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Maximizing Technology Output with Cloud Solutions
By Thomas Musgrave, EVP & CIO, AmeriCold Logistics
Big Data Benefits Delivered through Cloud
The availability of cloud computing to solution providers offers the advantage of being untethered to a master network or database. The availability of big data on multiple devices and to multiple software systems can present the data in different, more compelling formats. Having access to more mobile network is one thing, but identifying how best to utilize the information and present it to users is a completely different and more complex study. We’ve made significant inroads in conjunction with input from our customers and we believe that our proprietary i-3PL solution does a phenomenal job of placing visibility and control at the fingertips of our customers as it continues to evolve.
As more partners, industries and verticals, and competitors etc. accept cloud solutions and look beyond the defensiveness remark that, “our intellectual property or our business model is unique and therefore cloud is not a good fit,” we will then see what we believe is the greatest benefit of cloud solutions: full sharing of big data across the supply chain. At first we thought the greatest benefit of the cloud was limiting the customizations, staying current on technologies and leveraging the outlay that third party vendors are investing in their platform by removing some standard headaches we in IT have around managing resources, cost on expensive customizations and staying current. However, after further adoption of cloud technologies we see the benefit is in the big data that cloud solutions can provide. Consider this, if your partner, competitor or some other vertical were using the same cloud solutions like TMS, the data that could be collected, analyzed and trended you would then begin to get a better understanding of the efficiencies across the full supply chain. The cloud-based systems are streamlining integration so that the onboarding of producers, suppliers, customers and providers can be a more efficient process. With all participants pulling and providing data to the one cloud-based database there can be significant savings in the utilization of capital, assignment or inventory and tracking of resources. It takes a greater vision to incorporate a wider ensemble of supply chain service providers but the ultimate goal is a more cost-effective and efficient network which is achievable.
"With our scale being the largest, it is a major advantage over our competitors"
Greater Utilization of Resources with IoT
In a nutshell, Greater utilization of resources from origin to destination, optimized timelines for all elements and enhanced overall visibility throughout.
Cloud can Support Increasing Advances in Forecasting
If a customer could reach into a point of sale chiller cabinet and pull product directly from the manufacturer then this would be the most efficient supply chain possible. And unless you are a grow-your-own strawberry farm that produces fruit on demand then this isn’t going to be possible. The next best thing is for accurate forecasting to be able to provide specific inventory production and timelines in order to ensure point-of-sale on-demand replenishment. Technology integrated at each step of the way and connected via the cloud can support ever increasing advances in forecasting and delivery accuracy to ensure greater utilization of production, transportation, storage and delivery components. We have processes in place that are connected to points of sale and production facilities, we’re able to convey requests for increases or decreases in production that are up-to-the moment accurate to customer demand.
Big Data a Must for Growing Businesses
In our market, we view having big data as one of our key differentiators. We have thousands of customers, ten thousand employees and over 175 properties globally—the ability to leverage metrics is a big advantage. Implementing the big data systems brought many challenges however; consolidating the data was the easy part. With a business operating for more than 100 years, then growing very quickly (organically, mergers, and acquisitions) getting big data was a must. The business was just too large to manage via the current processes. We spent a large amount of time documenting the current data and developing requirements for what would be produced. There were two main issues that impacted our success and delays. First, we began the efforts very quickly. The business had just gone through a major transaction and the key stakeholders were extremely busy. Gathering requirements and understanding the usage for the data produced were not high on the list of priorities, during this time. With this being the case, the utilization of the metrics took much longer than expected (18 -24 months) to gain benefits from. Secondly, once we owned the software and tools needed to begin pulling data, the excitement from the business quickly led to other parts of the organization “wanting the same level of metrics.” This request necessitated the creation of several projects at once and to spread our key resources—who really understood the data and business—more thinly than we’re comfortable with. We started this endeavor approximately 4 years ago and we’re continuously looking for better ways to utilize what we have built. The metrics provided are often the building blocks for managing the business.
Technology a Key Differentiator
Our company constantly works towards becoming more innovative and technology is a key component the enables our creativity. Logistics is transactional by nature; our competitors are buying the same buildings, using the same type of equipment, and hiring the same labor. With our scale being the largest, it is a major advantage over our competitors; however, it is irrelevant if we are not able to provide consistent and reputable service enabled by technology to all customer groups—local, regional, national and international. I have been in this industry for the past 10 years and I have seen technology go from being important to becoming a key differentiator. Technologies focused on availability, service, and core infrastructure will always be important, and is now expected. The true discussions taking place now are focused on, “how do we continue to utilize technology in order to create competitive advantages?” The CIO’s ability to work with operations, business development, and other key areas as partners to accomplish this has become a key driver for success.
Add Business Value as a CIO
Relentlessly spend time to understand what drives success in the business, and what it takes to hold on to that success (customers, efficiencies, tools to manage the business, etc.). Look for ways to add business value and focus on those efforts. Deliver the commitments on time and follow-up with the stakeholders to ensure the value expected is received then sell those successes in order to gain confidence with the business. Additionally, as everyone says, focus on the talent in your organization— constantly evaluate, motivate and ensure your team members are aligned according to the priorities in order to deliver.