In this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, Russ Felker, CTO of Trinity Logistics, joins Ryan Chacon to discuss the key role that technology plays in the world of logistics and physical operations. We cover the importance of understanding the needs of stakeholders when implementing new technology, impact analysis, challenges in deploying technology, and handling security and ethics. Russ also shares an example of a recent successful project that used machine learning models to deliver faster responses to customers’ requests.
About Russ Felker
For the past 30 years, Russ Felker has been leading technology change, not only as CTO, but also as a founder and technology advisor, creating technology solutions to achieve business outcomes. No matter the industry, he’s always had a passion for using technology to improve customer experience and help companies allow their people to focus less on clicks and more on service.
Interested in connecting with Russ? Reach out on LinkedIn!
About Trinity Logistics
Trinity Logistics has offered their People-Centric Freight Solutions® for over 40 years, helping businesses of all sizes succeed in their logistics operations and supply chains. They support truckload, less-than-truckload (LTL), warehousing, intermodal, drayage, expedited, international, and technology solutions as a transportation management system. They are currently recognized in the Top 20 freight brokerages on Transport Topics’ Top 100 Freight Brokerage List, a Top 3PL and Cold Storage Provider by Food Logistics, and a Top Company for Women in Transportation by the Women in Trucking Association.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(24:38) Importance of impact analysis
(28:48) Learn more and follow up
– [Ryan] Welcome Russ to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Russ] Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. This is a very exciting conversation. There’s some context behind the scenes that I know a lot of the audience won’t know, but where I went to college, Trinity Logistics was a big name around the area for hiring students out of the school I was at. So it was very cool that many years later, I’m getting to talk to a member of the leadership team there about kind of what you’re all doing, technologies in the industries you work in, how it connects to what we talk about. So, very excited about this conversation so thanks for joining me. So let me ask you to kick this off by just giving a quick introduction about yourself and the company just at a high level to get our audience some additional context.
– [Russ] So Trinity Logistics, as you mentioned, it was headquartered and founded about 40 ish years ago in Delaware, currently in Seaford, Delaware, not too far from Salisbury. And we are a third party logistics firm. So that means essentially we are match.com for loads. So if somebody needs to ship something, they call us up, we have network of people who will move that thing, and we match those two together and create that delivery so that you get your stuff, whatever that might be. Whether that be food, whether that be hard goods, what have you. So that’s what a third party logistics firm does.
There are asset light and asset heavy. We are asset light, and we don’t own any trucks. That’s a differentiation there. So every truck we use is a partner of ours that we work with and do that. I am Trinity’s CTO. So, I’m their Chief Technology Officer. I’ve been with Trinity now just a little under two years. Before that, I worked at other industry, large 3PLs, as well as I’ve worked in private equity. I’ve been doing technology for over 30 years. I’m, I’ve been cautioned to say over 30 years, so I don’t state exactly how long I’ve been doing it because it gets scary. But, for a long time across multiple industries and across multiple technology changes over that time.
– [Ryan] So when you mentioned, and you talked about what a third party logistics company does, what is the real kind of reason for your existence? And what I mean by that is what is the problem that existed in the market for a business like yours to even exist? Because I don’t, I think a lot of us think about companies who need to ship things. They don’t think about all the details that go from the manufacturing of the product to arriving, wherever it needs to arrive, whether it’s at a business, at your door, you name it. There’s a lot of pieces that seem to go on in that kind of process and most people are not very familiar with that, but I think it’s critical obviously to the success so rather than a company owning their own trucks and handling all the stuff themselves, you know it sounds like obviously there’s the middleman who helps arrange all that. But talk to us about what are the pain points that existed in the market for Trinity to find a reason to exist.
– [Russ] And I think it’s the same, you could look across, not just in logistics, but you can look across multiple industries and see brokers within those industries. Your real estate agent is a broker, why they call it real estate broker, your mortgage, whoever you got your mortgage from, that might probably was a mortgage broker.
Anytime you have a situation where you’ve got essentially scale issues, that’s really the first thing you hit. So as a company, as I’m, if I’m, I don’t know, Coca-Cola, I own my own trucks. I ship my own trucks, you see trucks that say Coca-Cola out there, all that kind of stuff. But as I get to be a smaller company, all of a sudden, I don’t, I can’t really own my own trucks, nor do I necessarily have anybody that understands all the various options and methods of moving something from point A to point B. The different types of trucks, the different types of requirements that might be, and nor do they have a process to vet or validate the group or individual moving their goods. So a broker comes in in any of those types of situations where there are this kind of you’ve got in the case of real estate, you’ve got a person, like myself or yourself, who might want to buy a house. You don’t necessarily know all the different pieces about the different houses in the area, the neighborhoods, all this. You could go do all that research yourself. Of course, you will have to take time away from other things that you might do in order to do that, or you could use a broker whose job it is to collect all of that information, make it digestible for you, and help you to target your search more effectively to get what you need. That’s what we do. We work with shippers. We help them to, we help understand what they need to do, and then we help them to target and match them to carriers who can do that type of a movement. And in the meantime, we’re managing it all. Just like a real estate agent sets up the showing that you go where you go see the house and all that. We manage all of the different pieces that go along with that movement of goods.
– [Ryan] I imagine since the company started, technology has just grown in importance of the role it plays in the relationship and kind of your offerings in general. Talk to me about how technology has, comes into all of this and the work that you do and how tech’s role has really evolved over the years to be as important as it likely is in the ability for you to, for Trinity to do its job well and offer something that people are interested in.
– [Russ] So as a broker, you’re primarily selling information and service. That’s what you sell. I don’t care what kind of a broker you are. That’s what you sell. It’s information in the form of knowledge, usually that you’ve gained through your who works there and their work in the industry, things like that. And then it’s service, your ability to stay on top of things and make sure things are moving as well as they can. As supply chains have elongated, grown global, as the number of products available has increased over time, the complexity associated with all of these different moves has grown as well. You can’t, doing the job today without any technology is very difficult to do.
And if you want to scale from a business to be able to serve larger customers or serve a larger number, you have to have technology. There’s been a couple of, I’ll call them, revolutions or evolutions of kind of technology in this space. And I’m going to throw out some names that probably everybody knows.
So the first one was Amazon. Amazon was a disruptor within the logistics business. People 20 years ago could not even imagine I’m going to go onto some computer, which may, not even many people had, and I’m going to say I want this thing, and it’s going to show up at my doorstep. That day or maybe if two days at the most, if I’m like crazy, and I want to wait, and at the same time, I’m going to be able to go to their site, and it’s going to show me exactly where it is in the process as it’s going through, that was revolutionary to the industry and what people now expect out of the industry. And that was that first revolution when you think about logistics technologies and what created a huge movement of a number of people to adopt technology systems because the Amazon effect is what it’s affectionately called, there might be other words that some people use in logistics at least, but the Amazon effect was real. The second wave really came with Uber, Freight, Convoy and kind of these digital only providers, where instead of saying, hey, we’re going to use technology, and we’re going to supplement what people are doing anyway, but people still do like 99 percent of what gets done, we’re going to do it all digitally. And that hasn’t worked out as well for people, but it doesn’t mean it was any less of a disruption to the industry. And what it did is it really showed that by adopting this more advanced technology, AI, RPA, natural language processing, all of these different kinds of components, you can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your people by one, doing things that it’s a rote thing, they don’t need to do it. And two, by just giving them information in a more digestible and consistent format. So those two big waves have just driven technology adoption and really explosion of available technology within the logistics industry over the past 15 years.
– [Ryan] We’ve had other companies on, not as closely tied to the logistics space that obviously you all are, but have used or deployed IoT sensors and solutions in the supply chain in one way or another to monitor goods, do cold chain management, you name it, right? So when you all are looking at bringing in new technology or even creating a solution that you can offer through the services that you provide when it comes to technology, how do you think about using that technology or how do you decide what is, what you want to even bring into your own business to do, to be more efficient or to offer as an additional service to the businesses and the companies that you work with or sell your, you know, normally your, need of your servIces to.
– [Russ] I would say the latter is the primary focus. So we think we talk, a lot of people will talk about technology and efficiency in the same breath, but what does efficiency really mean. It can mean I could low, I could reduce the cost of my service to someone. But a big part of it should be, and it isn’t always, but how can I service my customer better by creating an efficiency, by creating so that my people don’t have to do something, what else can I have them do, what new thing can I have them offer my customers to set that service up and above and provide that wow customer service that everybody wants to provide. And that’s how we think about it.
So when we bring in technology, we look at, okay, does it help us in some way and might, it might help to provide, it might be a direct provide, a direct service to our customer. It might be that it creates efficiency for our people and allows them to interact more because technology is great, but where it sucks is interpersonal relationships.
– [Ryan] From my exposure to Trinity, even way back when I was in college, the culture and brand of the organization seemed to be very tight knit around relationships. And it seemed like that’s a big driver and technology’s that next layer to allow you to not only be competitive with competition but also to create your own competitive advantages in what it is that you do and then you tie in the relationship aspect, which at the end of the day does matter to building those long relationships, and you can, like you said, you can have people focus on those while the technology does its job if you pick and adopt the right technologies, not just internally but also to then sell through to customers.
– [Russ] Absolutely.
– [Ryan] When you talk to customers and you have a new technology that you’re looking to introduce, what are some of the challenges that you’ve seen with adoption of new things, or how do you evaluate which technology or solutions you feel like your customers are going to get value out of and actually want because there’s one thing of saying, okay, I understand their need, let me come up with a solution, but if they don’t see the value, or it’s not easy for them to adopt and really doesn’t fit into kind of what they’re expecting, then it’s a solution that nobody wants and that’s not the intent here at all.
– [Russ] Yeah, exactly. And so you have to hear what the pain points are. Whenever you’re looking at a technology that you’re giving out to a customer, it’s okay, I’ve got this pain point, and I, there’s so many different ways to resolve pain points with technology. It’s almost mind numbing sometimes how many different ways I could approach this thing. But what we found is that it’s not just what’s the pain point, it’s what, where do you want us to help you solve this? So there’s this phrase, meet the customer where they are. And that might be on a website, that might be in their own system, that might be on their phone. And you have to figure out, okay, great, this is a relevant pain point, and many of those boil down to I need information about something. And that, especially in logistics, that tends to be one of the primary pain points. If you boil all the different ways that’s said down, it’s I need better information. I need it when I need it, not when you want to give it to me, but when I need it, and I want it to be essentially on demand. And I want you to know that I need it because we are supposed to be in partnership with this. And so meeting them where they are, but also when they need it is critical for those pieces and understanding those. So you have to really get into things like customer journeys and journey mapping and understanding how a customer interacts with your service to understand how to best provide a particular thing to a customer. And that generally means you do it multiple ways because not every customer’s the same.
– [Ryan] Can you tell us about any kind of a situation in where you had a, you the team internally was looking at, hey, we think this technology or this solution is gonna be of value. You went through the process of bringing it in and then you deployed it and it did, it met those expectations. It was a successful improvement on the experience, the operations of a customer. Can you just tell us like maybe a more tangible example of you all doing that? I think that’d be really interesting to hear.
– [Russ] Very recently, actually, we had a what has become a very successful project to hone our ability to rate loads more quickly. So customers are, in especially over the last couple of years, are wanting faster and faster responses. That’s a pain point for people. They don’t want to send an email and then, oh, okay, I hope I hear back in an hour or even a half hour or even 15 minutes. They want an instant response. But that can be hard because when you’re a, when you’re matching shippers and carriers, it’s not always, the perfect carrier isn’t always available. So you might know that carrier’s rate, but you might not know this other carrier’s rate. And so to respond quickly, you have to introduce technology that can then support people. And that then allows us to give a faster response to customers and respond in multiple situations. So in some cases, the customer was like, I need you to be able to quickly bid on loads that I’m going to post up to this load board. And this other customer is I want to just ask you, and I want you to have an instant response. And the other one’s like I want to go onto your site, and I want to put this lane in, and I want you to just tell me what it’s going to cost me. All different venues of getting really to the same data, again, information, but how do you serve that up? And so we took the approach of, hey, let’s get in place machine learning models, let’s get our data fed in, let’s get ancillary data fed in, that’s industry data so that even if they ask us about something that maybe we’re not as familiar with, we still have a really good shot at being able to respond quickly and be that partner for our shippers in that, and also of course, maintain our business in a profitable manner.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. And when you deal with lots of different companies who are, have their own vision of what they’re expecting, I’m sure there’s a lot of different considerations that have to go into what it is that you end up offering, how you deal with things and so forth. What about like on the privacy and security side and even the ethical side of things, we’ve talked about this before on the podcast around bringing in AI technologies and the ethical ramifications that need to be thought about there, when you’re dealing with so much data and a lot of probably proprietary data, a lot of just data that needs to be protected, when you’re looking at technology to come in to support what it is that you do and the services you offer, how do you handle or think about, think through those considerations on security, the privacy, the ethical things that need to happen around the deployment of those solutions?
– [Russ] One of our primary ethical considerations we always look at is the impact on our people. And that’s something that, every technology has an impact on your people, a hundred percent. And that’s true of your customers, that’s true of your team members. There’s always an impact. And so that is something we go through and really look at and say, not could we do this because the answer to could is almost always yes. You almost always could do something. It’s should we do this? And then we have to think about at what level do we do this? So a great example of this is we get a load in, we can price it, and I could match it to a carrier. The question is, do I always want to do that? And not, from a team member perspective, that’s great. That’s one less thing they could do. I can have them making more phone calls. I can, excuse me, have them looking for other freight. I could have them talking to customers, finding out if everything’s going good. That’s wonderful. But from a customer perspective, did I really get them the best carrier. When something does go wrong because it’s not a low percentage. You think about manufacturing quality errors where something goes wrong in the manufacturing process, and you want to keep it under half a percent or even lower. Yeah, 20 percent of loads have some sort of exception. That’s a high percentage. Now, think about if you run a load through, and you have it all automated on the back end and something goes wrong. No one has any context for that load all of a sudden. So how fast are they when they really need to be fast at responding to an exception that’s occurred. And they’re not because they have to now learn about the load and they have to go, oh, it’s this customer, okay, let me figure out about that. Oh, it’s this carrier. Oh, hold on. Let me figure out about that. Okay. Now I understand. I now, oh, load characteristics. Let me find out about that. Okay, now I understand how I can address the exception. So completely taking the person out is ethically irresponsible for your customers because you are not prepared to effectively service them when, not if, that exception occurs.
– [Ryan] So it sounds like there’s always a strive to find ways to do business better, to offer services, to have that competitive edge against your competitors but there’s a very clear thought process or thought practice that has to happen internally before you decide if that value is really something that will be realized by customers, as well as internally, something that’s going to provide value to your employees and the kind of culture you’re trying to build.
– [Russ] And when you think about some of the technologies that you’re talking about, whether it’s widespread sensor deployments from an IoT perspective, there’s, or AI or anything like that, there’s an impact of people’s jobs. And what they were doing yesterday may not be what they’re doing tomorrow. And so have you thought through the training, the education, and the change management that you need to do for your internal team to introduce these technologies and have them be valuable, not just internally, but to your customers.
– [Ryan] Yeah, absolutely. I think when it comes to any of this, you have to understand the implications it’s going to have at every stakeholder throughout the entire thing and build these also for the intended end user so that the value is realized, you have the people who can support it, and it’s something that you see as a value add to the things that matter to you most. Let me take it a little higher level here, for companies that are listening to this that work in an industry that touches the physical world, as opposed to just being strictly like a I guess more of a SaaS software company or something like that, you’re dealing with physical things. You’re handling, you’re helping companies who are in the physical operations space, which in reality is basically what IoT is, right? It’s being able to collect data and information off of physical objects in order to be able to make better decisions, understand things better, become, optimize things, drive revenue, create new revenue streams, endless kind of opportunities for it. But when we’re talking to people who are working in the physical world and trying to bring in technology, what do technology companies usually get wrong or miss when it comes to working with customers in the physical world? So you obviously are a technology company interacting with companies in the physical, who do more physical operations type things, what, where is there often or if there is an often, where do you see as like the disconnect other companies maybe fall on their face trying to bring technology into this, but maybe they just don’t understand, that’s like the key pieces that you really need to be thinking through or understand in order to be successful there.
– [Russ] It’s not that different than even somebody that’s purely digital. It’s do you understand the needs of the, you said the perfect word, the different stakeholders and are you addressing those effectively? It’s, and the physical world has some challenges, of course. You can account for those, but there are in the digital world, yes, you can have a server go out or something like that. In the end, everything still reverts back to some sort of physical layer that’s being used, but in the more physical world of supply chain, yeah, things go wrong all the time, and you have to account as, like we talked about earlier, you have to account for that higher incidence of issue or of problem. And if you don’t, that’s where you can really fall on your face. When you try and, because if you think about it, yeah, we could be a pure digital twin. And that’s essentially what we are. We create digital representations of all aspects of what’s happening. But they don’t just live in the digital world. They live in the physical world, and they have physical problems. So the amount of data that you have to have feeding in and that you have to take into account becomes a much more complex system to deal with, which is of course why tools like AI that can crunch large amounts of data and relate those becomes so much more important to feed that type of information to your people, so they can make those complex decisions when something goes wrong, which it will.
– [Ryan] One of the ways I wanted to wrap this up is just having you give your thoughts and advice on, for other companies with significant physical operations going on, about digital innovation and how to prioritize, select, deploy technologies. Like how do they, how should companies be thinking about bringing technology into their physical operations? Because you’re obviously, you’re seeing, and you’re doing this every day in the logistics industry. But are there any general principles that you think people should take away for, you, I guess maybe want to shed some light on to wrap this up, on what’s important when really looking to digitally transform and bring technology into, to add value to your business.
– [Russ] Impact is the key. What is the impact? How do you define and really address the impact across your stakeholders. And that is done in a few different ways. There are definitely quantitative impacts to anything you’re doing, but then there’s the qualitative impacts of, hey, how does this impact people’s lives, people’s, our ability to do something else on top of it. And then there is the how does this fit with your strategy as an organization, that kind of alignment aspect, and that’s an impact of bringing in technology. And so you have to look across these things to understand if a particular technology is going to be pointing, very narrow impact or if it’s going to have a broader impact. And you want to try and get those ones that are going to have those broader impacts.
So you want to do this impact analysis not to understand, oh, I’m going to reclaim X number of hours for my employee, and then I can repurpose them to do something more strategic for me and more people-y, as I like to call it, and less clicky, but it’s also just how does this align with our overall strategy, what are the qualitative impacts to this technology that I’m bringing in, and how does this thing now compare to this other thing. And it really is, it’s a comparison. You have to compare everything. There’s, ideas come out of the woodwork. I don’t care who you are, I don’t know, there’s always ideas. There’s always vendors calling you about great ideas. There’s always new solutions that are out there. Your internal people are saying I want it to have this. Maybe it’s I want a button here so I can do this. It could be something that simple, but you have to weigh the impacts across all of these initiatives and really get a true prioritization framework in place to evaluate the different initiatives that you have.
– [Ryan] It sounds like there really needs to be a honed in discipline to it all and how you approach it because you could probably get carried away and really miss the bigger picture with what you’re trying to accomplish as a business, trying to over optimize everything or offer every type of service or add on, sell through under the sun, when in reality, if you listen to your customers, you listen to your people internally, use that information to create a framework to make decisions on what type of technology you bring in and how that can impact things. This has been an absolute pleasure, Russ. I really appreciate you taking the time. I love being able to dive into one topic pretty deeply, like we’ve done today. And I think a lot of people are going to get a lot of value out of just understanding not just about the logistics space and what you all do, but just how you approach thinking about technology playing a role in the physical operations world, in the work that, you know, the interaction you have with your people, with your customers, and I think it’s going to be able to be carried wider outside of logistics to any company looking to bring in technology to make themselves more efficient and just a better, more competitive organization. So really appreciate your time. For our audience who wants to learn more about what you all do, what’s the best way they can do that? Follow up with questions, reach out in any way.
– [Russ] Yeah, you can always come to our website, ask questions. We have, it goes to a real person every single time. It’s not a chat bot. Please come ask us questions and yeah, it, and we’re all up there and, yeah, you can find our information usually pretty easily.
– [Ryan] Well, Russ, thanks again for taking the time. Excited to get this out to our audience, and hopefully we’ll be able to have you back in the future to continue talking about more ways that you all and people you’re seeing out there really bringing technology to just improve things going on in the physical operations world.
– [Russ] Appreciate it. Thanks Ryan.