Technology as a Tool for Success

Technology—it makes us more efficient. It helps us know how we’re doing in real time. And it helps us spot problems before customer complaints hit.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with two CLDA members, Lance Dearborn and Brad Factor, about how they use technology to improve operations, make their companies more efficient, and head off customers complaints. They shared their perspectives on the role of technology today and where they see it going in the future.

Lance Dearborn is CEO/President of FASTMILE (A Need it Now Company). This regional carrier operates in the Southeast with distribution center in Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte and Charleston, South Carolina. Out of these distribution centers they do last-mile and large package delivery as well as box truck deliveries. Lance’s team made the decision six years ago to create their own software to manage scheduling, logistics, delivery tracking, and warehouse scanning.

Brad Factor is the Vice President of Chicago Messenger Service and Veterans Distribution of Chicago. They provide expedited courier service, last mile/white glove, temperature-controlled trucking, liquor distribution, retail distribution, medical, and bank routing work. The company has a 300,000 warehouse in Chicago. They have a state-of the art automated conveyor system that sorts 20,000-plus pieces of freight per night. They use a proprietary system that they have been updating over the years.

Question: What does good technology do for a customized logistics and delivery company company?

Dearborn: Good technology gives us the capabilities to do a better job. For example, technology has now advanced to the point where drivers don’t have to call in their PODs and scan them into the system.  That information goes right into our system. That means less paperwork and less need to chase drivers for that paperwork. In the past, we collected a lot of paperwork. Now, technology has eliminated a lot of that.

Factor: Good technology gives us the capabilities to be better. We started as a small “ma and pa” courier service, and evolved to automate many processes. Dispatchers are now focusing on their drivers’ performance and tracking different metrics. We used to do warehouse searches for freight by hand. Now we're scanning directly to a pallet position. Today, we scan freight into vehicles which minimizes our claims. Technology has been a big component of our success and has helped us scale and service many different verticals. We never thought we'd be warehousing and delivering hundreds of thousands of cases of wine with a robust inventory management system, or delivering product that stocks massive retailers with their inventory, or having Fortune 500 companies rely on us to make tens of thousands of deliveries a day for their e-commerce business.

Question: Lance, your company created its own system. Why?

Dearborn: It was a big decision. There’s a lot of great software out there, but it wasn’t developed for the way we do business today. Much of what’s out there was designed to meet the needs of on-demand rush courier services. We’re not in that business—we’re in the last-mile and large package delivery sectors. So, instead of adapting an existing software system, we decided to start from zero and create one better suited to the way we do business. It was a grueling process and, in truth, it’s not something I’d recommend for everyone. We had to really analyze everything we do and respond to it, but, in the end, I am confident it was worth it for us.

Question: Talk about what you want from your technology.

Dearborn: It has to have four capabilities: scheduling, routing, tracking, and warehousing/mobile.

A good scheduling program helps cut down the time a delivery sits in the warehouse. The faster an order comes in, gets scheduled and delivered, the better. We aren’t paid for an order to sit in the warehouse—we’re paid to deliver it. The less time it stays in the warehouse the more money we are making on that delivery. With the technology we have in place the minute an order hits our dock it shows up on a customer rep’s screen so they know to schedule it. We’re not losing time waiting for a paperwork handoff to occur or to print a report the next morning.  

This kind of technology is also good from a customer service standpoint. The customer knows when she ordered her sofa. If we call her and tell her when it’s in our warehouse, she knows it’s almost in her home. The sooner we call her to give her that news, the happier she is. She can look forward to Friday when the sofa’s going to be delivered.

The routing piece is all about the ability to pick the right truck and the right route. It allows us to properly route orders to a truck that’s the right size and on the right route so we can deliver it most efficiently.

The tracking module shows where the item schedule for delivery is at any time of the day. It allows us to know if a driver is progressing during the day the way she is supposed to. It’s also great for customer relations because we can alert a customer early in the day if we know her delivery will be late. Say there are 10 stops. Three deliveries are between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. and seven between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Now suppose the driver gets delayed at a stop three. We already know that stop nine is going to be late. This module will flag that delivery. This allows us to call the customer at 11 a.m. and let him know his delivery will be late. With that much notice, he can plan his day. Most customers are understanding about deliveries being late. Letting them know early in the day is a courtesy. It’s the same courtesy you’d give to a friend if you were going to be late for dinner.

The last piece involves mobile tracking and scanning in our warehouse. It allows us to scan every piece as it comes into the warehouse, as it’s moved in the warehouse and as it leaves the warehouse. It lets everyone know the status of an order. Our people walk through the warehouse and they scan every order. If it moves, they know. 

It also tells us if we messed up. Suppose we show an order delivered at 11:30 a.m. and then we scan that order inside our warehouse at 2 p.m. that day. How can that be? Maybe it was a two–piece order and we only put one piece on the truck. If we find out, we can pro-actively call the customer, often before they even know the order’s incomplete. We can explain that the driver has already left without part of their order, but that we’ll deliver it at a later time. That’s good from a customer service perspective. It also helps with claims.

Question: What does the future look like in terms of technology?

Dearborn: I want it to continually evolve when it comes to the optimization of routes. Today’s technology tackles that, but I’m looking forward to a time when it eliminates most manual work and does it more affordably. In an ideal world, I’d like us to be able use technology to predict where the driver will be when he’s 5, 15, or 25 stops away. That way, I can tell customers when their item will be delivered within a five minute window. Technology that helps us give customers better windows will be a huge advancement.

I also foresee a time when mobile technology using cell phones will have even more capabilities than it has today. Like bar code scanning—I know that’s coming. I just don’t know when, but I’m excited for it.

Factor: Because of the shift in people’s shopping habits—from going to the store, to getting more, and to more online shopping—we know technology will continue to evolve to meet those changes. Not so long ago, people expected to order things like books and toys online. Now consumers are ordering bedroom sets online without even seeing or touching them. Who knew five years ago that people would buy mattresses without laying on them, or buy dressers without opening drawers, and buy sofas without sitting on them? Technology is going to continue to evolve around the delivery of those big ticket items.

I want to echo what Lance said. I think software will continue to evolve to provide better and better visibility. It’s going to help us make better decisions because of continually improving reporting functions. Those improved decisions will make us better managers of people and our businesses. That will be a win for shippers, our managers and drivers, and ultimately for the end user—the customer.

About the Author

Andrea Obston is the Director of Public Relations for the Customized Logistics and Delivery Association (CLDA).