3PLs in Software Engineering

Engineering Sep 17, 2020

Who working in ecommerce would be familiar with "3PL" term - abbreviation of "third-party logistics". This term is a very critical part in the industry to ensure sale items are delivered within SLAs, hence a retailer/ecommerce platform usually works with a number of 3PLs very strictly with a lot of rules/metrics/obligations that every logistic party must qualify on every parcel delivery.

I'm working for a such 3PL like above, and found an interesting fact that, at my team, we also employ the "3PL" tactics for some pieces of software we developed. One of them is our "place-autocomplete" service, which suggests addresses for end-users when they type some characters in the textbox to find their desired locations. So you can understand, the service is very critical for our system because most of our orders have to go through that process, but it is a location-data service, so we have to rely on available data providers. At this point, you can see the 3PL concept appears for us to manage location data providers, we have to diversify our requests to them, in a smart way so that we are cost-effective and safe even some of them may not function at anytime. Behind the scene, we built some real-time metrics on providers response status and latency, so we can automatically switch on-off any suspicious provider in a short period of time and use another provider like a pipeline. On the other hand, we also set usage ratio for each provider and track their data quality based on feedback from user and driver as well as our internal analysis. So, we can help providers troubleshoot their problems.

Our real-time monitoring autocomplete quality dashboard

I like a quote very much "we are living in nested systems",  a concept can repeat coincidently in some totally distinguish contexts like my "3PL". If we can connect such idea from one scope to another, we may utilize many best practices from existing scope to apply in a new scope creatively and effectively.

P.S: Autocomplete and other map services such as geocoding/distance matrix are considered as infrastructure services of a last-mile delivery company. If you are interested in using such services for your specific use-cases that popular providers can't serve, feel free to contact us.

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