Nothing gets software vendors more excited than new government regulations. Sarbanes-Oxley was a boon to enterprise software companies a few years ago. It allowed them to walk down the hall from the CIO's office and talk to the chief financial officer, the person who controls the company's purse strings. Similarly, TMS vendors welcomed the new Hours of Service regulations when they first went into effect in 2003. It was part of the "perfect storm" shippers and carriers were facing at the time (along with rising fuel costs and capacity constraints) that served as a catalyst for TMS sales. The latest regulation that has vendors seeing dollar signs is the Importer Security Filing (ISF) rule, better known to folks in the industry as "10+2."
In June 2008, ARC Advisory Group conducted a web survey of 16 leading transportation management systems vendors to obtain their views on growth opportunities and market conditions. Almost 70 percent said their year-to-date sales and pipelines were larger than in 2007. This is not surprising when you consider the record fuel prices customers were dealing with at the start of the year (fuel prices had risen about 50 percent in less than a year). This led many companies to focus on transportation spend management, which led to continued investments in TMS. Then the economy stumbled.
To be honest, I'm a bit "greened out" at the moment. I feel like I did a few years ago, when RFID was all the rage. The first few months of RFID were exciting, learning about the technology and listening to executives at Walmart, Gillette (now P&G), and other early adopters talk about their ambitious plans. But as the months went by, there were fewer and fewer new developments to discuss or analyze. Every conference had the same set of speakers, and all the case studies (what few there were) started to sound the same. I think we've reached a similar plateau with green supply chain management.
There are a lot of parallels between the logistics software industry and the logistics service provider industry. For example, both have undergone a lot of mergers and acquisitions over the past five years, and companies in both industries are looking to further penetrate the small and mid-sized market. And it's also true that the business models of software vendors and LSPs are converging. But an important distinction still remains between these two industries: one primarily sells "products" and the other primarily sells "services." When times get tough, companies tend to outsource more and spend less, which is why LSPs have historically performed better than software vendors during economic slowdowns. Does this mean that LSPs can breathe easy in 2009? Not exactly.