Many shippers are re-evaluating their supply chain strategies to help them reach global markets, and are leveraging their relationship with third party logistics service providers to help in that effort, according to the 2014 18th Annual Third-Party Logistics (3PL) Study released by Capgemini Consulting. According to this research, conducted with Penn State University, executive recruiting firm, Korn/Ferry International, and global logistics and supply chain management provider, Penske Logistics, 91 per cent of shippers surveyed stated they regard their relationships with 3PLs as important or strategic in today's global marketplace.
Based on responses from more than 1,300 shippers and logistics service providers in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, the report found there is a growing emphasis on worldwide trade management and operations, with extra-regional trade strongly outpacing intra-regional trade in many regions. This has left shippers in a position to revisit sourcing and distribution decisions to take advantage of expanding opportunities, and opens the door for 3PLs, on a global level, to provide shippers with new paths for growth, sourcing and/or distribution relationships across borders.
However, it was found that shippers still take a tactical, rather than strategic approach to Global Trade Management (GTM), relying on traditional departments, namely logistics (23 per cent), compliance (13 per cent) and procurement (12 per cent), to lead the charge. By investing further in global operations and experience, 3PLs have positioned themselves to support shippers in their GTM needs and help them to overcome common obstacles to global trade.
"As global operations expand, it's important for shippers to think collaboratively and build long-term relationships with 3PLs, setting a standard for cost-effective and efficient operational practices while opening the door to greater success on a worldwide scale," said Dan Albright, vice president and North American supply chain leader at Capgemini Consulting. "As the latest iteration of our study found, although shippers are increasingly working with 3PLs, there is an over-emphasis on short term goals at the expense of long-term, partner-focused relationships. This is hindering their ability to attain a more highly functioning and cost effective supply chain, as well as a solid foundation for mature, strategic 3PL relationships."
The study found that with an increase in global trade and cross-border operations, a number of international firms have looked toward Africa as a growth market, as it presents a landscape of opportunities similar to those provided by Asia in the 1970s.
Cited in the most recent findings, the International Monetary Fund forecasts that 11 of the world's fastest-growing economies through 2017 will be African. Promising traits seen across the continent not only include fast-growing economies, but also an abundance of low-cost labor and a commitment to improve infrastructure and remove barriers to trade. However, challenges remain as Africa still sees high logistics costs and clearance of goods at ports can often be slow, cumbersome and bureaucratic. Shippers and supply chain leaders must remain open to operations across the continent, and as many suppliers, carriers and 3PLs already in the African logistics industry operate differently due to unique environments, there is an opportunity for logistics processes to become more standardized.
"With continued growth not only in local markets, but across-borders, organizations need to remain committed to building their skills in order to remain relevant and ensure a continued success in the new normal, global marketplace," said Zack Deming, consultant, Global Logistics & Transportation Services Practice, Korn/Ferry International. "However with that comes a need for increased transparency across 3PLs and shippers, as the annual report still sites a discrepancy between shippers and 3PLs rating of agility and flexibility to accommodate current and future business needs and challenges."
The study also found that shippers are relying on centralized sourcing in 3PL selection more so than in past years, as 48 per cent of shippers and 61 per cent of 3PLs say centralized procurement functions play a much bigger role in the selection process, compared with three years ago. Shippers are seeking strategies to control costs while striving for optimal 3PL relationships by seeking a balance between centralization and decentralization. Those that can properly balance cost and quality and strive for strategic, collaborative relationships with 3PLs stand to gain the most advantages.
"Shippers and 3PLs successfully endured the downturn through greater collaboration," said Penske's Sherry Sanger, senior vice president, marketing. "Today, shippers and 3PLs view their relationships as much more strategic, closely aligned, and collaborative than just three years ago. Logistics service providers are well-positioned to help shippers continue to drive continuous improvement, savings and supply chain innovation as the economy continues to gradually improve."
Importantly, for the last 12 years the study has been tracking the "IT Gap" – the difference between the percentage of 3PL users indicating that IT capabilities are a necessary element of 3PL expertise (98 per cent) and the percentage of the same users who agree that they are satisfied with 3PL IT capabilities (55 per cent) – and has found that percentage beginning to stabilize. However, proper management of Big Data – which has increasingly grown in its importance across the supply chain with 97 per cent of shippers and 93 per cent of 3PLs feeling strongly that improved, data-driven decision-making is essential – still faces significant internal hurdles. These include a disconnect between internal supply chain and IT operations and a lack of supporting IT infrastructure.