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Summary: Logistics and Supply Chain Innovation: A Practical Guide to Disruptive Technologies and New Business Models by John Manners-Bell

Logistics and Supply Chain Innovation (2021) maps the current pain points and inefficiencies in global supply chains while charting the innovations and new technologies poised to transform the system. It provides an insider’s perspective on the practical challenges facing warehouses, ports, and logistics networks, along with realistic ideas for how leaders can leverage emerging tools like Internet of Things sensors and AI to make supply chains sustainable, resilient, and responsive.

Introduction: An insider’s perspective on the innovations poised to transform global supply chains

What if the solution to some of the world’s biggest problems – from pollution to poverty – lies in fixing the systems we use to move stuff around? Supply chains, the networks that move everything from raw materials to purchases that arrive on your doorstep, shape our economies, environments, and everyday lives. Yet they evolved haphazardly and still operate incredibly inefficiently.

In Logistics and Supply Chain Innovation, industry veterans John Manners-Bell and Ken Lyon take us behind the scenes of warehouses, ports, and control towers. With wit and wisdom from decades working with leading companies, they reveal the hidden challenges and fragmentation plaguing global logistics. But crucially, they also map out how new technologies like artificial intelligence can transform supply chains into responsive, sustainable ecosystems.

Highlighting real-world insights and visionary ideas, this Blink is an essential guide to the innovations reshaping logistics. So join us for an eye-opening exploration into the hidden world powering our hyper-connected planet. You’ll never look at delivery trucks, shipping containers, or product barcodes the same way again.

Summary: Logistics and Supply Chain Innovation: A Practical Guide to Disruptive Technologies and New Business Models by John Manners-Bell

The lessons of shipping containers

The adoption of shipping containers profoundly changed global supply chains and commerce. By dramatically reducing transport costs, they enabled access to inexpensive manufacturing and products worldwide, revolutionizing how supply chains worked.

Many assume this transition was swift and straightforward. The reality was anything but. In fact, companies had tried unitizing freight for decades before containerization finally took hold in the 1950s. The fact is, shipping containers’ industry transformation faced several systemic hurdles. And studying this period of innovation offers important lessons for current supply-chain disruptors seeking large-scale change.

So what were those hurdles? Well, prior to containerization, loading and unloading cargo from ships was incredibly labor-intensive, time-consuming, inefficient, and dangerous. Despite recognizing these inefficiencies, the various sectors involved, including ports, rail, trucking, shipping lines, stevedores, and unions, benefited from maintaining the status quo. Shippers bore the brunt of the costs, but their fragmentation prevented unified action.

It didn’t help that early container systems seemed likely to increase costs compared to breakbulk shipping – that is, goods stowed on board ships in individually counted units like barrels. That’s because containers required systemic changes across all transport modes and infrastructure, not just ships. Getting all parties to adopt this new method was an enormous challenge. In hindsight, containerization forced the industry to take a total supply-chain view for the first time.

Powerful social and political barriers also stood in the way of adoption. Politicians depended on support from dock workers’ unions and opposed any automation that threatened jobs. Unions resisted changes to traditional work practices. As a result, regulators tightly controlled competition and rates across shipping and transport modes. Similar dynamics still affect today’s disruptive innovations like Uber and delivery drones.

Most established shipping lines opposed containerization, although they acknowledged highly inefficient processes. Existing ships were cheap surplus naval vessels and ports relied on casual labor, requiring little capital investment from incumbents. They were reluctant to make the financial commitment.

Shippers wanted lower costs but their fragmented cargo volumes made the economics of containers unclear initially. The full benefits only emerged as volumes consolidated around newly efficient hub ports serving massive container ships through dedicated onshore infrastructure.

Perfecting the design of containers, ships, port infrastructure, and handling equipment took years of trial and error. History shows that groundbreaking innovations often have false starts before winning designs emerge from many competing options. Today, this unpredictability still affects current supply-chain technologies like autonomous vehicles and robotics.

Today’s logistics platforms aim to better connect capacity with demand but have not yet sparked transformation like containerization. Unlike shipping, other transport sectors lack room for scale economies, and asset utilization has declined due to just-in-time delivery needs.

But innovators must recognize underlying issues, not just symptoms. Lasting solutions require support from all parties, not just a few winners. Technological potential alone is insufficient; social, political, and economic barriers must also be dismantled. The shipping container story shows that innovations require widespread benefit across stakeholders to drive revolutionary change.

Pandemic vs. supply chain

The COVID-19 pandemic starkly revealed vulnerabilities and inefficiencies in global supply chains. In a 2021 survey, 45 percent of supply-chain professionals said the crisis signaled the end of globalization, as companies re-localized and regionalized.

And, sure enough, governments have sought to implement policies to reshore and rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity in critical industries like medical equipment and pharmaceuticals that the pandemic exposed as overly reliant on foreign sources. Meanwhile, rising nationalist sentiment threatens the open global trading system as blame is assigned for the pandemic’s origins.

As a result, companies across industries are re-evaluating inventory strategies and aim to hold more safety stock at locations closer to end markets rather than relying on just-in-time supply from half a world away. Warehouse automation is also accelerating as companies recognize the risks of workforce shutdowns and seek to reduce dependence on potentially unstable labor.

However, countervailing forces resist easy prediction about future supply-chain configuration. Widespread unemployment in a post-pandemic economic downturn could lower warehouse labor costs significantly, slowing the pace of automation despite its appeal. And efforts at reshoring manufacturing in Western countries will run into the harsh reality that little capacity exists locally after decades of offshoring, hampering noble political goals.

On top of this, dramatic volatility is likely in transport sectors as well. Air freight capacity has long been hostage to passenger airlines’ whims, but the pandemic’s devastation of travel may finally push dedicated cargo carriers to expand independently. Meanwhile, the now highly consolidated shipping industry is well positioned to ride out short-term instability and make investments in cleaner fuels like liquefied natural gas. In trucking, shipper demand for flexibility will no doubt benefit digital freight platforms.

With urban pollution having fallen precipitously during lockdowns, politicians are newly emboldened to push traffic and emissions restrictions. Paradoxically, though, lowered congestion also benefits logistics providers via improved productivity and reliability.

Overall, the push and pull of conflicting forces muddies easy prediction about the future supply-chain landscape. Governments want enhanced domestic supply chains on economic and security grounds, but also need to confront trade agreements and lack of existing capacity. They must also balance stimulus with sustainability. Companies find automation appealing, but can’t ignore that labor costs are historically low.

Transformations will be complex even in hard-hit sectors. Automakers may shutter underused European plants, but source new electric vehicle batteries from China due to its dominance of battery technology. And efforts to reshore medical equipment production may still rely on Asian components.

In this turbulent time, lasting change will require reconciling contradictory pressures: global cost advantages versus local control, automation versus employment, stimulus versus emissions reductions. With wise vision, leaders will be able to steer their firms through this pivotal moment.

E-commerce shakes up logistics

Online shopping has completely disrupted traditional retail. Customers can now buy on websites 24/7 and get items delivered to their doorstep. This has put huge pressure on shipping companies to offer faster and more flexible delivery. Retailers are also changing their inventory strategies to match the availability that online giants like Amazon provide.

As a result, customer expectations for fast service keep rising. Many companies now offer same-day or one- to two-hour delivery. To keep up, shipping companies have invested in technology to improve customer service and prevent failed deliveries. Options like in-car or locker pickup are also getting popular.

Retailers now use an “inventory availability at all costs” approach instead of keeping stock lean. Amazon’s free next-day shipping for Prime members has conditioned shoppers to expect instant gratification. Walmart now places high-selling items in more warehouses to speed up shipping.

To get goods out faster, deliveries are shifting from big centralized warehouses to local mini-warehouses in cities. But urban mini-warehouses also need automation to handle small, frequent orders efficiently. Eventually, fully automated urban warehouses will be densely packed with robot pickers instead of people.

However, online selling requires more complicated distribution than traditional retail. Managing many delivery choices across multiple suppliers often strains shipping companies. Return rates are much higher for online purchases, creating big reverse logistics obstacles. Returns are far pricier for online purchases, costing up to 65 percent of item cost versus three percent for in-store. On top of that, online items can take weeks to be resold, versus a day for store returns.

In this sense, shipping companies add value by quickly processing returns, offering expertise and convenient customer solutions like crowdsourced courier pickup. Near-instant returns may soon be possible with on-demand couriers.

In short, online shopping continues to challenge traditional retailers lacking multi-channel sales. Shipping companies enable complex distribution, but face rising costs. Leaders must innovate to handle new inventory strategies, delivery demands, and high return volumes. And all the while, retailers must create and maintain trust and offer transparent pricing.

Amazon, the great supply-chain disrupter

Amazon has constructed an enormous global logistics network to support its position as the premier online retailer. This astronomical expansion was necessitated by the need for cost control, customer experience differentiation, and mastery over its own fulfillment operations.

Amazon plows over 30 percent of its revenues back into logistics activities across four core competencies: fulfillment centers, last-mile delivery, air cargo transport, and over-the-road freight. It strives to balance cost reduction through economies of scale with revenue growth by leveraging its size and commanding greater control over the customer experience.

Originally Amazon relied heavily on logistics partners like UPS for fulfillment. However, today it handles the lion’s share of fulfillment itself through a network expanded to over 350 million square feet of warehouse space globally. Warehouse automation is rapidly increasing; in just two years, Amazon deployed over 200,000 robots to accelerate fulfillment velocity.

For last-mile delivery direct to homes, Amazon constructed its own logistics apparatus, including the Amazon Flex crowdsourced model in which regular people handle deliveries. Amazon itself operates high-density urban routes while farming out lower-density rural deliveries to partners like the US Postal Service. Sophisticated machine-learning algorithms optimize delivery routing and timing.

Amazon Air consists of a dedicated fleet of cargo aircraft that nimbly manage inventory spikes and shortages. It recently purchased 11 additional planes to supplement its capacity. In over-the-road freight, Amazon now owns thousands of long-haul truck trailers and tractors in the US for inter-warehouse efficiency.

Amazon’s geographic expansion was extremely rapid across North America and Europe. But while it thoroughly dominates most Western markets, it failed to gain a foothold in China against rival Alibaba. It continues to invest aggressively in India and Southeast Asia as critical future growth markets.

Amazon faces escalating political pressures on antitrust grounds as regulators express concern over its outsized market power. Labor unions have also embarked on high-profile campaigns to organize its warehouse and driver workforce, which could substantially elevate costs. One option floated is spinning off its delivery arm into a standalone business.

During COVID-19 lockdowns, the scale of Amazon’s logistics strength enabled it to supply essential products globally. But it also confronted strikes over safety conditions as surging demand led to delivery strains.

Post-pandemic, Amazon may consider expanding into providing logistics services for non-retail clients. However, large-scale entry into general fulfillment seems doubtful since it promises low margins without supporting Amazon’s core retail expansion.

In summary, Amazon’s logistics juggernaut enables its e-commerce dominance but commands massive, growing capital investment. It faces ever-greater public scrutiny, but will likely persist as a key supply-chain innovator.

The Internet of Things and AI may make supply chains more efficient

The Internet of Things – IoT for short – refers to connecting regular physical objects like appliances and vehicles so that they can share information without human intervention. This is transforming supply chains by greatly improving visibility into inventory, assets, and shipments.

Cheap IoT sensors now allow companies to track individual items as they move through the supply chain. This new level of granular data helps optimize inventory levels, reduce theft and waste, and predict when vehicles or equipment will need maintenance before breakdowns happen. Smart appliances in homes can track usage and automatically reorder items like detergent when supplies run low.

Logistics companies are putting IoT sensors on delivery truck fleets to see real-time locations and monitor performance. This improves asset utilization, reduces miles driven empty, and enables predictive maintenance to avoid downtime. Jet engines have long used sensors to send performance data during flights and predict when repairs will be needed upon landing.

But generating massive amounts of data through IoT sensors is useless without analysis. This is where artificial intelligence, or AI, comes in – to identify patterns in the data and enable real-time, automated decision-making. This makes supply chains self-correcting and intelligent.

AI powers more flexible delivery options for e-commerce companies by crunching customer history data to make personalized recommendations. Home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa also gain insights into individual and household preferences through daily conversations to suggest purchases. Autonomous robots and drones rely on AI to navigate warehouses and make deliveries.

In summary, IoT sensors generate incredibly valuable supply-chain data by tracking assets and inventory at the item level. But this data only translates into tangible business value when incorporated into AI systems that can analyze the massive data streams, identify insights, and trigger automated decisions faster than humans.

Together, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence have huge potential to boost supply-chain visibility exponentially, optimize asset utilization, enable predictive analytics, and create intelligent, self-correcting supply-chain networks. However, companies must ensure data usage and AI systems are ethical, unbiased, and secure.

The IoT and AI promise to profoundly transform supply chains into more visible, efficient, and responsive ecosystems. But leaders must balance innovation opportunities with responsible data usage. Those who partner these technologies most adeptly will gain a powerful competitive advantage.


While shipping containers fundamentally transformed global trade, overcoming barriers required industry collaboration and systemic perspective. COVID-19 exposed supply-chain flaws, yet post-pandemic change and evolution continue to be complex. E-commerce revolutionized retail through instant ordering and fast delivery, but it strains logistics providers. Amazon built a vast logistics network enabling e-commerce dominance, supported essential supplies during the pandemic, but faces spin-off pressure. And finally, the Internet of Things enhances supply-chain visibility via sensors, but requires AI to analyze data and optimize logistics through automated decisions and rapid efficiency.

Using these real-world examples and insights, hopefully you will be able to take what you’ve learned here to map out how new technologies could transform the logistics and supply chains of your own business, starting today.

About the Author

John Manners-Bell


Technology and the Future, Economics, Management, Leadership


“Logistics and Supply Chain Innovation: A Practical Guide to Disruptive Technologies and New Business Models” by John Manners-Bell is a comprehensive guide that explores the impact of disruptive technologies and new business models on the logistics and supply chain industry. The book provides insights into the emerging trends and innovations reshaping the industry and offers practical guidance for organizations looking to navigate the changing landscape.

Manners-Bell begins by examining the forces driving innovation in logistics and supply chain management. He discusses the importance of technology, globalization, sustainability, and customer expectations in shaping the industry. The author highlights the need for organizations to adapt and embrace innovation to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving market.

The book explores a wide range of disruptive technologies and their applications in logistics and supply chain management. Manners-Bell discusses topics such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), and autonomous vehicles. He provides examples of how these technologies are transforming various aspects of the industry, including inventory management, warehouse operations, transportation, and last-mile delivery.

In addition to technological advancements, Manners-Bell also delves into the importance of new business models and collaboration in driving innovation. He explores concepts such as sharing economy, platform-based logistics, and crowdshipping. The author emphasizes the need for organizations to embrace collaboration and leverage new business models to create more efficient and sustainable supply chains.

Throughout the book, Manners-Bell provides real-world case studies and practical examples to illustrate the implementation and impact of innovative technologies and business models. He also discusses the potential challenges and risks associated with adopting these innovations and provides guidance on how to mitigate them.

The author concludes the book by discussing the future of logistics and supply chain innovation. He explores emerging trends such as 3D printing, drones, and green logistics, highlighting their potential impact on the industry. Manners-Bell emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and adaptability in order to stay ahead in an ever-changing landscape.

“Logistics and Supply Chain Innovation: A Practical Guide to Disruptive Technologies and New Business Models” by John Manners-Bell is a highly informative and insightful book for professionals and organizations in the logistics and supply chain industry. The author’s in-depth exploration of disruptive technologies and new business models provides a comprehensive understanding of the evolving landscape and offers practical guidance for embracing innovation.

One of the strengths of the book is Manners-Bell’s ability to explain complex concepts and technologies in a clear and accessible manner. He breaks down the applications and implications of disruptive technologies such as AI, blockchain, and robotics, making them understandable for readers with varying levels of technical knowledge. This enables readers to grasp the potential impact of these technologies on the logistics and supply chain industry.

The inclusion of real-world case studies and practical examples throughout the book adds depth and credibility to the discussions. Manners-Bell effectively highlights how organizations have successfully implemented innovative technologies and business models to drive efficiency, sustainability, and customer satisfaction. These examples provide valuable insights and inspiration for readers looking to navigate their own digital transformation.

The book’s focus on the importance of collaboration and new business models is another highlight. Manners-Bell emphasizes the need for organizations to embrace partnerships, sharing economies, and platform-based logistics to create more agile and resilient supply chains. This emphasis on collaboration reflects the changing dynamics of the industry and provides readers with actionable strategies for staying competitive.

While the book covers a wide range of topics, some readers may find that certain areas could benefit from more in-depth analysis. Given the breadth of disruptive technologies and new business models in the logistics and supply chain space, it may not be possible to delve into every aspect extensively. However, Manners-Bell provides a solid overview and offers guidance on further exploration for readers interested in specific topics.

Overall, “Logistics and Supply Chain Innovation: A Practical Guide to Disruptive Technologies and New Business Models” is an excellent resource for professionals and organizations seeking to understand and embrace innovation in the logistics and supply chain industry. John Manners-Bell’s expertise and practical insights make this book a valuable reference for navigating the evolving landscape and leveraging disruptive technologies and new business models to drive success.

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