Portal Focus - May/June 2021
FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY IN THE MOVING INDUSTRY
Technology Has Made Us Better, but Innovation Has Made Us Thrive
By Justin Walsh, Chief Innovation Officer, New World Van Lines
Best Practices (and Pitfalls) in Tech Adoption
It was more than ten years ago now that New World hosted its first Operations Summit, bringing planners from the Chicago headquarters and operations staff from several of its domestic service centers together to sit in the same room and talk about planning strategy. The purpose of the summit was to explore the potential of technology, to enhance the planning process, and make the company operationally more efficient.
I was the “kid” in the room, in my early twenties, and had recently stepped into a newly created role: Director of Technical Strategy. The discussion, filled with more than 200 years of industry experience, circled around the same challenges that every moving company faces. Driver availability, combinatorial shipment optimization, abiding by hours-of-service requirements, inter-departmental communication, and the customer experience, answering the question, “how could we do these things better?”
After this meeting, I introduced a new program that automated the creation of a spreadsheet the planning team had previously hand-assembled each week, reducing a 12+ hour weekly task down to roughly three minutes of load time. The new program created a modest operational improvement, but more importantly, was a plain example of how “IT” could do more within our organization than simply track shipment information and perform accounting functions.
From that moment forward, New World technologists have been openly encouraged by leadership and by our operations teams to sit in, observe, and disrupt—and that has been our mission. By creating a culture that embraces innovation, we have instilled a more positive, collaborative environment, reduced the burden of change management, and created advancements exclusive to our company. While technology provides the tools (and those tools are better now than ever before), embracing an innovation mindset is the differentiator our organization uses to thrive.
The spirit of collaboration is key to any organization responsibly wielding innovation. A technology team that acts from a position of “thought leadership” is Orwellian and creates divisiveness. Instead, we must openly solicit ideas and instill trust. Team members must be confident enough to know increasing efficiency does not mean the elimination of roles; it means adding more value, time, and capacity. We strive for an environment where every individual in the organization is empowered and has a seat at the table, and vet all contributions through a structured process.
The technologists’ role then is to turn ideas into tangible outcomes. The benefit of this collaboration is two-fold. In addition to having the direct input of subject matter experts in the design process, the development team is then exposed to business practices and existing thought processes, affording them greater familiarity with the business domain. This knowledge and common understanding makes the execution of ideas clearer and faster than ever before.
Being an independent van line, New World benefits from a level of flexibility not available to some of our larger counterparts, making change management easier. Moreover, our managers and associates know that enhancements and improvements are frequently only a phone call or Teams meeting away. Changes are welcomed and embraced universally across the organization.
The New World Innovation Team aims to complete at least one major project in every department per year. The massive scope, challenge, and variety of work is desirable and engaging for motivated technologists and has helped us to find and retain an extremely talented team. The individual business units understand changes are frequent and iterative, and are prepared to invest their time in the name of improvement. While this mindset may take years to install among office staff, adopting an iterative approach to change helps create excitement. The spreadsheet mentioned earlier that reduced a 12-hour task to three minutes now loads in less than three seconds. Iteratively, we are constantly growing better together.
Perhaps the most important benefit of successfully embracing innovation is the nature of the output. A collaborative, organization-wide approach to change puts forward-thinking technology first and yields results unlike anything you will find in an off-the-shelf product. Software looks and behaves differently when it is created by people who care about your business, rather than a vendor chasing a better operating margin. While not every solution needs to be bespoke, New World’s in-house software has won awards annually for more than a decade, thanks to its employees’ direction and input. These solutions embrace emerging technologies from telephony to machine learning to data visualization and resulted in an environment where every day is more efficient, clear, and organized than the last.
Serving as a central tenet of our organization, innovation was recently added as New World's fifth core value. The positive impact our embrace of technology has made is indisputable and transcends what shows up on your screen, day-after-day. Innovation has emboldened our company culture and played a key role in creating a place where ideas are valued and acted upon.