A-List Insights is an interview series where we talk with industry thought leaders and experts about different topics surrounding logistics and supply chain – gathering their insights and experience firsthand.
In this segment of our Insight Series we feature Adrian Gonzalez, a trusted advisor and leading industry analyst with more than 20 years of research experience in transportation management, logistics outsourcing, global trade management, social media, and other supply chain and logistics topics. He is the founder of the popular industry blog Talking Logistics; founder and president of Adelante SCM, a peer-to-peer learning and networking community for supply chain and logistics executives and young professionals; and founder of Indago, a market research service that brings together a community of supply chain and logistics practitioners who share practical knowledge and advice with each other while giving back to charitable causes.
Adrian is a frequent speaker at industry events and conferences, is regularly quoted in industry publications, and is a recognized LinkedIn Influencer with over 250,000 followers.
This is the third of a five-part series interview with Adrian. To provide context to the current climate, the entire interview was conducted in late March 2020, in the midst of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. To get caught up, read Part 1 and Part 2.
That’s a good question. There’s so much right now that I would consider as being…well, I’ll take a step back. Technology is always ahead of the curve relative to what companies or people are ready to adopt. You still have companies out there that don’t have a transportation management system even though TMS’s have been around for 30 years, and they’re more affordable and everything else. When you look at emerging technologies today, you have machine learning and AI and drones and driverless trucks and all this kind of stuff that’s just exciting. Some of them are in the very early stages, so I think there’s a lot going on there.
From a technology standpoint, and this is building upon something technology providers have been working on for the past 5, 6 or 7 years that wasn’t a priority in the past, and that is improving the user experience and user interfaces of their solutions.
We’ve seen certainly over the past five to seven years now, enterprise software solution providers really taking a page out of the consumer applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, mobile apps, etcetera…or the iPad. Everyone knows that you can give a 2-year-old an iPad and they can figure it out quickly. But if you sat them in front of a 1990s enterprise software system and had them control+alt+shift and open two or three windows to do something?
Today’s generation of workers and those that are certainly coming up the ranks right now are going to expect to be able to drag ‘n drop with their fingers and use less of a keyboard, or be able to talk to their computer like we talk to Alexa. Just say ‘Hey TMS, show me all the shipments that are projected to be late today’ and have the computer show it.
So one of the areas is a continued evolution and improvement in the user interface and user experience of how workers work with these enterprise applications. We’ll also see advancements in touch technology, in voice technology, and things along that front. Voice and video as well.
One of the things we’re seeing right now with all the shutdowns because of the Coronavirus is everyone using Zoom, Webex, and other applications. And having something like Zoom-like capabilities within your enterprise system where you can, instead of sending an email, just launch a video chat with your carrier or your supplier to inquire about the status of an order. Leveraging these newer modes of communication is going to be important.
Which takes us to the next thing which is helping to improve human-to-human communication and collaboration. This is something I’ve been talking about for a while and I haven’t seen as much progress on this front as before.
Technology today is, and has been, great when things work according to plan. You have computers talking to computers, everything’s automated and transactions are flowing beautifully…but the moment there’s an exception, everything falls to crap.
Then someone has to get on the phone, or send an email, or call an all hands on deck meeting. These are the traditional modes of exception management.
They send out an email with a spreadsheet attached with 10 people on the cc list or setup a conference call with a bunch of people on it to figure out how they’re going to get around this.
There’s still a time and place to leverage tools like the phone, the in-person meeting, and email…but I think we all recognize that, particularly with email, it’s just not effective in a scalable way to communicate and collaborate — especially with a lot of people.
This is where social networking-like technologies embedded within TMS, embedded within WMS, embedded within supply chain solutions have a real great opportunity. So you can launch a discussion group or a chat session whether its text-related or video-related, and then attach documents and so forth. People are doing this right now certainly if you look at Slack and other tools, but they’re doing it from a generic standpoint and I think those types of capabilities ought to be standard and embedded within the context of supply chain applications.
Then you as a transportation person on their TMS, and right from within the TMS, can launch a discussion group and invite people internally as well as externally that need to be in the discussion. Maybe they’re expecting an increase in demand next month because of a promotion, so instead of sending out an email, let’s get the group here and start communicating and collaborating and sharing documents and ideas right from within the application itself.
Those to me are the next wave. We’re going to continue to see the fancy mathematics, the machine learning, the optimization, the move toward more mobile…all that stuff is just going to continue. The area we’re still behind the curve on, that has more opportunity for improvement, is on human-to-human collaboration and communication between people — not only internally within supply chain functions, but also with external trading partners.