
Technical Distribution often needs specialist equipment, but seldom a soviet-era helicopter.
I have been involved in some Technical Distribution activities over the years so I’m used to stair-crawlers, cranes and the like but a couple of weeks ago I saw something new.
Apologies for the poor quality of the picture above, but i was visiting a friend and didn’t have my camera with me. I heard the sound of a chopper and when I looked up two odd thoughts occurred to me:
‘That’s an unusual helicopter flying over the rooftops’; and
‘What’s it doing with a large piece of equipment hanging underneath it?’
It flew into the middle of town, hovered for a while, lowered its load, then rose and flew back whence it came. My local aerospace expert identified the aircraft as a Mil Mi-8. That’s one hell of a specialist piece of kit.
Memory cards are now so cheap and their capacity so high that they offer a viable and flexible backup option. This card reader is a cheap and simple way to give a computer additional storage and data exchange options.
My new Mac Pro is a fantastic piece of kit and has more input and output ports than you can shake a stick at, but one option that I sadly miss from my iMac is an SD-card slot. I do a lot of photography and for me the easiest way of getting images onto the Mac is simply to take the card out of the camera, bung it in the computer and copy the files across.
On top of that the cost of memory cards is now so low, and their capacity so high, that they provide a super way to back data up and get it off site (how many people keep their backup with their main computer. so that in the event of theft or fire the backup is lost with the original?).
A quick trawl of the web showed a number of options and I plumped for the i-Tec USB 3.0 Card Reader. It does exactly what it says on the tin, as they say. It supports the following formats:
MS, MS PRO, MS PRO Duo, SD, SDHC, SDXC, Mini SD *, Mini SDHC *, Micro SD/T-Flash, Micro SDHC, MMC, MMC Plus, RS-MMC *, MMC Mobile *, CF typ I
*with appropriate adapter (not included)
Other characteristics:SDHC and SDXC compatible
Data transfer rate up to 5 Gbps
No installation needed
Low power consumption
Draw Power directly from USB port
Windows ME, XP, Vista, 7 32/64bit, 8 32/64bit
Mac OS X and higher
I wanted USB 3.0 for speed and for value for money (it cost me just the equivalent of £10.50) this is difficult to beat. One thing to remember when you see the adverts though. They will show the reader unencumbered by cable or cards as shown above. The reality is a little more cumbersome:
It’s not a big deal, but so often nice pieces of kit are shown in elegant isolation, ignoring the spaghetti-like mess of wires behind the facade of elegant simplicity.
Journalists tend to lump logistics businesses together but these show a wide range of product mixes. This note analyses the service offering mix of selected players by revenue from their latest interim statements.
We talk and write about logistics businesses in general but of course when we generalise we run the risk of obscuring details that distinguish between competitors. One important trend over the last fifteen years or so has been consolidation of the industry (although it is still very fragmented) and the combination of what were separate contract logistics and freight forwarding businesses into conglomerates aiming to become soup-to-nuts supply chain service providers. The structural models of the big players probably doesn’t help to bring these services together, but let’s look at that some other time.
In the chart below I compare the proportions of our chosen sample of companies’ turnover which are reported in certain segments. A clear problem is that although international and national accounting standards require segmental information, interpretation is often up to the boards of the companies and they are inconsistent. For example:
Kuehne + Nagel shows Air-freight, Sea-freight, Overland and Contract Logistics.
DP-DHL naturally enough shows Mail (or as it is now called Post-eCommerce-Parcel) and Express, with Global Forwarding, Freight as a division plus Supply Chain. They are good enough to disclose Freight (European road transportation) separately. Similarly Williams-Lea is in Supply Chain but disclosed.
Expeditors shows customs brokerage, which no other of our sample does. I have included that revenue in forwarding.
Panalpina discloses Air-freight, Sea-freight and Logistics.
Wincanton distinguishes between contract logistics and specialist businesses.
So ensuring comparability isn’t straightforward but I have done my best. The major adjustment I have made is to exclude Mail and Express from the DP-DHL numbers. These constituted 50% of the group’s turnover and masked the story in which I am most interested: the balance between contract logistics and freight forwarding.
For all companies other than Wincanton I have used the first-half 2014 published results. For Wincanton the full year results to 31st March 2014 were the latest available. I have also, where possible, excluded non-margin earning revenue such as duties.
You can draw your own conclusions from this, but what it tells me is:
Expeditors is still essentially a pure forwarder; Panalpina isn’t far behind.
K+N’s contract logistics business is still quite small, although combine it with Overland and they represent some 39% of revenue.
Ceva and DP-DHL have a close to 50:50 split (for the latter, excluding Mail and Express and grouping Freight (road transportation) with forwarding).
Norbert Dentressangle has come from a transportation background but has built up its contract logistics business so that it is now of equivalent size; the forwarding business is minimal.
Wincanton is 85% contract logistics, 15% specialist business.
None of that will come as much of a surprise, but it does confirm that really only Ceva and DHL have built businesses of comparable size in forwarding and contract logistics. The others all have a particular strength (forwarding or contract logistics) which dominates.
On 2 July 2014, Angela Titzrath, Board Member and Labour Director of Deutsche Post DHL, resigned from the Board of Management. Pending the appointment of a new Board Member for Human Resources, Dr Frank Appel, CEO of Deutsche Post DHL, will take on the corresponding responsibilities in a dual role.
I must have missed the original announcement, but strike one from the women’s total.
Women are successful and valuable contributors to senior management in a wide range of industries but the logistics industry has a reputation of being led by men. What is the level of participation to the leading teams in the industry?
More years ago than I care to remember (well ten to fifteen years ago) I was unlucky enough to get press-ganged into attending a couple of conferences on board ocean-going liners. The first time was on the SS Canberra, the second the newly-commissioned MV Oriana. They were strange times; three days on a comfortable (Oriana) or somewhat less comfortable (Canberra – some ten years earlier it had been in the Falklands) with days chock-full of 30-minute meetings with what were ostensibly prospective customers but in practice were mostly freeloaders who agreed to meet because they got a free cruise.
But what I remember most are the formal dinners and what followed. The dinners, bizarrely, were black-tie affairs. The diners (there were hundreds of us) were predominantly (and by predominantly I mean over 95%) men. I’ll ignore the ethnic or religious background of the participants (that’s another can of worms for a later date) but the gender mix of the participants reflected that of the industry at the time. A medium-sized UK haulier was run by a woman. ‘Bees round a honey pot’ sprang to mind to describe the attention she got after dinner.
The world has thankfully moved on a lot since those days, and that made me wonder whether things had changed much. It’s clear to anyone that works in it that the industry is still male-dominated and it’s difficult to get meaningful data, but an unscientific review of the most readily available information – the published 2013 statements of quoted logistics companies – does give a certain flavour.
These statements are largely focused on financial information, naturally enough. They might have some corporate jargon about their equal opportunities policies but there is little concrete measurement disclosed. The one tangible piece of information on gender balance comes from the composition of their boards. I have complemented the published information with that gleaned from company web sites
Most of my sample have similar structures; in the Anglo-Saxon world non-Executive directors (in continental terms a Supervisory Board) with the Management or Executive Board or team. Ceva, perhaps unsurprisingly now the holding company is incorporated in the Marshall Islands, was the most opaque. The first mention of the management team comes in note 7 to the statements on page 39, with a further mention of the management team in note 28 on page. I have used the Ceva web site to get an up-to-date picture. Deutsche Post DHL was probably the clearest and most accessible.
So the most impressive participation is in DP-DHL, where some 22% of the participants are women. Before we get too carried away, mind, the bulk of these are employee representatives on the Supervisory Board, which rather confirms the stereotype of left-/right-wing attitudes to equality. DP-DHL also deserves credit for having a woman executive, although I must confess to slight disappointment that she works in a stereotypical role – HR.
Expeditors had one woman on the board and two executive officers. Pleasure at the presence of two women on the Norbert Dentressangle Supervisory Board is slightly muted by the surname of one of them – Dentressangle. As for the rest, the table tells its own story.
Overall some 11% of these directors or management are women. But take out DP-DHL and the proportion is a measly 6%. I’m no demographer but I recall that the proportion of women in the general population is about 50%. That’s one hell of a gap. As an industry we should be ashamed of this.
Like buses, no examples for a while, then a bundle of changes turn up together.
DHL Supply Chain
In March 2014 it was announced that Bruce Edwards would be retiring and would be succeeded by John Gilbert as the Board of Management member responsible for DHL Supply Chain.
It doesn’t seem to have taken long for the ripples to flow through the organisation. In June it was announced that:
Paul Graham former CEO APMEA is to become Global COO for DHL Supply Chain and CEO Mainland Europe, Middle East and Africa (MEMEA)
Oscar de Bok is appointed as CEO for DHL Supply Chain’s Asia-Pacific Region
In a separate announcement Graham Inglis, CEO Europe at DHL Supply Chain, has become divisional chief development officer, responsible for the growth agenda including sales and marketing and the global sector and product teams.
And in the Exel business in the Americas:
• Scott Surredin named Chief Executive Officer of North America
• Jose Nava appointed Chief Executive Officer of DHL Supply Chain, Latin America
All these changes appear to involve internal DHL Supply Chain people.
Meanwhile on the good ship Ceva on 2nd July it was announced that Brett Bissell is appointed Chief Operating Officer, Contract Logistics. I wonder if he’s known to his friends as ‘Bex’?
On 3rd June it was the appointment of Christophe Cachat as Chief Information Officer. In May CEVA announced Michael Schaecher as Chief Operating Officer, Global Airfreight. Two days earlier Hakan Bicil’s appointment as Chief Commercial Officer was announced. He joins Ceva from from Panalpina where he was EVP, Head of Strategic Business Development.
I bought my first Mac (128k RAM. single 400k floppy disk drive) in 1985 (yes, I’m that old) because the user experience and interface felt a million years ahead of anything else available, especially what was then called the IBM PC.
That design advantage has, to my mind, been maintained even to today. Before any Windows or Linux advocates get uptight I fully acknowledge that those operating systems (I use Windows at work and Linux just for the experience) are much better then they were and if you’re happy using them, fine. But we all have different tastes and preferences; otherwise we would all drive the same car and wear the same clothes. A Subaru Impreza Turbo driver can justifiably question the Aston Martin Vantage V8 driver over his choice. The Subaru will be cheaper, quicker, seat four and actually have a usable boot.
Nonetheless the Aston Martin owner’s choice is as valid as that of the Subaru driver. The former sees exclusivity and quality. Too often we see alternatives as right or wrong when in fact they are just different. Embrace difference.
So over the years I have spent many thousands of pounds on Mac computers with capability way beyond what I will need during the computers’ lifetimes, software I don’t need and will use once and obscure peripherals (Microtek SCSI scanner, anyone?) just for the sake of it.
Lately one of my principal reasons for buying Apple has been eroded: Apple products (especially iPhones and iPads) are ubiquitous. They’re no longer exclusive. I can’t find a product to match my iPod Touch, but any Tom, Dick or Harry has an iPad. ‘Think Different’ (to use Apple’s grammatically incorrect 1997 advert) and buy an iPad? I don’t think so. So when the time came for me to look at upgrading my first-generation iPad I turned not to the guys from Cupertino but at an Android tablet. I still want my choice to be select and a premium product. Samsung is too common, so I turned to a brand I have grown up with and trust: Sony (makers of that 400k drive in my first Mac, Trinitron TVs, the Walkman, the badly underrated MiniDisc and my favourite short-wave radio).
When you share an operating system with almost other tablet manufacturers (bar Apple) and that system isn’t under your control you have to work hard to differentiate your kit from others. Sony has achieved this by making a tablet which is:
When I took the tablet out of is box first impressions were very good; the tablet, despite its light weight and thin profile, felt solid and very well-built. with high-quality materials used.
The protection from water and dust comes in part from the ports for connection and charging (micro-USB, reasonably enough) and memory (micro-SD) being covered. Clearly the covers need to be closed to protect the ports but in reality when they’re not in place they dangle in a very fragile manner. My other concern is with opening the covers. They are necessarily a tight fit and the only way I could open them was using my fingernail to prise them open. This isn’t very elegant and on the first tablet I had the cover became slightly damaged within 12 hours. That might be my fault but it’s also not great design. Consequently I try to charge the tablet using a dock (not included) that charges through a robust connector on the bottom face of the tablet. I also try whenever possible to connect to my Mac by Bluetooth so that I don’t run the risk of damaging the covers.
On firing up the screen is clear and attractive. Response to touch is fine, comparable to the iPad. Two speakers have been described elsewhere as giving good stereo separation; that’s overstating it a little.
I chose the version with 32GB of memory, to which I added a 32GB micro-SD card (which John Lewis included free) for all the music and videos I want.
Moving from iOS to Android
To a long-term user of iOS Android feels very different right from start-up. Not better or worse, but different. On boot-up the user is presented with a desktop of five pages. These are customisable with any applications that you wish to have there. The second thing I noticed was the number of applications, shown on two pages accessed from the home screen. Android is of course a Google system so the default browser is Chrome, there is a link to the Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, Google+ and YouTube. Imposing its personality Sony includes a Walkman application for music, Xperia Lounge (for all sorts of experiences in which I have no interest) and Xperia Link, PlayStation and PlayStation Mobile, Sony Select and What’s New apps. On top of that lot there’s all the apps you would expect: email, contacts. alarm, clock, calendar, camera, photos and the like, and a neat weather widget that uses your location.
Included applications for which there is not (as far as I know) an equivalent included in iOS are:
FM radio (uses headphone cable as an aerial) which is surprisingly good
OfficeSuite pro, an office suite with very good functionality and surprisingly usable on the Z2’s 10.1” screen
File Commander, which enable one to browse the filesystem, which I miss in iOS, which keeps that detail from the user
Sketch, a simple drawing program
As far as I can tell, iOS has a compass, Siri and fingerprint recognition. Apple also has FaceTime, of course; you’ll have to download Skype for the Sony.
Using the Xperia Z2
Let’s face it, most tablet use is for web browsing, email, downloaded media (music and video mainly) and on-line media such as YouTube. It’s difficult to fault the Z2 for any of this, although scrolling on-line video isn’t perhaps as smooth as on an iPad.
My other use is for BBC iPlayer and on the Sony and Android it’s a nice piece of software, as it is in iOS. I also have an aversion to Chrome, so I downloaded Firefox, which works with no problems.
Battery life? Difficult to judge from specifications; a tablet might have a larger battery but negate that by consuming more power. Camera? Seems pretty good but if I want to take pictures I tend to use my Olympus.
One area where the Z2 is better than either my iPad or iPod Touch is Wi-Fi connectivity. I travel a lot and there are Wi-Fi spots to which my iOS kit either will not connect or gets an IP address such as 169.x.x.x which does not give internet access. No such problems with the Sony.
Integration with a Mac
This is not surprisingly the Z2’s Achilles’ heel. Apple’s control over both hardware and software makes their integration between devices and platforms comparatively seamless (although I personally have a bugbear with recent iTunes implementations which, for me, have lead to a less intuitive interface). Sony has made a creditable attempt at synchronisation between a Mac and the Z2 with its Sony Bridge for Mac software.
This enables you to drag any iTunes media to a connected Xperia device and it works well. The problem for me is my desire not to open the port covers any more than I need to, because disappointingly the Bridge for Mac software does not work over a wireless connection. My solution is to do one big initial migration of stuff using the Sony software via USB, and then make incremental changes by sending files over Bluetooth from the Mac to the Z2. Not ideal, but workable. Sony really need to get this Bridge working over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth sharpish.
I’m very pleased with the Xperia Z2 tablet. It is a high-quality and impressive piece of kit. Its low weight is remarkable and its protection from water and dust is unique, even if its usefulness might be a little debatable. Performance is good and the included range of software covers almost all requirements well.
My only complaints are about the robustness of the port covers and the inability of the Sony Bridge for Mac software to work wirelessly.
Fifteen years ago, as the world partied because it was 1999, the average stock analyst following logistics companies on the London Stock Exchange (‘LSE’) had some choice. In the Support Services, Shipping or Transportation sectors (or whatever they were at the time) there were at least the following players (in alphabetical order):
BOC (logistics business BOC Distribution Services became Gist in 2001)
Hays (Hays Logistics)
NFC (including Exel Logistics)
Ocean Group (MSAS and McGregor Cory)
Tibbett and Britten
Transport Development Group
This collection of operators considered themselves to be amongst the global industry’s leaders.
Depending on ones definition of logistics, one could throw P&O and Bibby in the mix too.
The logistics industry has flourished on the globalisation phenomenon and this has surely contributed to the consolidation the industry has witnessed. And that consolidation has affected the UK logistics industry more than most.
So what happened to the UK’s players?
Where are they now?
BOC – acquired by Linde 2006
Christian Salvesen – acquired in 2007 by Norbert Dentressangle
Hays (Hays Logistics) – Hays Logistics spun off as ACR 2004 to Platinum Equity Group; acquired by Kuehne + Nagel 2005
NFC (including Exel Logistics) – merged with Ocean Group 2000 to form Exel
Ocean Group (MSAS and McGregor Cory) – merged with NFC to become Exel 2000; acquired by Deutsche Post 2005
Tibbett and Britten – acquired by Exel 2004
Transport Development Group – acquired by Laxey Investment Trust 2008; sold to Norbert Dentressangle 2010
Unigate (Wincanton) – Wincanton spun off 2001; still independent
So of the eight businesses in our 1999 list (to some extent of course an arbitrary selection), four (BOC/Gist, NFC, Ocean Group and Tibbett and Britten) are now in German hands, two (Christian Salvesen and TDG) are French-owned and one (Hays Logistics/ACR) is Swiss, leaving a solitary remaining independent British player, Wincanton.
Of course the nationality of the ultimate holding company might not mean anything (witness how Jaguar Land Rover has thrived under Indian ownership), but a group does not need two head offices, so one suspects that Bracknell and Windlesham have suffered and when push comes to shove decisions are made in Bonn. Munich, Saint-Vallier or Schindellegi. It probably does not reflect a diminution in British influence, but both the new DHL Supply Chain CEO and the post’s previous holder came from Exel in the US.
And who’s around now?
The Motor Transport Top 100 is a useful if flawed summary of the UK industry and that reveals the growth of parcels operators. A significant new entrant to the quoted ranks is Royal Mail and Wincanton has been joined on the LSE by Eddie Stobart (in 2007) and Clipper Logistics (June 2014).
And that’s your lot. A somewhat different picture to that at the end of the last century.
A cynical practitioner's view of the world of logistics