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For over two decades the University of Tennessee has been conducting its Masters in Logistics research study.  This year the study was undertaken in partnership with Con-way Inc., Ernst & Young, and Logistics Management.  The U.S. based participants accounted for an estimated $30.1 billion in domestic transportation expenditures and over $20.5 billion in international transportation.  Some 1,370 domestic and global logistics, transportation, and supply chain management professionals participated in the study.  A summary of the report appears in the current issue of Logistics Management and is the basis of this blog.

The Masters of Logistics, those companies with annual freight spend in excess of $3 billion, represented 27.8 percent of the study participants. Medium-sized firms, with between $500 million and $3 billion in annual revenue, were 20.6 percent of respondents. The majority of respondents (51.6 percent) were smaller firms with reported annual revenue less than $500 million.  The study participants came from a broad array of industries.

 The results identify the emergence of an idea advocated for over a decade, and one which is being put into place by the Masters of Logistics: Use logistics and transportation services to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. As the study suggests, being able to deliver differentiated service is not possible without a value-creating partnership between the shipper and its strategic carriers; in turn, this has created a unique balance of power between the two parties.

Overall transportation spending as a percent of sales increased from 2011 to 2012. The data showed that companies that spent more than 5 percent of sales on domestic transportation increased year-over-year, rising from 21.2 percent to 26.7 percent in 2012.  The key reason is the change in strategic direction for many companies. Following several years of intense cost cutting, particularly in transportation spending, the 2012 study results point towards companies shifting some of their focus to maximizing profitability and asset utilization. In the meantime, the percentage of respondents who reported that their primary objective is reducing costs has shrunk each of the past three years—findings that reveal that shippers again believe that you have to “spend money to make money”.

Being able to rapidly respond to changing customer requirements is becoming increasingly critical for both shippers and carriers. Today, more than ever, transportation plays a key role in helping companies attain that necessary level of responsiveness. The study indicates that some 71.6 percent of respondents are either capable or highly capable of adjusting transportation operations in response to changing conditions—and this ability to alter and adapt is greater for transportation than for logistics operations.  ‘Total Delivered Cost” is becoming the value creation metric and competitive differentiator among carriers.

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