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Looking Back Over 25 Years of Research on Third-party Logistics

Over the past 25 years, the third-party logistics (3PL) industry has evolved from an emerging industry to a global best practice, setting the stage for the next 25 years of dynamic change.

By ·

It’s hard to imagine today, but in the late 1980s, third-party logistics (3PL) was relatively new. Today, of course, logistics outsourcing has become an important option for logistics managers in many manufacturing, retail, wholesale, and service settings. The functions performed by 3PL service providers can encompass the entire logistics/supply chain process, or, more commonly, selected activities within that process.

Back then, few businesses were outsourcing their logistics processes to third parties. Nor were many professionals researching or writing about this emerging field. A few articles discussing the concept had appeared in academic and professional publications, but relatively little academic attention had been devoted to the concept at that point.

At that time, I was intrigued by the concept of logistics outsourcing. It was unclear to me how widespread the practice had become, but I believed that if it achieved any significant scale it might fundamentally change the logistics landscape. I also believed that the field was ripe for academic research. In 1990, I submitted a proposal to United Parcel Service Foundation seeking support for a survey of the vice presidents or directors of logistics of the Fortune 500 manufacturers to determine the extent to which they were outsourcing logistics services—and if they were, how it had affected their operations.

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By ·
Download Article PDF

It’s hard to imagine today, but in the late 1980s, third-party logistics (3PL) was relatively new. Today, of course, logistics outsourcing has become an important option for logistics managers in many manufacturing, retail, wholesale, and service settings. The functions performed by 3PL service providers can encompass the entire logistics/supply chain process, or, more commonly, selected activities within that process.

Back then, few businesses were outsourcing their logistics processes to third parties. Nor were many professionals researching or writing about this emerging field. A few articles discussing the concept had appeared in academic and professional publications, but relatively little academic attention had been devoted to the concept at that point.

At that time, I was intrigued by the concept of logistics outsourcing. It was unclear to me how widespread the practice had become, but I believed that if it achieved any significant scale it might fundamentally change the logistics landscape. I also believed that the field was ripe for academic research. In 1990, I submitted a proposal to United Parcel Service Foundation seeking support for a survey of the vice presidents or directors of logistics of the Fortune 500 manufacturers to determine the extent to which they were outsourcing logistics services—and if they were, how it had affected their operations.

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December 2014 · All Topics
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