I interviewed Tim O'Brien who discussed Will the Global Supply Chain of the Future Need Humans?.







Can you provide a brief background of yourself?


Sure. I've been in the industry since I was 14. My father was in the airfreight industry. He ran CF Air-freight, which is no longer around. I went to college for an accounting degree. Didn't like it. Got into supply chain and logistics at age 22.I'm now 47, and I've basically worked for big companies, small companies, and everything in between.


Thank you. And so you wrote this post on will the global supply chain of the future need humans. Why do you say that...? What is your thoughts on this? Do you think that the global supply chain in the future will need humans?


I think the automation and technology in today's society is becoming more and more prevalent. So the question I asked on the blog was,“Do you think we're ever going to get to a point where the Star Trek era, where everything will be vaporized to you and you'll never need humans?” I think the answer is there's going to be more and more automation. But in the supply chain specific to warehousing, trucking, and whatnot, you're always going to need some, but I think as we evolve year by year, with the influence of technology that the amount of actual human labor is going to go down and down and down.


What should be done in response to this if you're in the supply chain, working in this industry?


Very good question. I would say that when I first started in the industry, it was very manual driven. Technology was not a big influence. The internet wasn't around. Faxing was the method of communication, along with pagers. I would say for anybody that wants to become a part of the supply chain industry, I would say the number one thing that you need to be experienced at is technology and the willingness to embrace technology as part of your day-to-day operations.


The days of a lot of phone calls and faxes and emails to be successful in the 21st century and supply chain is going the way of the dinosaur. So if you don't have technology in your background, there's only going to be a certain level you can get to within this career.


What kind of technology, specifically, should someone focus on?


I would say it doesn't have to be computer science. But I would say understanding the automation. One of the topics in this blog is MacroPoint. MacroPointis a GPS technology based on using the driver's cell phone, which will ping or locate them for a respective amount of time — every hour, every four hours, every eight hours. Understanding why that's important to the shippers in today's society — the Targets, the Walmart, the Amazons. They're all looking for more real time information, as opposed to "Yeah, we think the truck is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." They want to know that, "No, it's not in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It's in Albany, New York, 212 miles away, and the expected ETA will be on time within an hour, here or there."


How can someone develop this education? Do they learn on their own? Or are there university programs or other training available?


Yeah. When I graduated college in 1993, logistics wasn't really a degree. I believe there was one, maybe, at Penn State. I think nowadays, there is supply chain and logistics degrees at all the major universities. I think, as far as the aptitude for the supply chain and logistics industry, it's more, if you boil it all down to its lowest common denominator, it's moving boxes. The boxes may be small; the boxes may be big. But it's just the movement of goods. That's what, literally, logistics means from a military term.


If you've got the passion for putting pieces together, willingness to think outside the box, and not having every day be the same, then I would say the supply chain and logistics industry, pursuing that degree in college, is probably something that might be a good fit for a person.


Have you been able to find talent that you just mentioned, people that have those skills with technology?


Yeah. I think the people that are on the cutting edge of developing scalable businesses are the ones that have good infrastructure from a technology side. So, specific to our industry, we use some providers that, respective to our transportation management software, TMS, they're very dynamic. They fix things via their coding. They're embracing technologies such as GPS tracking and automation of messages to customers. That's one of the main reasons we use them.


So I think if you don't have technology in your arsenal, especially with the legislation that's coming on board with the hours of service and reporting, I don't think you're going to be a viable entity in today's supply chain.


Well, what about creativity? Does that play a role in the future of supply chain?


Another very good question. I think creativity runs hand-in-hand, at least in the supply chain specific, to the transportation industry.Creativity is when a customer is giving you situations that you're going to have to go to your network of providers and/or resources and get real creative as far as how you're going to support the customer and make it a win-win for all parties involved.


So creativity from a process standpoint, I would say the day-to-day operations of a business, the answer is no. The creativity for today's successful folks, in my opinion, in the supply chain industry, are when customers give you situations that, if you just run them through the normal day-to-day process, you won't be successful. You're going to have to think outside the box to make sure that all parties involved win and support your customer. I don't know if that makes sense, but...


Yeah, definitely. And do you have any final recommendations for supply chain professionals dealing with the issue of technology in the future?


Yeah. I would say it's pretty easy. When I keep referring to me being an old guy at the age of 47, but when I graduated from college in 1993, the internet wasn't really an important part of the business world in supply chain and logistics. Now it's absolutely essential. So if there's a technology that you feel like that you can see, whether it's GPS tracking, whether it's automation of EDI, whether it's web calling, whether it's any type of situation where a person who's in the industry doesn't know what the technology is, the first thing I would say is just look it up. Look it up. And then there's a lot of forums, kind of like yourselves, kind of like LinkedIn, where you can ask questions, and people are, in my experience, more than happy to help you out. And it's going to give you that much more of a leg up on anybody else that doesn't embrace technology.


So I would say technology and the automation of systems and processes is not going away. In fact, it's here to stay. And so if you are an employee or an owner or anybody that wants to even be interested in the supply chain and logistics industry, technology has to be your best friend. It can't be something that you're scared of. And if you're scared of it, use the internet, get yourself experienced, and you should be just fine.


Thanks for sharing today, Tim.


Thank you. I appreciate the call. Those were actually some very good questions. And, Dustin, have yourself a great day.



About Tim O'Brien






Tim O'Brien


Logistic Services USA LLC


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