Creating Transportation Visibility

fab_brasca_jda_2013_1_medNo, this is not yet another article about capturing network milestones or establishing better carrier connectivity, but rather the more strategic issue of how companies can raise the visibility of transportation within the domain of corporate initiatives.

I recently attended the American Shipper Executive Summit in New York City and early in the agenda, Eric Johnson, research director and IT editor for American Shipper, presented a view on the transportation information technology landscape.  One of the things that really struck a chord with me was that a key barrier to the adoption of new technology is a lack of corporate priority for transportation as a functional domain, and consequently, a failure for transportation projects to rise above the fray against competing projects.

As I hit my twenty-year milestone in the transportation and supply chain technology field, I think it is timely to share what I have seen as successful characteristics and approaches in raising the importance of transportation technology in the corporate landscape.

 Go Beyond the Easy

“Think little goals and expect little achievements. Think big goals and win big success.” David Joseph Schwartz, motivational writer

When I started in this space, transportation was generally a little-considered part of a company’s corporate strategy, if considered at all.  In many organizations today, however, it has earned a seat at the strategic table.  What I have observed in those organizations that have been successful in raising awareness of this domain is the will to go beyond solving the basic “bread and butter” challenges to also address the tougher problems.

For example, over the past several years I have witnessed several instances in which consumer goods companies have had their transportation initiatives mentioned in their annual reports.  In each case, the initiative in question went beyond the basics of carrier assignment or better carrier tracking and freight bill auditing.  Instead, they focused on advanced strategies for establishing a true shared service logistics organization spanning divisions and geographies, better utilization of large pools of assets holistically and concurrently with commercial freight, and in some cases, even creating a revenue stream from their excess capacity. These more advanced strategies garnered both management and stakeholder attention.

Roadmap versus Project

The counter argument to thinking big and tackling tougher problems is that doing so takes time and greater investment.  It is normal for those of us who are naturally risk averse to shy away from taking on such big projects.  This leads to a second concept in which I am a firm believer and consistently advocate: to think in terms of roadmap rather than project.

Successful companies in transportation, or in any business for that matter, do not think in terms of projects.  They have a long-term view of where they want to be and use that to create a roadmap for growth.  Taking this view provides two key benefits for raising the visibility of transportation in the management approval process.  The first is that having a long-term vision of how the project maps to the corporate growth strategy provides a better foundation for approval of individual project-level funding than a project presented in isolation.  The second is that a long-term vision provides the engine for continuous improvement, and hence, sustainable value that a short-term project focus lacks.

End the Isolation

Another emerging trend for which I am certainly a big proponent is the leveraging of transportation beyond its current role as an isolated, execution-level function.  Certainly, we have seen some convergence with the warehousing domain, with some companies adopting more comprehensive strategies and approaches than others.  But what about the world of upstream supply chain planning?

Transportation is a unique entity in the world of supply chain in that it truly straddles the worlds of planning and execution. Yet organizations rarely leverage the former beyond a near-term implementation.  Again, I have seen that those organizations that leverage their decision points across a broader time horizon (than just execution) have also been more successful raising the visibility of the transportation domain.  Considering capacity, modal decisions, and route alternatives across a diverse set of time-based and functional decision points creates a level of importance beyond simple execution.

Beyond Technology

The last thought I will leave you with, and certainly an interesting one coming from someone in the technology field, is to not consider technology as a solution on its own.  Technology is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to improving performance. It must be complemented by process as well as people.  This may seem like a cliché, and yet time and again I encounter projects that focus on embedding new technology into an existing process without understanding whether the process itself is good or flawed.  The achievement of sustainable value, which creates corporate visibility, has to include being intellectually honest in evaluating current processes, particularly in view of the corporate long-term strategy.

By going beyond simple cost factors to take on the larger transportation challenges, mapping transportation projects to long-term corporate strategic growth plans, integrating planning and execution elements for greater synergies, and evaluating processes and human factors; transportation management professionals can raise the visibility of transportation to corporate executives and stakeholders and increase the likelihood of getting transportation initiatives approved and funded.

 

As Vice President of solution strategy at JDA Software, Fabrizio Brasca (@FabBrasca) is responsible for developing innovative strategies across all industry verticals, strengthening executive-level relationships with JDA’s key customers and prospects, and advising companies on best practices. He holds an Honors Bachelor of Mathematics co-op degree with a specialization in business and information systems from the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario. The author invites comments or questions from readers. He can be reached via email at fab.brasca@jda.com.

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