All about logistics

From the December 2019 print edition

Focusing on areas like technology, robotic fulfillment and material handling, cannabis logistics, trade policy and even emotional intelligence in logistics, the Canada Logistics Conference offered guidance for almost every facet of supply chain. Shippers, carriers, 3PLs and ancillary services providers gathered in Niagara Falls in October to network, learn and enjoy the view of the falls during the event, hosted by CITT.

Scott Shannon of C.H. Robinson (left) moderated a panel on transportation buying trends that included (at table from left) Dave Brajkovich of Polaris Transportation Group; Andrew Midwinter of Gesco; and Steve Raetz, also from C.H. Robinson.

Technology’s impact on supply chains and transportation was highlighted in the opening panel discussion, Emerging Technology’s Influence on Transportation Buying Trends: The Digital Effect on the Consumer Market, moderated by Scott Shannon, VP—North American surface transportation, at C.H. Robinson.
“As industry experts, we understand that the value creation of supply chain is significantly impacted by technology,” Shannon told the audience. “This would be true from a shipper perspective, a carrier perspective as well as other providers like 3PLs. But it doesn’t end there, technology is significantly impacting industry verticals. The one we hear the most about is retail and e-commerce. That’s having a significant impact on order cycle times as well as the position of inventory.”

Panelist Dave Brajkovich, chief technology officer, Polaris Transportation Group, outlined steps the company has taken to adopt technology. One venture was creating a company, NorthStar Digital Solutions, within Polaris to digitize its platforms. The new company’s first step involved integration, including placing most of its services and hardware outside its perimeter. “Maintenance is a lot lower, performance is a lot higher, costs have decreased and we’re starting to see a better way of integrating with our partners and our clients,” Brajkovich said.

Connectivity and support have improved to make it easier for partners and clients to connect with the company. Clients can now give information to a “bot” and the data enters the system to provide the client with answers.

Fellow panelist Andrew Midwinter, director, logistics at floor and wall covering distributor Gesco, also said his company has invested in technology. Gesco has, for instance, implemented a warehouse management system, an inventory and forecasting replenishment system, a data analytics platform as well as other applications, Midwinter said. “Without data and without the ability to analyse your volumes and your costs, you’re relying on numbers on a rate sheet to determine your success,” he said.
For his part, Shannon noted there’s a “great hunger for more technology solutions,” with shippers pressured to improve end-user experience while also creating efficiencies. According to the company’s research, most supply chain decision makers believe technology can help to enable that process, he noted. But technology should be created by and for supply chain experts, and many carriers note that industry experts play a major role.

Fellow panelist Steve Raetz, director, research and market intelligence, C.H. Robinson, broadened the scope of data sources to include transactions associated with transportation, purchase orders, as well as social media, weather, traffic and so on. All these influence the fluidity of today’s supply chains, he said. The company has a visibility platform that not only aggregates data but sweeps social media for information on road closures, storms and other factors that could impact the movement of goods. Data science and predictive analytics could then help to determine the probability of disruption.

“This is the future,” he said. “How do you do more with less? How do you minimize disruption? How do you bring inventory levels down? How do you speed up the flow of goods? How do you create transparency into all your disciplines in the supply chain? We’re on the verge of some of the most exciting things that this industry has only ever dreamt about.”

In an interview after the session, Shannon noted the limitless opportunities that artificial intelligence offers within the supply chain. For example, the company worked with Anheuser-Busch on what are called “beer bots”, Shannon said. D.H. Robinson uses AI to provide up-to-the-second rating to Anheuser-Busch, which then puts that into their internal rate matrixes and tenders it to D.H. Robinson. That means D.H. Robinson can rate and accept tender for thousands of loads each second.

“Not only would it have taken countless people, the performance of that would not have been as good because they weren’t reacting to information that was absolutely up-to-the-second fresh,” Shannon said.

Supply chain recruiter Tatiana Lazareva, principal at Unicorn Experts, discussed the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) in logistics.

Emotional intelligence
In another session, supply chain recruiter Tatiana Lazareva, principal at Unicorn Experts, discussed the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) in logistics. Logistics is an emotionally challenging area of supply chain, she said, with most points of failure occurring in logistics functions. As well, logistics professionals often work under intense pressure, she noted. Lazareva’s discussion highlighted five components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation.

Self-awareness is useful when resolving conflict, Lazareva told the audience. But many people go on autopilot when dealing with others and use behavioural patterns that their brains formed when younger but that they tend to use for the rest of their lives. People employ these patterns without realizing that they’re ineffective or damaging. “That’s why we have so many toxic people around us,” she said.
The birthplace of emotional intelligence, Lazarova said, is self-awareness. “You have to take responsibility for all the actions that you make,” she said.

Lazarova also highlighted empathy, noting that “kind is the new strong.” Social skills, another aspect of emotional intelligence, helps people to build networks. And while self-awareness may be the core area of emotional intelligence, beliefs and values are also important. Decide what you refuse to tolerate and what behaviours you’d welcome from others, she advised.

Lazarova also shared tools to enhance self-awareness, noting that when she started developing her own emotional intelligence she wanted to learn why it’s easier to get angry rather than stay calm. The reason, she learned, is that people try to make whoever they’re talking to think the way they do about a topic. To improve her self-regulation Lazarova took notes and detached herself from situations. Checking notes later helped her track her progress in interactions.

She also offered tips to improve motivation, including starting the day with affirmations, facing fears, setting small and measurable goals and celebrating results.

Empathy is essential, she said, encouraging the audience to acknowledge new employees who may struggle at their roles in the workplace. Regarding social skills, she recommended being present when networking, making sales calls and other work-related social interactions.Be in the conversation and ask questions, she recommended.

War for talent
Why is there a war for talent and why have a talent strategy? Pamela Ruebusch, founder and CEO of TSI Group, discussed these and other employment questions during an education session entitled Strategies for Addressing the Talent Gap. “Finding exceptional talent has always been a challenge for any organization or company,” she told the audience. “But somehow our industry seems a bit more challenged.”

The logistics industry is losing workers and they’re not being replaced fast enough, Ruebusch said. Baby Boomers are retiring and the industry has an image issue—many potential employees don’t realize the challenging and rewarding nature of a career in the logistics and transportation fields, she said.

Ruebusch discussed some of the skills that supply chain professionals need now and in the future. These skills extend beyond technical know-how, although people are more often expected to have some knowledge of big data, blockchain and other cutting-edge technologies. Analytical thinking, critical thinking and project management skills remain important, while financial knowledge is also key.

“You want to ensure that you attract people with these skills,” Ruebusch said. “That will depend on how well you deploy your talent strategy.”

To tap into up-and-coming talent, Ruebusch recommended partnering with post-secondary schools that offer internships. As well, capitalize on international students, as many have double degrees or industry background and can potentially bring a lot of knowledge to an organization.

Ruebusch also recommended involving employees as company ambassadors. “Educate your employees about your company’s mission, vision and empower them to be great brand ambassadors for your company,” she said.

Overall, the Canada Logistics Conference 2019 gave an insightful look at a wide range of supply chain and logistics topics. The quest for talent, the rise of new technology and the need for those working in the field to continue to learn and grow emerged as pivotal themes at the event.