3PLs tap into data-based solutions to help shippers meet their goals.

What’s the difference between a third-party logistics (3PL) provider and a logistics technology vendor? That’s not the setup for a punch line; it’s a straight question that doesn’t have an easy answer. Certainly, many respected 3PLs use software developed by other firms to help run their businesses, and run them well. But some 3PLs have brought the technology expertise in-house, creating their own systems for transportation management, business analytics, and other key functions.

3PLs with proprietary systems mainly use them within their own four walls, to support services to customers. But some 3PLs also market their solutions, either as standalone products or as part of their service offerings.

For smaller shippers, licensing technology (or, more likely, subscribing to a cloud-based service) from a 3PL can be an attractive proposition. A company that can’t otherwise afford to buy and maintain cutting-edge technology gains a solution originally developed to serve a large, sophisticated operation. Even a big shipper might choose this option, so it can focus resources on functions more central to its mission.