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How Tomorrow's Technologies are Changing Today's Supply Chains

By Chad Lindbloom, CIO, C.H. Robinson

Cloud computing, TMS, internet of things, big data all are technology conversations happening in and outside of the supply chain and logistics industry. Companies globally are evaluating these and other technologies and how they can positively impact their supply chains. These changes have pushed our company to see things differently–see how the world’s supply chains can be more efficient and effective when companies take advantage of these technologies. 

“TMS systems, particularly those that take advantage of cloud computing, are quickly becoming the technology of choice for shippers looking to secure that visibility”

Going to the Cloud Means More Visibility, More Control 

 Let’s start with cloud computing, which affords companies the opportunity to connect supply chain partners in a fast, efficient manner. Most supply chains today are a complex ecosystem comprised of multiple partners. In some cases, these partners are stretched around the world. Few companies today are 100 percent vertically integrated; therefore, few have end-to-end supply chain visibility. Our customers are increasingly interested in solving this problem and gaining full visibility into their supply chains. Cloud computing has the opportunity to do just that. Through cloud computing, companies have an opportunity to join their partners under one global system and reap the rewards of a more efficient, more visible supply chain. 

 TMS systems, particularly those that take advantage of cloud computing, are quickly becoming the technology of choice for shippers looking to secure that visibility. There are many advantages to using a cloud based TMS for visibility and control of supply chains. Namely, shippers are able to gain that visibility and control. By using an existing TMS, such as C.H. Robinson’s Navisphere® platform, shippers can implement a platform and reduce the risks and costs associated with developing or deploying their own system. 

 We have invested heavily in our Navisphere® global platform to meet the global visibility needs and execution requirements of our customers. This platform is hosted in our private cloud. We recognize that our customers aren’t the only ones who need access to this information. We have developed a secure technology ecosystem that extends access to applicable information to all parties involved in their supply chain. Today’s leading TMS systems have developed these types of capabilities and are accessible in multiple ways–web, mobile, traditional (person-to-person), and machine-to-machine to ensure the shipper can have near real-time access to information. 

 The IoT Will Result in Greater Rewards for Companies 

But, TMS and cloud-based computing aren’t the only technologies resulting in increased visibility and control. Today’s buzz around the Internet of Things (IoT) has reached our industry as well. And, it holds great potential for enhancing supply chains in that all partners will be able to collaborate and communicate with greater efficiency and accuracy.  

More specifically, IoT will allow for greater machine-to-machine communication throughout the supply chain. This will allow companies to rethink and retool how their supply chain professionals work–improving the communication will enable those professionals to focus more on strategic work focused on improving the supply chain, rather than tactical execution. This has the opportunity to enable them to create bigger rewards for the business and each individual contributor. The IoT has the opportunity to create a future where machines more effectively monitor the cold chain to aid in temperature stability, where fleets save fuel because the technology is monitoring and responding to traffic conditions, or even where companies are able to more accurately maintain appropriate inventory levels through increased accuracy in automated monitoring. 

The Big Challenge with Big Data 

Big data–it may just be just a buzz word being tossed around to define any large or significant set of data. Or, when used correctly, it may be an opportunity to positively impact a business. At its core, big data is a very broad term meant to define large and complex sets of data that require the use of non-traditional applications in order to digest, interpret and use the data to the company’s advantage.  

But, effectively gaining value from big data isn’t easy and many companies are struggling to not only collect accurate data, but also analyze it into meaningful information to help drive the company forward. Many companies today do not have the right processes in place to gather that data, let alone leverage it to impact the bottom line. Without these processes in place, companies will be analyzing inaccurate data, which can open them up to risk. However, done well data science can have a positive impact on a business. We have invested heavily in leveraging our data. Navisphere®, C.H. Robinson’s global technology platform, provides customers with actionable business intelligence that can positively impact their business. 

The Changing Role of CIO in Supply Chains 
 
For the past 15 months, I have been the CIO at C.H. Robinson. I entered this role after working in finance for the company for 25 years, including more than 15 years as the CFO. This career change marked an opportunity for me to leverage my knowledge and experience in a more strategic way and for the company to manage IT differently, to invest in it differently and to ensure that we exceed the demands of our industry and bring new technologies that help make the world’s supply chains better and more efficient. 

I have seen first-hand how the role of IT within logistics has changed over the past decades. Once thought of as a cost center, IT is now a critical, strategic, revenue-enabling function. The work we do brings together the world’s supply chains; it enables the visibility so many companies are striving to achieve; it helps make freight move around the world seamlessly. 

As a CIO, I focus on smart investments–those that will not only move our business forward, but will move our customers’ businesses forward as well. To do that, I have become as much of a student as a teacher. Successful CIOs must partner with business leaders to learn about customers, business objectives and emerging opportunities. It’s equally important to learn directly from our users; I regularly meet with customers to understand what’s on their mind, what challenges they face and what technology means to them and their business.  

It’s an exciting time to be the CIO at C.H. Robinson. Technology is changing with the speed of light and we are right there–making things better for our customers and our business through the use of emerging technologies like we’ve discussed within this article. With these and other technologies at our fingertips, we have the opportunity to see things differently and accelerate the world’s supply chains.

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