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UPS improves transportation operations with collaborative consumer-inspired tech

CITE 2014 - Expo floor
CITE 2014 - Expo floor
Michal Lenchner

Today, businesses are embracing consumer-inspired technologies to improve operations and processes through engagement of employees, suppliers and partners. At the same time, collaborative platforms at the enterprise are aimed to change the culture from silo-mode to true teamwork, with stronger prospects to empower employees and drive innovation. Companies are also investing and making the efforts to attract the next generation workforce and retain employees. Emerging technologies in mobile, social, cloud, big data & analytics, wearable computing, 3-D printing, sensors and more, were presented and discussed at the CITE 2014 conference. CITE stands for ‘Consumerism of Information Technology at the Enterprise’.

The expo floor was vibrant with a number of startups and entrepreneurs, as well as established companies like AT&T and Samsung. The award winners in the DEMO Enterprise 2014, the DEMO Gods, presented their innovations. Read more here about DEMO Gods - Recent tech products for the enterprise.

Lawrence Bader, Director of Application Development in the Transportation Systems Department at UPS, talked about using mobile devices and Machine to Machine (M2M) concepts to improve the logistics of the company’s fleets of delivery trucks, platform integration and collaborative communication, and how drivers are utilizing the new mobile-based applications development platform at UPS.

Instant tracking by drivers through mobile devices has improved operations and enables the capture of essential data for for better logistics and productivity. For example, the new system tracks geographical locations, the progress of deliveries along a route, dispatching, finding the next stop, etc. In fact, UPS has tried mobile devices in earlier days, although these devices were not what we know today as smartphones or tablets. For example, the hand-held tracker had a built-in GPS, but the old systems never acquired the data nor used it, and there was no way to leverage the data a GPS can provide. Therefore, integration was so important. The M2M project included the automation and integration of the various old tracking systems UPS had, a necessary investment that has eventually brought value to the table. In the past, the business units have not been able to take advantage of the systems they had. Bader said the old tracking systems were dis-jointed in legacy systems, had several databases, PC platforms, and a jumble of technology apps. The integration through M2M has enabled visibility, leverage, and learning capabilities of the entire business processes and operations. The new platform provides extended safety features attempting to reduce human errors and enhance drivers' well being and safety: is the door locked? Is the seatbelt latched on? Is the engine in good working order (not too hot? Not a fire hazard?), and more.

Facing a decision if to develop the expertise in-house, the IT (Information Technology) staff at UPS hired consultants to help the team accelerate the integration and deliver a one-platform solution. As a result of this approach, the project took over a couple of years to implement. However, integration wasn't the only concern for IT: this project gave UPS the opportunity to migrate into new technologies, such as the use of mobile devices. The company used open source, another current approach versus the proprietary code in their legacy systems. Further, the implementation team comprised of representatives from every business unit: drivers, dispatchers, the IT software developers, the consultant, and more.

Initially, the IT team looked at various business cases to learn what has been done in other companies in regards to dis-jointed systems, integration, and adaptation to newer and current technologies. For example, Wi-Fi was assumed to be present at all times. However, communication with drivers was unreliable, since occasionally they were driving into ‘pockets’ where there wasn't Wi-Fi. The dispatcher, on the other hand, thought he or she has sent out the message (let's say: added one more stop on the route), but the driver never got the modified dispatch message.

What were the key lessons learned from this large scale project?

Bader said that for a large project, make sure you have buy-in and governance in place. While you develop and implement the project, make sure you have the best project management resources you can allocate. The team and who you 'recruit' cross functionally are also important. Good system architecture at the beginning and doing the thorough discovery process to find which old systems need to be integrated are also crucial for successfully deploying a better solution. Bader said that this process can take time, but it is worth the effort. His message: Systems always change, but when you have a good architecture as the basis, it is easier to adapt to changes as they surface.


1. UPS Transportation Solutions: for information, click here.

2. UPS received recognition for their sustainability efforts from some of the most respected companies and institutions in the world. For a list of sustainability awards for UPS, check here.

3. UPS Corporate Sustainability Report:

4. CITE (Consumerism of Information Technology at the Enterprise) conferences:

For CITE 2014 Award Winners, click here.

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