Guest Commentary: The Long Haul (Musings Over a Lifetime in Transportation)

In my last Logistics Viewpoints commentary, I shared with you some of the experiences I acquired over my many years of traveling around the world. The commentary was very well received, so this time around I thought I would do something similar but looking over a span of time instead of distance.

A week or so ago I completed my 19th year at JDA Software. I started as an account manager at a small startup company based in Canada called InterTrans Logistics (ITLS), which was later acquired by i2 Technologies, which was, in turn, acquired by JDA. Today, I am responsible for global strategy for JDA’s transportation practice.

As I reached this milestone, I spent some time thinking about all of the things I have learned along the way, the experiences with customers, and the successes and the evolution of this beloved world of transportation. Clearly, I could easily turn this into a lengthy dissertation, but I’ll just focus on a few key items.

Transportation as a Strategy
The most pleasantly profound evolution I have witnessed is the transformation of the transportation function from a necessity of execution to a strategic enabler. Back in the early to mid-1990s, transportation was a necessity that had to happen, but one whose execution most companies cared very little about. This began to change as organizations realized that there was easy efficiency (re: savings) to be had through automation. As with any trend, however, industry leaders did not stop there. By the year 2000, a fundamental shift had occurred that saw leading organizations look beyond just simple cost reductions to more advanced strategies that created synergies across multi-functional domains, and in the most elite cases, to the point of actually producing revenue.

Part and parcel (transportation pun intended) of this growth was the emergence of transportation practices moving beyond the notion of driving value through a single project toward the development of a medium to long term roadmap. Transportation leaders have essentially adopted a similar approach to software companies in developing a progression of capabilities over time.

There still remains today a wide continuum of adoption but the precedent has clearly been set that advanced strategies and the associated value are achievable with the right level of planning and diligence.

Confidence in the Right Thing
Driving industry change through innovation can be challenging, particularly when you are on the forefront of that change. It takes a certain level of fortitude to stick to a vision in the face of detractors and it takes courage for early adopters to see past the status quo. To illustrate this, I take you back to the mid-1990s. At that time, we were promoting a message highlighting the advantage of leveraging assets to build continuous moves. As I presented to a prospective customer, let’s use a retailer as an example, I would suggest that there might be an opportunity to take an asset dropping goods off at a store and route it to do a local vendor pick-up before returning to its origin distribution center. During that period, the suggestion was considered heresy or witchcraft and was often met with skepticism, or worse.

Today, this is a widely accepted strategy and considered logical even if not everyone does it. It took, however, determination and confidence to know that this was the right approach and to work past the decriers and the cynics.

More than Software
I always find myself with an odd sense, since I work for a software company, when I suggest that to achieve real, sustainable value with your transportation practice, it has to be about more than software. Software is an enabling piece and most certainly a very important one, but without a commitment to process and an investment and empowerment of people, any potential value that can be gained will fall short and certainly not be sustainable.

For example, at one retailer, they invested in staff to engage in ongoing modeling of their network in order to create solution and strategy acceptance, keep ahead of industry trends, and to adapt to changes in their network.

As a second example, I spent considerable time working with a larger consumer goods company that looked to drive transportation value across their global network. In this circumstance, while the solution clearly needed to be robust and flexible, more time was spent establishing the notion of a global template and educating regional owners. Additionally, in some cases, organizational change was required in order to create the synergies and the focus that would drive value over the long term.

Driving Forward
It has been a great journey with lots of success and growth but it is certainly not over. There is more to do, more to learn and a lot more to change. I sometimes hear transportation described as a mature solution domain and I suppose that is true in some regard but maybe that is a matter of perspective. From my view, I see a lot more that can be done, new domains to be crossed, silos to be collapsed and greater challenges to conquer.

As Vice President of Global Logistics at JDA Software, Fabrizio Brasca (@FabBrasca) is responsible for developing innovative transportation and logistics strategies across all industry verticals, strengthening executive-level relationships with JDA’s key customers and prospects, and advising companies on best practices to become more profitable. He holds an Honours Bachelor of Mathematics co-op degree with a specialization in business and information systems from the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario.

Comments

  1. As someone who also works for software company, I agree that a successful transportation company needs more than just great software. It’s interesting how the shipping industry has changed so much in the last 15 years, and how you mention that there is still a lot that can be done. It’ll be interesting to see what the industry looks like in the next decade.

    Great article, thank you.

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