Techonology usage in the supply chain: the case of small 3PLs

Pietro Evangelista, Edward Sweeney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In today's supply chain management practices, a successful strategy depends increasingly on the performance of third party logistics (3PLs) providers as they play a key integrative role linking the different supply chain elements more effectively. Information and communications technology (ICT) has become an important element of 3PL competitive capability as it enables higher levels of supply chain integration. Recent industry developments have widened the technological gap between large and small 3PLs. This is critical particularly for those markets populated by a large number of small 3PLs such as the Italian logistics industry. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of ICT adoption in small logistics service providers. The focus of the study is the Italian 3PL market. The methodology adopted in this paper is based on the action research framework and it is a combination of theoretical analysis and empirical findings (focus groups and surveys). Firstly, a literature review on ICT dissemination in the international and Italian 3PL industry has been carried out. Then, a field survey has been developed preceded by two focus groups. The empirical investigation examined a sample of 153 small Italian 3PLs on the base of a definition and taxonomy proposed by the authors. The results provide a useful technological profile of the surveyed companies, as well as an analysis of the role of ICT in customising services and of the factors influencing ICT adoption. To give a more robust scientific justification of the survey results, it would be useful to carry out an additional large-scale analysis including other countries with a high presence of small logistics service companies. Furthermore, a complementary case-study analysis would be of help in defining the role of specific factors in different types of 3PL. Further investigations in this field are needed to better understand innovation paths, and how ICT can improve the competitive capabilities of 3PLs and of the wider supply chain.
Managers of small 3PLs can use the findings to set-up guidelines for improving a company's technology innovation. Technology vendors can use the findings to better market their service/product into the small logistics service provider segment. Despite the fact that much has been written about the dissemination of ICT, there is still a shortage of research in the field of small 3PLs with little empirical investigation into the usage of ICT by small 3PLs. This paper provides a contribution to filling this void and suggests some possible research directions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-74
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Logistics Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

This article is© Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


  • communication technologies
  • competitive advantage
  • supply chain management
  • Italy


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