Logistics Plus CIO, Emile Zafirov, was recently interviewed by the Erie Times-News for a small feature in an upcoming edition of its Lake Erie Lifestyle magazine. Here is a full transcript of that interview.
- How has technology changed LP’s capabilities in the last 5, 10 years?
“Technology has become a major differentiator in our industry. So much so, you can say it’s a blurred line between logistics and technology services that we offer. There were several routes our company could have taken seven-eight years ago: stick to core logistics and transportation services, have some basic tech, and compete on price; or, follow a more daring approach by branching out into newer, higher-tech territories and taking on any good challenge that comes our way. We took the latter route. We’ve since faced projects that many other companies would have turned down as too risky, out of their competences, or plain impossible. It takes many things to do it successfully, but two stand out – the ‘art’ and ‘science’ of success for us, if you will. First and foremost – the art – is the spirit of the company, which starts with the CEO of the company, and infects pretty much everyone: the ‘can do’ attitude, ‘don’t be afraid to try something, even if it doesn’t succeed at first’, and ‘care for what you do’ (or as Jim sometimes says, ‘give a s***’ 🙂). This creates a unique environment that cultivates the right people for the journey. The second – or the science – is much more pragmatic: technology. Heavy focus on technology. We built, acquired and integrated a set of tools into a solid platform that matches the nature and spirit of the company and allows us to be flexible and able to take on the wide variety of projects we do at over two dozens of markets on six continents. During that eight year period, the number of employees in the company grew three times. As a comparison, the size of the IT team grew five times and the BI (Business Intelligence) and Analytics team grew five times just in the last two years.”
- Can you give me some “real” examples of transportation solutions that your team has devised that is directly related to technology that you didn’t have just 5 or 10 years ago?
“What do you do when your WMS (Warehouse Management System) for a global, high-velocity project, resides in the U.S. and the locations it’s being used from in the field sometimes have no internet access available or the performance is too slow for the high pace of the work? You design your offline mobile application that talks to a local server when it can reach it, which in-turn talks to our cloud servers when it needs to. We could have spent a ton of money on optimizing connections or buying expensive equipment – but we found a better way. Another example are logistics control towers – heavily reliant on visibility into what’s happening in a supply chain and timely input of accurate data. We’ve been doing that for years on some scale but we have become really good at it. Today, with assistance and timely data input by our network of people around the globe, working off the same global logistics platform, we are running global projects out of Erie, PA for some of largest, fastest growing and most demanding companies in the world. Check the website if you’re curious which. “
- What does the future look like? How do you see technology changing the industry in the next decade? What will stay the same?
“The next decade will be very rich with changes. There is a critical mass of knowledge and technology being accumulated as we speak which will result in a much different picture of the industry in the very near future. Quantitative accumulations leading to qualitative transformations. From robotics in warehousing, to drones, to autonomous vehicles and autonomous vessels, to the expansion of e-commerce and crowd-sourcing/Uberisation of last mile delivery of goods to consumers (“would you like us to leave your package in your trunk, or drop it on your balcony on the 17th floor, ma’am?”). What will stay the same is human ingenuity and the constant drive to push the envelope a little further. And that people who care and put their heart in what they do will always do well, and will have even more fun while doing it.”
- Why is it important for companies to have their own technology teams that go beyond fixing computers? What does your BI team do exactly?
“There are many examples of companies outsourcing their technology work and being happy with the results. They ask for something, spec it out, communicate it, and the partner produces it. In a company like ours, where speed, flexibility and resourcefulness are key, IT is logistics, and vice versa. The blurring of the line I mentioned earlier. We are providing one service to the customer that can hardly be split into its components. Sometimes a project starts with the data that the customer wants to see delivered to their system. Then we work our way back to how to produce, where and how we need to plug into the customer’s supply chain and what services we need to provide for them. The only way I know to do that is for the technology team to be an integral part of the company and services it provides. The BI (Business Intelligence) team was sitting with our Truckload team the week before last; they attended a predictive analytics and forecasting workshop in Florida this last week; and they will be sitting with the International Air Freight team next week to figure out some key indicators they can put on a dashboard for the operations managers to look at to better manage their fast moving, multi-legged shipments. Also last week, they delivered a nice report with recommendations on how a customer can change their ordering pace in order to keep less inventory in our warehouses, product by product.”
- How much does technology affect your everyday work?
“Very much. If you sit with us at a sales meeting with a prospective customer, at the LP side of the table you may now see a warehousing specialist, a WMS technology specialist, a development and integrations specialist, and a business intelligence and analytics specialist; but this is still a logistics service Logistics Plus is providing. 🙂”