Simon Clark - VP of Business Development for Europe, the Middle East, & Africa - assures change no longer needs to be intimidating.
You're a change maker. You've taken stock of the situation and seen where your company could be, where it should be. The problem is you have to take others with you, which means pushing against attitudes of 'better the devil you know' toward new ways of thinking. Fortunately, new ways of looking at productivity boundaries - and easier ways of pushing them - are available.
The consumer market has experienced massive changes in the past decade. Customer expectations of internet enabled speed, access, and quality have kept retailers on their service and technological toes. But supply chain businesses, particularly those in the small to mid-range, have been constrained by a lack of affordable solutions designed for the logistics sector. The industry's large multi-national customers have spent years and vast amounts of money on massive ERP systems in their quest to be innovative and to keep their processes lean, but when they want forwarders to fulfill their supply chain, more often than not, they are talking to people who don't have EDI, automated status updates, or KPIs. The forwarder's process is often very labor-intensive, relying heavily on phones, manual systems, paper files, spreadsheets, and emails.
Until recently, the trade flow middlemen (forwarders, liner agents, customs brokers) have had to resort to "doing what we did before, only doing more of it, faster." This modus operandi often results in extra staff, overtime, and mistakes which lead to unhappy customers and slim margins.
The boundaries and barriers to logistics business success, both real and perceived, can now be challenged. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is the game changer. You don't need a huge capital injection, and you won't be bogged down in a long implementation. Risk-reducing testing for new systems and processes, once really only available as part of large, lengthy, and costly projects, is available now to all. With SaaS, you simply switch on scalable new functionality as your organization is ready to absorb the next change. You don't have to throw extra people at it, and, irrespective of your customer's size and complexity, you'll have total confidence about providing the required service.
Start with a Clear Plan of Action
You may feel that experienced change management consultants are too expensive, and try to do as much as possible yourself with the help of your software vendor - that's a good approach, but remember that it's your destiny being shaped. You'll need to put in the time to think, and make some tough decisions, before you start pushing past your boundaries. Make sure you are confident that you know the problem being solved intimately, as if you haven't gone through it in meticulous detail you may end up with the same problem creeping back into your new processes.
Thought Process tools that help map out situations, conflicts, and processes are of great value. This exercise can also help predict the effects of the change - both good and bad - rather than making knee-jerk reactions to any negative side-effects.
With a clear analysis of both your current and desired business processes, as well as the pain points you've identified, it becomes easier to make fast, minor improvements to efficiency and quality. In turn, this frees up valuable time to think about the larger changes to get the best out of your business. You need time to work out the innovation, strategy, and tactics and get them right, after all. Look for automation, simplification and rapid communication to give clients what they need: the right information in the right format at the right time. You can then create technology lock-ins to key accounts and provide special service without lots of special effort.
Avoid the Risks of Building Complexity into a Boundary Shift
Be aware that pushing the boundaries too far, with too complex a change, can put your business at risk. If you become too reliant on your people having specific training and knowledge, then you can't afford to lose them; and - in the logistics sector, where people tend to change jobs when the next salary raise is offered - you'll be in the undesirable position of paying above the norm to keep these expert staff. And when you take on new recruits, having complex systems can also lengthen the time to productivity.
When assessing what new technologies you are going to take on, you need to balance effectiveness against your goals. If you take ten percent from your goals, you can reduce complexity by fifty percent. What's needed is someone to objectively assess your definitions, do a cost benefit analysis on any change process, and push you back a rung for safety.
So if you're stuck on the hamster wheel without the time to think of ways to get off (let alone how to re-invent it), remember that one day the hamster wheel will break. It's better to act now and think about the problems in your business and processes, acknowledge them, and identify their causes. The world is full of creative people shackled by their view that they can't make a difference and that they can't move beyond their boundaries. You can be among those who do.
Simon Clark is VP of Business Development for Europe, the Middle East, & Africa for WiseTech Global
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