June 6, 2023

When we think about logistics, when we picture the oceans being crisscrossed by thousands of gargantuan cargo ships with their huge multicoloured containers stacked sky-high; when we picture the multitudes of blimp-like valuables planes that saturate the particular stratospheres using their freight-in-tonnage; the land, the sea, the skies – we doubtless take it to be the very paradigm associated with efficient processes. It must be, surely?  

With the entire business world – indeed, the entire human world – depending on its arterial and vascular traffic (‘vessels’ being named so for a reason), it must become the case that will until now efficiency has been at the really pulse plus feedback of this entire system.

Admittedly, then, it was a surprise to discover that this has categorically not been the case for central aspects of logistics or the supply chain as a whole, both in the particular past and in most cases, even the present.

Mac Sullivan, Head of Technology and Digital Promotion at NNR Global Logistics (USA), is the man who supplied this rude awakening. “I have freight that I need to send from Dallas to London. In order to figure out all the different ways that I can get it there, all the relevant contracts as well as all the potentially different routes have in order to be centralised to the specific location. What we’ve found will be that strategies as a whole, continues to be way, way behind in its modus operandi. A great number associated with logistics companies have up until now, been working with paper-based, (literally ‘written-down’) information. This goes all the way through from the particular tracking of orders to the recording of sales receipts plus information, ” he says.

This should be a mistake of some kind – we have our eyes on Mars; we are on the forefront of quantum computation and have systems in AI and big data that are so sophisticated that, schematically at least, they know more regarding us than we do about ourselves. “Way, method behind. ”

“If data isn’t entered into a digital system, you simply don’t have ‘visibility, ’ which means that you don’t have all the pieces in order to the logistical puzzle, ” he states. This sounds like the crash-course in how not to run the global provide chain.

The ability to digitise elements of the particular supply chain and more specifically, the logistics string, helps provide greater visibility to potential solutions. In a globalised world, the use of paper is usually tantamount to the obfuscation associated with processes, whereas the digitalisation of information is equal to their elucidation. If supply chain is the realm, data is king.

Once elucidated through digitalisation, the data of course needs to end up being sifted-through plus sorted – in a sort of vast problem-solving operation, and this is where Artificial Intelligence ‘traditionally’ comes in. But here again, in supply-chain terms, all of us have already been labouring under the misconception that, so far, AI has been doing its god-like work of solving almost all such humanly insurmountable problems in an algorithmic whizz, so that we all can rest easy that our supplies will be efficiently delivered and that will no complications will arise. But Sullivan says, “the truth is that independently, AI still hasn’t been able to solve the problems that we actually have. ”

So , the particular schema goes: AI requirements human intervention, and humans have to digitise their information in order that AI can then offer our goods through the provide chain and help us to breathe easy.  

But then, within a much-needed cause for exhale, he provides respite to this unacceptable state of affairs: “This is definitely however , finally starting to change, ” this individual says. “The technology and the availability associated with data that will allows all of us to existing the issues in order to AI — so that it can begin to solve those issues – is now at our fingertips. It’s a really exciting time in the logistics industry, because with the digitisation of data, we are starting to make solutions more readily available. But it will after that be – contrary to popular opinion – about the further narrowing-down associated with those AI solutions through a human agent, enabling us to start assigning the particular technology in order to then solve the important issues. ”

The particular exposition can be interesting. Sullivan, while teaching Business English at university-level in Shanghai, met his present boss Jeff McDonald, who then introduced him to the world of international logistics. “I hit the ground running, with zero background in international business, and started learning how to move freight around the world, ” says Sullivan – and he or she has come a long way since.

The issue of technological disruption for supply chain plus logistics is certainly one that he has been turning over in his mind for some time right now.  

“Many years ago, We began looking at logistics and the particular lack of technological adoption within this business in the broadest sense. I began reading the lot on the subject, doing some of my Master’s level work on this particular topic and then started my PhD work once again (which has been then on hold) around the thesis of how technology could disrupt the entire international strategies industry. That was in 2016. So after that, with this insight, I actually aimed to get out of the commercial globe of logistics and into the technology side of things, ” he says.

Now Head of Technology and Electronic Promotion in NNR, Sullivan’s role involves running a now 41 headcount team that is broken up into four sub-teams. “Firstly, we now have EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and API teams, together making upward ‘connectivity’, which deals with connecting with our vendors, customers, plus agents. Secondly, we have the product development and maintenance team for our homegrown global ERP. Third, we have two smaller programmes, one called NNR Connect, which is our own new showcase product, and then a homegrown CRM program. We then have traditional IT, hardware, networking, cybersecurity, etc that falls in to another (fourth) bucket. ” 

Of these, NNR Connect deserves a place in the spotlight. NNR Connect is the customer-facing portal that uses AI and cloud tech where customers can easily book, pay for, plus track in real-time just about all their shipments through a truly frictionless, intuitive interface. This is where technology and data intersect in order to fulfil NNR Global’s vision of a streamlined, customer-focused strategies experience.

NNR’s corporate slogan is ‘connecting your dreams’, which means providing comfort, confidence and enjoyment for their clients, “and that will means that your cargo is getting to the particular right place, from the right time and at the correct cost, ” says Sullivan.

NNR’s digitisation in the logistics industry

On the conceptual issue associated with digitalisation within the strategies industry, Sullivan says: “I wrote a book on the subject that was subtitled: Demystifying Impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution , where all of us brought with each other a group of 27 authors from around the particular world, through different segments of the logistics market, and gave them this particular broad theme, ranging from blockchain to 3D printing to digital platforms and rate management. We tried to drive home the particular idea of a pragmatic framework, therefore it’s neither your consultant’s version, nor is it your academic version of digital transformation. It is a kind of ‘where top-down meets bottom-up’ approach – that is, right in the middle. It is about looking at large problems, while also solving them with regard to the desk-level users. ’ 

When asked what Digital Transformation means for NNR Global, Sullivan answers with the single word: tracking. He then unfolds this idea: “If you go on Amazon, you may order a $2 mug. It will show up at your door, either two hours or two days later, but with turn-by-turn instructions and information on where it is along the way. ‘It’s left the particular warehouse’; ‘it’s nearing your own location’; ‘it’s been delivered’. That presence has not really been found in the company logistics sector, even though the shipment could be worth upwards of $2 million. So, tracking and shipment visibility is now the big push, and that is where a lot associated with people are spending their money, because that’s where the demand is – and that’s why we all developed NNR Connect. ”

Worldwide shifts plus rate-management through tech

With global occurrences such as the obvious 2020 pandemic and its initially not-so-obvious supply-chain consequences, the US-China trade war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, price fluctuations are at truly unstable levels. NNR has about 15 to 30 different ocean carriers, regarding 50 in order to 100 different air-carriers plus about 2000 to 5000 different trucking carriers that they work with.

Sullivan states: “We make contracts along with all these types of different carriers, trying to aggregate and then filter-through all the particular related agreements in order to find the right rates, for the particular right type of shipment, with the right validity. This is why Amazon . com has made so much cash – applying the right filters within the correct places. ” 

“Rate-management offers really come down in price, in that the particular filters plus the technology have already been capable to aggregate all that information, add some basic AI in terms of scraping via the various documents as they come within, after which centralising them. Yet post-2019, because there will be so much fluctuation in price due to the inconsistencies in supply and demand, a person can throw all associated with that out from the window. We are finding ourself in a situation where we must pick up the particular phone plus say, ‘hey, what price can you give me regarding this car, right today? ‘, which usually has really made the environment a lot more competitive again – where it’s not just all about big-buy. Now, it’s about local relationships and about picking up the phone and working hard to get this done. ”

How technology is utilised for sourcing

On the question of utilising technology intended for sourcing, Sullivan also expresses how large companies are having a transformational impact. “Alibaba, for example, has changed the particular face of globalisation by making products within mass quantities available by means of their site. On the consumer side, between Alibaba and China, Amazon, plus the US, and also on a global scale, we’re beginning to see how you can now track demand.  

“Another example would be Jungle Scouts, a SaaS company that helps facilitate the particular sourcing of different product categories, where Amazon FBA sellers can go and find products which are undersold and under-priced, which will after that help them to actually go upstream to the very sources of those products. ”

NNR’s customer facing website

Within 2019 NNR were faced with deciding upon whether in order to update their old client facing portal, or to completely rebuild it. “We decided to start from scratch, ” he says, “and to rebuild this from the ground up. All of us brought in the very young, aesthetically driven team to bring a product to market that will is completely unique. We possess handcrafted every button, each component, every single page, and colour scheme, plus we were able to do this with a fairly limited number of resources. We’re rolling out different modules as we speak and have got already rolled out the shipment module, our billing module and so on. Our accounting team said, ‘we need our customers to be able to pay via credit card’, therefore we reached out to various vendors plus put collectively a smooth, user-friendly, frictionless customer-experience, exactly where our clients can simply proceed and spend their invoices. We’re releasing some pretty exciting stuff that relates to the partnership we have with vector AI, in terms associated with seriously starting to eliminate any redundant manual entry upstream and have many upcoming releases within the pipeline. ” 

NNR partner ecosystem

This collaboration with Vector AI has been an important one to get NNR. OCR technology provides been used by big banks and huge insurance businesses for about two decades. But you had in order to have millions of remarkably similar documents that were being processed to be able to extract all those different data elements in order to utilise, and so the particular cost had been prohibitively high.  

Sullivan says: “Even when I began taking a look at this particular just five years back, a person still couldn’t get a solid pilot with any OCR company without a significant initial investment. Vector AI came along with a strong recommendation, led by logisticians, and co-led by technologists – it was the right company with the correct time. What we’ve been working on along with them is usually outside of their conventional service offering, as it’s about going upstream plus looking at what documents our customers can provide presently there, so that we can extract the data from those documents, pre-populate exactly what we require in order to process the deliveries, and then recanalize that will information to flow downstream. Therefore , we are going to aggressively partnering with Vector AI in order to go method upstream and extract the more difficult information from many different customers in many different formats.  

“With NNR Link, we’re about to roll-out our own vector co-designed product called Quick Book. They’re furthermore working with our data processing team upon the more traditional avenue of getting better bills via email, extracting the information, and after that helping to facilitate that automation of accounts payable. ”

Another key partner pertaining to NNR is definitely Snyder Technologies. “Snyder has been with me since day one in this role, ” says Sullivan. “Ben Snyder, the CEO, is somebody that I was introduced to by the friend associated with mine, also in the logistics and technologies space. They have helped us proceed 100% towards the cloud, as well as to rapidly accelerate our adoption onto Microsoft’s 365 platform. They are usually developing NNR Connect – the customer facing portal – alongside all of us, and also doing everything from information recovery in order to API integrations with suppliers. It’s a broad partnership within terms of digital transformation, product development, infrastructure and they are the licensed Microsoft CSP. ”

What do the next 12 to 18 months look like meant for NNR?

The next 12 to 18 months are heading to continue to be dynamic designed for NNR. They are aiming in order to take on their own technical debt through a massive database consolidation, aiming to move from your 52 databases that they possibly control or deal along with on a day-to-day basis plus instead reduce that number down to twelve to fifteen.  

Sullivan says: “That’s a big effort to reduce our technical financial debt, to create sure we’re going to the new age with less baggage. We’re going to become quickly expanding our providing through NNR Connect and rolling that will out to our own office plus global customers. We’re furthermore looking to rapidly improve the connectivity speed and efficacy, bring on brand new vendors and customers, plus connect to all of them electronically on a much faster.

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