Microsoft is moving deeper into the supply chain technology market through a multiyear partnership with FedEx that will enhance data analytics and supply chain visibility for shippers. The collaborative effort with FedEx, announced Monday, is the technology company’s biggest step in the logistics arena since it partnered with shipping line Maersk in 2017.
The immediate goal of the partnership is to link FedEx’s logistics network with Microsoft’s cloud-based computing network, Azure, and Dynamics 365, its cloud-based enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management applications. Those systems will be used to develop a range of supply chain products for FedEx customers.
For example, FedEx and Microsoft plan to roll out a visibility and analytics product this summer called FedEx Surround that will give shippers near-real-time visibility and insight into the flow of goods throughout supply chains, allowing for more proactive decision-making about the movement of not just individual shipments but inventory, the companies said.
Blending IoT, AI technologies
FedEx Surround will collect multiple data points gathered through FedEx’s scanning and proprietary Internet of Things technology and analyze them using Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and analytics technology. That will expand the definition of visibility, the companies said, beyond simply the location of a product or shipment.
“This will provide participating businesses with not only enhanced visibility of a package’s location during its journey, but also knowledge of global commerce conditions and external challenges in near real time, such as severe weather or natural disasters, mechanical delays, clearance issues, and incorrect addresses,” the companies said in a statement.
That will particularly benefit shippers that depend on highly time-sensitive deliveries, such as hospitals and manufacturing plants, the companies said.
FedEx Surround customers will have “the opportunity to intervene early and act to avoid logistical slowdowns before they occur to reduce friction and costs”, FedEx and Microsoft said. “And with every package that ships, FedEx Surround will analyze past trends to identify future opportunities for streamlined shipping”, creating a stronger, more resilient “ecosystem”.
Microsoft has been steadily increasing its supply chain presence, working not only with carriers such as FedEx and Maersk, but supply-chain software companies such as Blue Yonder (formerly known as JDA Software) on its autonomous supply chain project. Those collaborations also are based on Azure’s cloud computing network, AI technology, and the expansion of data analyses.
The FedEx-Microsoft partnership “makes a ton of sense”, said Anshu Prasad, founder and CEO of Leaf Logistics, a New York–based digital truckload freight contracting platform. “Microsoft and FedEx and other companies are thinking about what the ‘new normal’ will be, what they’ll have to do and what technology they’ll need after we get beyond the pandemic,” he said.
“There’s a good chance we’re going to go through a cloud-like change in logistics, perhaps accelerated by this,” Prasad said, referring to the impact of the introduction of cloud computing. “We don’t want the supply chain to go back to the way it was before [the pandemic]. We want it to be stronger.”