Archives for March 2018

Blockchain zoo spawns CryptoKitties and Fishcoins

By Ben Ames | March 23, 2018 | 3:15 PM

A basic definition of blockchain isn’t that tough to grasp—it’s like a shared spreadsheet (a “distributed ledger”) that can’t be changed by any individual member without the approval of their trading partners. That distributed design model generates a high level of data security, which means the technology could be a helpful tool for supply chain tasks like tracking goods or making payments.

For example, FedEx has launched a pilot project that uses blockchain to improve supply chain visibility by supporting digital data exchange among shippers, carriers, and retailers, company executive Sean Healy, senior vice president of transportation, international, planning, and strategy, said in a published report.

That high security also lets some groups make their own web-based money, using blockchain as the technological foundation for virtual currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. But blockchain quickly gets weird when you look at some of the more creative ways it gets applied. Try to follow me here:

But wait, what does all of this have to do with material handling or international shipping? That remains to be seen, but blockchain is enabling new ways of handling the basic activities that fuel logistics business transactions. In the words of CryptoKitties, “The future is meow.”

Tool tracks evil bunnies on Facebook

By Ben Ames | March 14, 2018 | 2:27 PM

The typical e-commerce consumer of 2018 lives online, skipping between smartphone apps and social media feeds with ease. In a world of short attention spans, young shoppers view opening a new web page or dialing a phone number as a boring and onerous distraction.

So where is an eager shopper supposed to turn when the item they purchased an entire day or two earlier has still not appeared on their doorstep? HighJump Software Inc. says it has solved that puzzle with an app that embeds a “Where’s my stuff?” function directly within the instant messaging feature of your Facebook profile.

HighJump unveiled the “Social Connector” tool at its user conference in Dallas on Monday, making the pitch that embedding customer service in social media would deliver personalized supply chain visibility data directly to individual shoppers, instead of making them stutter through phone trees or fill out online forms.

Execs showed off the chatbot in a live demo on the convention stage, using the Facebook page of HighJump’s fictitious microbrewery, Evil Bunny Brewing Co., a straw company created by HighJump to demonstrate its software capabilities.

Posing as an impatient customer, HighJump’s vice president for product management, Jackson Bilbrey, opened a Facebook chat window and typed “order status 1234.” That entry triggered the tool to use its automated chatbot capabilities—developed by HighJump using Facebook’s application programming interface (API) framework—to query the virtual retailer’s supply chain database. The chatbot instantly asked Bilbrey to double-check his invoice number, correct a typo in the digits, and then provided data on the estimated delivery date for his Evil Bunny products.

The “Social Connector” tool can currently provide data about parcel shipping, allowing retailers to communicate more effectively with consumers, HighJump Chief Technology Officer Sean Elliott said in an interview. Future versions of the chatbot could also support instant-message queries of track and trace or warehouse management system (WMS) data, Elliott said. And while the chatbot currently lives in Facebook, it could just as easily take up residence on other social media platforms, he said.

But wait, what if you’re an online shopper who’d rather ask “Where’s my stuff?” by shouting questions across the room than by typing into a keyboard? Fear not, UPS Inc. has you covered. The logistics and shipping giant on Wednesday launched a spoken-word chatbot that allows customers to call out questions to their smart speakers, Android or Apple phones, or other devices.

The product is an expansion of UPS’ existing chatbot function onto the Google Assistant platform, which powers the voice recognition capability used in “Google Home” speakers and other applications. The chatbot now uses its artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret spoken questions like “OK Google, ask UPS about my packages,” and respond with spoken answers.


The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

Thoughts from our editors.

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