The Demand for Advanced Digitalization and Automation is Not Slowing Down

The Demand for Advanced Digitalization and Automation is Not Slowing Down

Bio: Nate Kurland is Vice President of Operations Southeast at Trimac Transportation. Kurland began his career in trucking with Trimac as an Operations Manager at Bayport, Texas. He was promoted several times and led the National Tank Services team in the US before relocating to Dallas and working as the Vice President of Operations at a large oil field services transportation company.

Prior to entering the trucking industry, Kurland served as an Infantry Officer in the United States Marine Corps, serving multiple deployments throughout the Middle East and Southeast Asia. He continues his service today as a member of the United State Marine Corps Reserve. Kurland holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Stephen F Austin State University, a Master's degree in Business Administration from Auburn University, and a Master's of Science degree in Supply Chain Management from Texas Christian University.

Over the past decade, I have witnessed a dramatic emphasis on the need for digitalization efforts from both external and internal sources.  External entities, in the form of vendors and customers, seek their own digitization paths and internal groups attempt to find systems and tools that optimize the immense amount of data produced in the logistics business. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry was already predicting and investing an immense amount of capital with attempts at harnessing advancing technology.  As an article from February 2019 in by Leo Zhang (How Digitization is Transforming Logistics Services | Cleantech Group) states, the logistics services sector was expected to reach an estimated value of $16.445 billion by 2026. 

While I cannot speak to the accuracy of this figure, my belief is that the events of the last couple of years have only increased the frenzy of digitalization and automation. Labor shortages, dramatic demand shifts, and questionable global geo-political stability have added fuel to the flame where digitalization and automation have seemingly shifted from a “nice to have” benefit to increase efficiencies and reduce costs and instead to a requirement if organizations want to stay competitive.  

Complicating the landscape within the investment into this space is the number of service businesses that are springing up to solve the same, similar, or small niche aspects of digitalization and automation in logistics.  As part of an organization attempting to automate and digitalize, it is a challenge to find the “right” partner or vendor to provide the correct solution, and there is a risk of adapting “close enough” technologies that do not bring the appropriate benefits to solve problems. 

Based on our journey of navigating this effort, I found it beneficial to share a couple of high points of thought for organizations diving into the digitalization and automation realm:

1. Anticipate the complexity of what you are really trying to solve and develop realistic expectations:  While the technologies are seemingly advancing at an exponential rate, defining the real solutions immediately available versus theoretical is imperative. 

2. Change is hard, embrace it:  Even after finding the right technology, that’s when the real work begins.  Implementation, integration, retiring old systems, and training take significant resources in terms of people and time.  Identifying processes that could change individual users’ daily practices must be coupled with their buy-in to find success. 

3. Remain flexible and resilient:  There is no secret that new technologies are being advanced at an exponential rate.  Commitment on this journey means that solutions identified today may not be the right solution for tomorrow.  Finding and adopting new technologies require commitment.  There will be a cost (in many different forms) to embracing digitalization and automation in your organization. Are you ready for them?

4. Find out when to sprint while racing in a marathon:  A standout challenge that my team has experienced is finding ways to sprint in terms of adopting new technologies in an environment where there are shrinking resources while also playing the long game in terms of sustaining the overarching goal of digitalization. 

This is certainly not a comprehensive list and a simple Google search can find many relevant opinions on the topic. But when asked to write on the subject, I felt this showcased the relevant learnings I have gained throughout my career. I hope others can explore these ideas further as they pursue their own digitalization and automation paths. 

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