Technology plays such an important part in all of our successes. IT capabilities are considered by our clientele to be just as important as shipments arriving on time and damage-free to their destinations. However, once upon a time, we operated very differently.
There were typewriters and dial telephones and our Operations Departments were alive and busy with IBM Selectrics playing their happy tune. The phones were manned by people talking to customers, answering their questions and providing them with quotes. The office had a heartbeat.
The introduction of computers in the late 80’s to our company was met with a lot of angst. The older employees felt threatened by computers. They felt that they “were no good” and I was “no good” for even suggesting their use. That was probably my most difficult sale to date – convincing our people to "buy-in" and use a computer.
Now that we had the computers, the next obstacle was making sure Operations actually used them so that our customers could get status details by using tracking software. I was met with a lot of strange looks. At the time, when it came to technology, we were getting our butts handed to us by Emery Worldwide and Burlington Northern Air Freight. "They have tracking," my customers would say. I would answer, “We will too, as soon as I get my Operations Department to use their computers.” In the beginning the computers were nothing but lovely desk ornaments, but our customers wanted information and we needed to give it to them.
The first tracking application written had to be installed on our customers’ machines. First through a floppy disk and eventually with a CD-ROM. Oh, the sweet sound of screeching modems playing their happy tune in the background. Of course the information accessed by this new software was only as accurate as our Operations people updating our system. We were now officially semi-manual! BTraX, as we called it, was a success and we now competed with the big boys!
Over time, the software evolved and we added shipping and reporting features. Meanwhile, this thing called the Internet was evolving as well – and very fast. The world started to spin faster and so did my head. I had to convince my dad, the boss back then, that we had to hire a programmer. That was fun!
In time, we added to our IT team and built a web-based software suite designed on and for the Internet where our customers Ship, Track, Quote and pull reports. As freight-forwarders and shipping experts, we all have our “MySomething” that accomplishes these functions for our customers – ours is called MyBTX.
The heartbeat of the business has changed. We no longer have to worry about making sure that our Operations teams are using their computers because they wouldn’t know how to operate without one. There are less phone calls and most of the business is conducted online via an email, web or EDI orders. Imagine if the Internet went down, “Holy cow!” We would need to dust off those IBM Selectric typewriters – I am not sure if anyone under 40 even knows what one looks like.
Today, customers, vendors and agencies like Census and Customs are all talking to each other through EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and web services. Our proprietary Operations platform, called BTXShip, leverages the latest technology to connect all the dots for our customers, vendors and users. Whether it’s transmitting e-AWBs (e-Air Waybills), pick-up or alert requests, receiving or sending 214’s or 210’s, BTXShip constantly uses the most advanced technology available in the industry.
BTX meetings are filled with IT requests from all departments. Customers expect customization. Operations require more tools and faster changes to keep up with the demands of the industry.
Thanks to new tariffs and regulations, recently, we had to jump through hoops to ensure we were outputting and transmitting all the required data elements for China properly. The new thing everyone is talking about now is blockchain and how it will change everything. All we are really talking about is making sure suppliers, vendors, forwarders and a whole lot more is connected seamlessly and accurately through technology to increase traceability and efficiency.
Whether it’s offering new services like SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for our fulfillment clientele or creating a new interface for a client, technology is at the forefront of it all. With customization requests coming in daily from all over the globe, we are going to have to do what we’ve always done – hire more people and utilize more resources to stay ahead of the times.
I think I have been here before...you probably have too.
Ross Bacarella is the President and CEO of BTX Global Logistics. Headquartered in Shelton, Conn., BTX Global Logistics is a full-service transportation and logistics organization specializing in time-sensitive, heavy-weight freight and integrated solutions for customers in the U.S. and around the world. For more information, please visit www.btxglobal.com.