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A Brave New World: Panelists explore how changes over the past year will lead to long-term business transformations

On the final day of SMC³’s 2021 Connections conference, topics pivoted firmly in the direction of the future. From uncovering insights leaders can use to develop the next generation of talent to how innovative technology trends are here for good, panelists looked into their crystal balls to predict how ongoing transformations will continue in the coming months and years.

Day three’s first session focused on the role of leadership in fostering and enabling organizational change. Throughout their discussion both panelists, including Judy McReynolds, chairman, president and CEO at ArcBest, and Shelley Simpson, CCO and executive vice president of people and HR at J.B. Hunt, agreed that diversity of leadership and diversity of thought is key to bringing forward many of the innovative ideas supply chain companies need to thrive over time. But, deciding you want to create a diverse leadership group and actually doing it are two different things, Simpson says.

One of the biggest reasons Simpson identified that organizations may struggle to develop some of their most promising leadership candidates is because they fail to demonstrate clear paths and approaches for being an effective leader. Rigid organizational structure and limited leader diversity both contribute to this problem, she said.

“A lot of times up-and-coming leaders don’t know what they can aspire to because they think there are limitations on what their roles can and can’t look like. You need to show your employees that you are accessible and that you aren’t just the face of corporate policy—but that people come first.”

In the breakout session that followed, Dolly Wagner-Wilkins, CTO of Worldwide Express, Rohit Lal, CIO of Saia, Inc., and Kevin Linardic, CTO of Carrier Logistics Inc., addressed how some of the changes that companies need to consider as they look to create space for innovation—especially in technology—are organizational changes. Many supply chain organizations have recognized unprecedented growth in technology as a key part of their future business strategies, which is necessitating the elevation of many CIO roles within their decision-making structure.

“If you look across the industry, the pandemic really highlighted how critical technology is for keeping businesses moving forward and being prepared for disruptions,” Wagner-Wilkins said. “The relationship between the CIO and the CEO has been strengthened through this experience.”

So, what are the technology-driven changes that are going to stick around in the post-pandemic world? The day’s final two sessions both touched on this topic—each one addressing a variety of high-impact digital solutions and processes that transportation leaders believe are here for good.

In “Flying High with Innovative Technology,” guest panelists Mike Neill, CTO at C.H. Robinson, Scott Friesen, senior vice president of strategic analytics at Echo Global Logistics, and Todd Florence, CIO at Estes Express, targeted a few of the ways structured and unstructured data can now be used to drive greater efficiency, productivity and risk management into every corner of the supply chain.

“At Estes, we are actually deploying IoT devices on most of our assets from a trailer perspective so that we can get better data, and so we can make the processes in the field that much more efficient,” Florence said.

“Today you might have a driver that has to enter all of this data into a device so that we can have a certain level of accuracy. Whereas, a year from now they won’t have to do anything. They will log in to an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) and drive off. This is an area we are very excited about.”

However, all three panelists agreed, collecting data isn’t the final goal. It still needs to be cleaned up and put to use in ways that benefit customers and support frictionless customer experiences.

In the final session, “Changes that Won’t Go Away,” discussion revolved around many of the long-term transformations that evolved as a direct result of the greater consumer attention given to transportation and shipping than ever before.

As customer expectations continue to rise across the e-commerce ecosystem, visibility to package location and delivery timeline are becoming critically important. For shippers and their partners, these expectations are rapidly driving technology and data changes throughout the pipeline.

“Customers expect it to be there next day,” Vivek Vaid, CTO at FourKites said. “It creates a cascading affect. The customer demands more of the retailer, the retailer demands more of the supplier, and the supplier demands more of their logistics providers.”

Added Webb Estes, vice president of process improvement at Estes Express: “We have been focused on the data around ETAs because customers are desperate, so we are working to get more accurate and more timely ETAs. We’re putting number of stops away and estimated time of delivery on our city units, so customers can click on and re-look up that information.” 

Additionally, this need for greater visibility is quickly spreading into other industries as well, including healthcare.

“We are seeing more of a need to have data available to us,” said Andy Fairlamb, executive director of supply chain at HealthTrust. “We’ll place an order to a manufacturer, and we will not have visibility on our order until it shows up. That needs to change as hospitals continue to work in a just-in-time environment.”

Even as the promise of these solutions is realized more and more, all three panelists agreed technology still has a long way to go to solve many of the modern supply chain inefficiencies that linger on—including those in visibility, routing and backhaul productivity.

The three-day SMC³ Connections 2021 supply chain conference facilitates meaningful knowledge transfer and collaboration between logistics and transportation professionals from carrier, shipper, logistics service provider and technology verticals. To learn more about SMC³ supply chain conferences, visit

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Categories: Education, Supply Chain