Technology as a Force Multiplier

Technology. I love it. I hate it. I want more of it. I’m addicted to it. It promises so much, and if I had unlimited resources, what I could do with technology! Companies of all sizes promise to solve your logistical problems with their great technology, but is it really the technology that is solving your problems or is it the people behind the scenes utilizing the technology to make sure things go smoothly?

Until we remove all human interference/interaction from the supply chain there will always be people guiding, supervising and adjusting the technology to meet customers’ needs. Nowhere in supply chain is there a purely technological solution that doesn’t involve humans at some level.

I think it is more practical to think of technology—to borrow a military term—as a force multiplier. With X technology, can I do my job faster? Can I get more through put than before? Does it make my team’s job easier? Can I do 2x or 3x the workload with the same workforce while not working them to death? Using technology to do the things that computers are good at (GPS tracking, auto-sending confirmations, determining rates, etc.) frees up your people to do things people are good at (talking to customers, calming down an angry driver, re-routing a complex shipment to avoid unexpected delivery delays, etc.)

But how do you take on the technology elephant to “fix” or improve your company’s performance?

First, define your end state. That is, at the end of this technology implementation, what will your company look like? How do departments function in silos and with each other? How does the customer see you and interact with you?

Then, determine your budget, because we all work with limited resources. Make a list of all the technological initiatives you believe would be beneficial, and rank-order them based on importance. Each companies’ priorities will be different, whether it’s reducing headcount, increasing through-put, improving communication, etc.

Once you’ve set a budget and ordered your priorities, determine if there are off-the-shelf applications that will require minimal customization to do what you want them to do. (Customization always means more money.) When you are ready to implement, you need a project champion that will see things from beginning to end. In some cases, it can be the CEO or a VP but honestly, I believe it should be someone solely dedicated to the initiative or initiatives—someone who has enough authority and time to execute and marshal resources, make decisions quickly, and who has the understanding of the software and the business necessary to determine when things are going well (and when they aren’t). Lastly, don’t get locked into long-term inflexible contracts or products, because technology changes and you want to be able to change with the times.

(One word of caution—stay away from product demos until you know exactly what you want in a solution. It’s easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of a product and forget your priorities. You want a product to do what you want it to do and not just one that looks great during a presentation.)

If you follow this process, you’ll end up with a technology solution that makes your people better, which is really the point of technology in the first place.

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