The supply-chain industry is embracing technology at a rapid pace. But how should it go about evaluating the appropriateness of specific solutions? Grant Crawford, president of Emerge, offers some guidance.
SCB: When we talk about technology for the supply chain, what kind of technology are we talking about?
Grant: People try to pigeonhole what we're doing into something that’s more traditional from a transportation standpoint. Are you a TMS [transportation management system]? Are you a broker? Are you a digital broker? Are you a carrier in some sense? My answer to those questions are yes.
SCB: Based on this holistic view of technology, what’s your view of the appetite for technology in the supply chain? How is it being accepted, or not?
Grant: There's no doubt that our industry is not only open to adopting new technology, but is rushing toward it. There's a tidal wave of technology available to both carriers and shippers, and there's no doubt the appetite is strong. I'd say technology is now sexy within the transportation space.
SCB: That’s good news, because one of two things can happen when you're confronted with technology. Either you reject it out of a hidebound approach to innovation, or you embrace everything out there before even deciding what it is you need. Are we managing to achieve a happy medium between those two poles?
Grant: There were some first movers who blazed the trail and maybe made some of those initial mistakes — just grabbing what was out there. Now that the dust has settled, the solutions are being offered have been streamlined. The companies that are having the most traction are those that say, “This is an area to navigate toward. It’s one that’s going to have an impact on my supply chain and my company." While there are a lot of offerings out there, the number of those that are holding traction is starting to boil down a bit.
SCB: New technology can either better enable something you were already doing, or it can allow you to do things that you never did before. When it comes to shippers and carriers, what about the latter? How is technology helping them to achieve things that they weren't able to do before?
Grant: The first thing that comes to mind is dealing with the well-documented driver shortage. In the past, our reliance on drivers was immense. But even in those networks, we had a number of empty miles that moved up and down, and technology is now providing carriers with the ability to minimize those empty miles in ways that weren’t available before. When it comes to the driver shortage, it’s pretty well agreed that it wasn’t a matter of not having available capacity; it was putting our finger on where it was. Now that this technology has been developed, we have visibility to where those empty miles are. We can figure out how to marry them up with the right shipper at the right time in the right lane.
SCB: Certainly companies have tried to engage in some form of load matching for years. Are you're saying it might finally be a reality?
Grant: No doubt. Also, it's no coincidence that this is happening at the same time that ELDs [electronic logging devices] are becoming a bigger part of our everyday lives. That gives us visibility to where the trucks are down to the minute. The same technology is providing us full visibility to how full the trailer is, and whether can it stop en route and on take more freight.
SCB: Give me some tips on how shippers and carriers can evaluate whether to embrace technology. What are some of the things they ought to be keeping in mind?
Grant: The first thing that comes to mind is asking where they are right now with regard to the adoption of new practices. Do they have a small group of folks that they've pigeonholed within their group to be their supply-chain experts — those that hold tribal knowledge that can’t be shared and passed to the next person? Are the methods they’re using to move freight on a day-to-day basis different than they were 20 years ago? The next step is to become more of an educated buyer in terms of what's available. There needs to be a progression, instead of just diving into the pool. There’s a way to slowly wade in, to allow you the greatest level of success.
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