This continues a series of columns from practitioners I respect. The category "Real Deal" describes them well. This time it is my former Gartner colleague, Chris Jones, now EVP Marketing & Services at Descartes Systems. He has over 30 years of experience at end user, industry analyst and software services companies.
Saturated by all the cloud hype? Gartner published a report on cloud computing that listed 24 variations. What part of cloud technology will really benefit not only logistics, but other sophisticated ecosystems? Community cloud has the potential to transform not only company, but industry performance.
Community clouds are industry focused versus enterprise services. They address unique industry requirements, connects organizations with common business interests, leverage shared data, streamline common business processes, allow organizations to create new shared business models and are delivered through a SaaS model.
The community cloud concept has been a journey at Descartes. We started in 2000 acquiring air, ocean and truck messaging networks and most importantly, their members to build critical mass in the logistics world. We integrated and rewrote them to form the world’s largest multi-modal logistics messaging network, called the Global Logistics Network (GLN). We have been building multi-party applications on the GLN to help companies manage logistics globally and locally. Today there are over 63,000 connected parties, interconnects with 26 other major networks, and 4 billion messages are processed annually.
Logistics is a perfect fit for community cloud. It is a $3.4 trillion global industry with millions of geographically dispersed logistics organizations – large and small. Logistics is about companies working together, business processes are multi-party, with many ad hoc activities. Most information resides outside of the enterprise. Data is shared and leveraged with some degree of communication standardization.
To be a community cloud you need a combination of network, applications and community.
You need a backbone that can connect organizations – high and no tech and individuals and manage the flow of information between the parties. It has to be independent of the applications, because community members will need to be able to construct their own business processes through a combination of network and enterprise based applications.
The network based applications must facilitate and streamline basic business processes like booking, tracking, customs filings and invoicing. In addition the community applications must offer true multi-party processes that support an ecosystem.
The community needs members, lots of them. Building business networks takes lots of time, effort and most importantly money. Unlike social networks which are largely unsecure, business transactions require some level of adoption of industry trading norms and trust between the parties. There are ways that community growth will accelerate over time, but don’t expect the viral explosion of consumer oriented social networks.
At Descartes, we also believed that the network and applications were only part of the story and our community members needed solutions to interact in a number of ways. For example, customers were asking if we knew similar companies that could help them extend their logistics service coverage, or if we had the content they needed to make day to day and strategic decisions, or how they could more easily sell excess transportation capacity. We recognized that we needed to provide the services and content that not only helped the members navigate the community, but helped them get electronically connected and allowed them to work together better.
The “social network” phenomenon has created a great deal of awareness and better understanding of the value of electronic communities, but the B2B world is not the same as the B2C one. Like the smart phone explosion, we see derivative ways to use “social” technologies and concepts to help companies and individuals work together better at an industry level. That will be our measure of success and why we are launching with something we call the Descartes Community to extend all we have learned from years of experience with the Global Logistics Network
Chris can be reached at cjones AT descartes DOT com