LM Viewpoint: The State of Logistics 2021

To the readers of LM I say: Keep adopting new automation and technology and improving on all of your carrier partnerships to build in more resilience, because it’s going to be full speed ahead for the foreseeable future—and no one knows what that next disruption may bring.


As the world continues to ease back into what we remember as normal, Logistics Management is staying the course by devoting a large portion of the July issue to the findings of the Annual State of Logistics Report (SoL). In fact, this marks the 32nd year that we’ve offered a deeper dive into this valuable report for U.S. shippers.

Authored by global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney in partnership with CSCMP and Penske Logistics, the SoL has become known over that time as the most comprehensive report of its kind, encapsulating the cost of the U.S. business logistics system during the previous year and offering a snapshot of how economic conditions are shaping the current logistics landscape.

The official release of the report—which took place virtually on June 23—once again sets our editorial staff on a quest to find out what the findings mean to freight transportation management in terms of service, capacity and rates across all the modes. Once again, contributing transportation editor John Schulz took part in the online panel discussion.

“It wasn’t just the topsy-turvy changes that challenged shippers, it was the rapidness of that change and the whiplash effect of going from an economic shutdown to one of the robust economies ever,” says Schulz. “For better or for worse, last year logistics managers who were able to keep necessary freight moving finally got noticed by the C-suite—and they should be applauded for their efforts.”

According to Schulz, a few themes called out in the report match up well with the silver linings that we’ve been highlighting in our pages over the past year—upbeat takeaways on logistics performance, automation adoption, and the move toward improved resilience.

First, it certainly can’t be overlooked that while the pandemic greatly disrupted any idea of predictability, and in many cases decimated service levels for periods, the overall U.S. logistics network remained “remarkably effective” given the situation. As the report authors call out: “Logisticians worked valiantly to respond to crises and devise creative new solutions to unexpected challenges.”

Second, LM kept hearing and reporting on how the situation was acting as a great “accelerator” for the adoption of new software and automation necessary to streamline logistics operations to meet unprecedented e-commerce demands—especially in the face of shrinking labor availability.

And now that the market is beginning recovery and fulfillment pressures continue to mount, flexibility, scalability and resilience will be more important than ever—putting a premium on the adoption of sound processes, more automation and better partnerships with carriers and third-party logistics providers.

“This is clearly the time for shippers and carriers to do more communicating—both talking and listening—about their needs,” says Schulz. “As the report authors point out, if you look at what worked best last year, it was the shipper who was nimble and willing to try new services outside the box in a co-creation effort with their carrier partners.”

So, to the readers of LM I say: Keep adopting new automation and technology and improving on all of your carrier partnerships to build in more resilience, because it’s going to be full speed ahead for the foreseeable future—and no one knows what that next disruption may bring.


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About the Author

Michael Levans's avatar
Michael Levans
Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He's been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years.
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