Simple, Practical Innovation

By Steve Simmerman | 11/05/2016 | 5:04 AM

Sometimes it just takes a simple approach to truly innovate.  Taking a look at what is right in front of you and imagining how it can be made better or provide more benefit.

For all you road warriors out there (like myself), I spend a lot of time passing through countless airports all year.  While on a recent trip through ORD (road warriors know this code instantly), I saw a truly simple, practical innovation aimed at making traveler's lives just a bit easier.

HMSHost Mobile Food Cart

Take one extended length service golf cart, remove the seats, add some nice graphics, a simple storage bin on the front, a clean-looking display case on the back, load it with enticing snacks and drinks, add a Wi-Fi enabled Point of Sale device and voila!  You have a mobile food cart!!  As travelers you know how tough it can be waiting for flights, hoping to get a comfortable seat to rest, read or do a bit of work - but you hate to have to give up that seat to go get a drink or something to eat.  This mobile food cart that I saw for the first time last week at ORD is brilliant.  The cart pulled up to a crowded group of gates and was immediately surrounded by people buying drinks, snacks and sandwiches.  The person driving the cart was swiping credit cards faster than I've ever seen and the customers seemed genuinely happy to have such a convenient mobile snack cart!

My hat is off to the team at HMSHost that developed and implemented this concept!  As a road warrior, I applaud your simple, practical innovative approach to providing better service to all travelers!

As it turns out, HMSHost has also launched a series of food trucks for motorway travelers, beer carts and even bicycle food carts (Memphis) and even a made to order food cart (Maui - think BBQ tacos) in what they are calling a "the most seamless dining experience for the traveler".

Bravo HMSHost!!!  Travelers of the world will love these innovations!

Why do we solve the same problems time after time?

By Steve Simmerman | 05/19/2016 | 9:40 AM

Some very exciting technology and supply chain news this week. I firmly believe that these innovative products and strategies are only the beginning of what we will see in the supply chain in the very near future.  Why not use this technology to help address the endless supply chain challenges that we have been addressing with traditional technology and approaches?  Driverless trucks?  Virtual digital assistants?  3D printing across the supply chain?  All awesome possibilities.  Here's a quick recap and I'd encourage you to read more about these news items.....

At the google I/O developers conference, they announced Google Home (think competitor to Amazon Echo).  Google Home is powered by Google Assistant a digital assistant. Google also introduced Allo a new messaging service.  They also announced Duo, a new digital chat service. Are the days of Allo and Duo assisted supply chain apps around the corner? I think the possibilities are endless and just take some thinking about things differently.  All of this is backed up by Google's bet on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the notion that a virtual digital assistant is ever present and will help consumers (and why not business people) guide their day in real time.  Why do I have to go to my WMS to login, punch up some queries or dashboards when I can just use Allo.  And oh, by the way, if you don't like Allo why not try Alexa or Siri?  As I discussed with many people at the Annual WERC Conference, I believe we are on the cusp of some truly disruptive supply chain applications that will leverage these technologies.

Driverless trucks you say??  A bunch of google technologists and engineers have broken off to form Otto and are well on the way to delivering driverless trucks...sure there will be regulatory and safety issues, but the economics behind this innovation make a lot of sense...perhaps this is just the beginning to addressing the driver shortage and other costs tied to our massive transportation network.  As one article said, 'there used to be elevator operators in every elevator'...

  Otto Driverless Truck

Lastly, UPS announced that it's partnered with SAP to usher in the next century of the supply chain. Yes, it's early and still needs to be proven out, but it's a very innovative approach to disrupting the technology and using existing infrastructure to address real supply chain needs.

All great stuff and all just announced this week....the rate of innovation in supply chain is tremendous and the future looks very bright from my perspective.  I'm interested to hear how your organizations are looking at innovations like these and how they can be applied to your supply chain and overall business needs....let us know!

5% Unemployment = More Leverage for Temp Workers

By Steve Simmerman | 05/04/2016 | 4:03 PM

On the people front in supply chain, the pressures surrounding labor are continuing to mount. With California and New York already enacting $15/hour minimum wage laws and with unemployment hovering at 5% ("perfect employment" according to some economists), companies are starting to see much more pressure on wages and programs designed to attract and retain quality workers.

An article in USA Today talks about the pressure for higher wages, better benefits and even union organizing activities by temporary, part time workers. In speaking with customers around the country, it's not uncommon to hear turnover figures of 25%, 35%, and sometime much, much higher. In addition to that, I often hear about candidate hiring ratios of 6:1 or 8:1—that is only 1 out of 6, or one out of 8, temporary workers actually stay on as employees. The cost of recruiting, hiring, and training can be a huge drain, and these costs often are understated. In addition, productivity takes a huge hit when you consider all of the supervisory time spent on-boarding and training all these temps. The article concludes that many companies are starting to rethink their temporary-worker strategies in favor of going back to full time employees.

We've all heard the stories of a tight labor market, aging population, and more. As these pressures continue to build, we'll see if we reach a tipping point where the cost of having a more well-rounded full-time employee strategy outweighs the pain and costs of constant temporary-worker turnover, lower productivity, and all of the associated costs. Let us know what you see in your operation and in what direction you see the labor strategy heading.

Happy Thanksgiving!

By Steve Simmerman | 11/25/2015 | 6:40 AM

Wishing you, your family and friends a warm and Happy Thanksgiving!

Pending Workforce Crisis 2030

By Steve Simmerman | 11/10/2015 | 3:24 PM

We hear all about the recent declines in unemployment here in the US.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the current US unemployment rate is 5% as of October.

Many economists argue that 5% represents "Full Employment". We're fully aware of how competitive the labor market is today and that's true in distribution, retail, IT and more.  Having a 'people strategy' is critically important and Rainer Strack has done a fantastic job of illustrating the pending global Labor Crisis as we head toward 2030 in his TED Talk.  That may seem like a long way away, but the trend has started and it's frightening in many ways. Having a people strategy today is essential for the long-term health of any business or organization.  Finding ways to become more efficient as well has having carefully orchestrated HR programs aimed at attracting, hiring, training and retaining a good skilled workforce will become an even bigger challenge over time as the workforce demographics shift.  Does your organization have a healthy People Strategy?  If not, the time to start working on it is now.

Tell us what some of your key People Strategies include, we'd love to hear your ideas.

Amazon Flex - shaking up the workforce

By Steve Simmerman | 10/08/2015 | 11:26 AM

Amazon recently announced Amazon Flex and if you have not checked it out - you should!  Think of it as an Uber-like experience for those people that want to work when and where they want as a delivery person for Amazon.  I saw a demo of the Amazon Flex at CSCMP's Annual Conference last week - it was mind-blowing.  With unemployment at 5.1% (some say this is 'full employment') it's getting harder and harder to recruit, hire and retain good skilled workers.  Well, Amazon is attacking this problem very effectively by offering an extremely flexible work option, with good pay (they say $18-25/hour) and backed by exceptional mobile technology.

It will be interesting to see how this develops, but is there any reason in the world that DC, retailers and others should not be attacking the labor shortage in a similar manner?  Amazon has set the bar very, very high.  How are you addressing the difficulty of hiring good, skilled workers for your organization?

Dip please, do not swipe! Part II

By Steve Simmerman | 09/02/2015 | 8:11 PM

Seems many small/medium businesses are falling behind in terms of complying with new chip cards according to a story in the Wall Street Journal

It seems we may be in for a longer journey than anticipated as the new chip cards are helping to reduce fraud at the point of sale, but on-line fraud is on the rise and as e-commerce continues to explode it looks like 'tokenization' will be the buzzword of the future...stay tuned.

An excerpt from the story by the Wall Street Journal:

The switch-over won’t solve all payment fraud. In the U.K., losses due to counterfeit cards fell by 56% between 2005 and 2013, after chip-enabled cards were rolled out, according to Aite Group, but online fraud jumped by 64%.

Payment industry officials say they also are trying to prevent a run up in online fraud with new security measures such as tokenization, in which card numbers are turned into unique digital codes. “There are now more solutions to identify and detect online fraud,” said Stephanie Ericksen, a vice president with Visa Inc.


Dip please, do not swipe!

By Steve Simmerman | 05/13/2015 | 6:25 PM

Many of you have probably started to see these tiny chips appearing on new versions of your debit and credit cards...so what's the big deal?

Chip Card

The big deal is that according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal www.wsj.com - "Some 575 million of the new cards--representing about three-quarters of U.S. credit cards and about 40% of debit cards--are expected to be in the wallets of American consumers by year-end, making it the biggest rollout of new cards in decades."  While the chip cards have been in use in Europe, Asia and Canada for years, the program is now hitting the US and has an October deadline that has many smaller banks and retailers scrambling to be in compliance.  Retailers must upgrade or replace their payment terminals to accept the new cards. Come October, under certain circumstances, the liability for fraudulent transactions will shift to the retailer from the issuing banks.  With the new payment terminals, the chip cards are dipped into the reader vs being swiped like a traditional mag stripe reader.

One card manufacturer - Oberthur Technologies claims on their website that "The 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study reported that in 2012, $2.1 billion –  or 57 percent –  of total credit card fraud was committed through card-present transactions like counterfeiting, lost or stolen cards, mail fraud and identity theft. In 2013, the U.S. alone accounted for 51% of worldwide payment card fraud costs."  That's a big deal!

Oberthur is a French company but their plant in Exton, PA is working like crazy to keep up with the demand for new cards - to the tune of a capacity of 20million cards/month being produced!  Employment at the plant is up 68% since 2013 and they are now running round the clock to keep up.

According to the Oberthur website - 95% of payment terminals in Western Europe support the new EMV cards (Europay, MasterCard, Visa - EMV is the global standard for integrated circuit cards or "chip cards") while only 14%, yes 14%, are EMV compliant in the US. That's 14% of 11.8 million terminals!  That's a big deal!  The exposure for continued fraudulent activity is huge.

So with only a fraction of the payment terminals able to support chip cards, tens of thousands of retailers falling behind and many smaller banks already admitting that they can't issue the new cards until next year there are clearly some potential impacts to the supply chain.

As I like to talk about all things related to people, process and technology, this EMV mandate certainly has lots of complexity to it, but at the end of the day, let's not forget about one of the apparently simpler tasks - think of all of the retail associates that have to be trained to help customers with the new terminals and cards and politely remind them to "Dip please, do not swipe".

80,000 Jobs - Blending People, Process & Technology

By Steve Simmerman | 03/12/2015 | 11:54 AM

The Home Depot recently announced that they are looking to fill 80,000 jobs to meet the needs of their customers during peak, seasonal business.  These jobs will fill needs in the stores as well as the distribution centers.  They have very masterfully crafted a hiring message that involves technology (FIRST phone), people (benefits, teamwork) and process (customer service enablement) in order to attract the best possible candidates and they have done so in a very proactive and prominent manner on their website and in the press.


Photo courtesy of - http://builtfromscratch.homedepot.com/first-phone/

With recent job growth across many sectors, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find good, qualified candidates. Companies are battling to find quality candidates and are fighting to position their company as an 'employer of choice'.  This is one of the first examples where I have seen a major employer promote the need to hire people as well as blend in how technology will be made available to the associates to help them in their jobs.  Home Depot has done a very effective job of positioning these jobs. In particular, in their press release, they refer to:

  • how these jobs will be part of energetic teams with a passion "home improvement innovation" and "great customer service"
  • they are appealing to a broad swath of job candidates including retirees, college students and veterans
  • they talk about how time on these jobs will accumulate toward full time benefits as part of a larger "Success Sharing" program, tuition reimbursement, etc. if the associate transitions to a full-time position
  • and they talk about how 40,000 FIRST phones will be deployed to help their associates deliver valuable services to customers on the store floor to assist with:
    • mobile checkout in the garden department
    • "line busting"
    • internet access to Home Depot's website for product lookup, inventory availability and product features
    • the FIRST phone will also feature phone and walkie-talkie capabilities to aid in delivering excellent customer service

So it seems that Home Depot has raised the bar when it comes to hiring. It will be interesting to see how other organizations shape their hiring strategies and tactics in this increasingly competitive job market. If you have seen other innovative approaches please let us know.  New hires want to work for great companies and expect to have great technology available to help them succeed - the game is indeed changing.


Some technology never dies...

By Steve Simmerman | 02/12/2015 | 5:38 PM

As I prepared to board my flight the other day with my new Surface Pro 3 in anticipation of using the WiFi onboard the plane, it struck me that I had some pretty amazing technology at my disposal.  I also saw baggage handlers on the ground feeding bags into the cargo area of the plane using handheld RF devices busily scanning bar codes as they worked.  Pretty impressive technology surrounding me.  But, as the traffic in the jetway backed up, I stood waiting to get on the plane and I noticed some very interesting technology being used by the airline. 

It wasn't tablet-based, it wasn't wireless, it wasn't touchscreen, didn't use Bluetooth, wasn't Cloud-based and didn't even use Windows! Imagine that!!  But it worked and it seemed like perfectly good technology for the job at hand.  Could a new system be installed with state-of-the-art technology?  Probably so, but as the old saying goes, "if it ain't broken...." What really struck me was not the dust shields on the monitor and keyboard, but I was drawn to the printer sitting on the shelf below. You may not be able to see it in the photo, but the printer is a Microline dot matrix printer. 

I did a little research on the history of Microline printers and found out that OKI made the first model in 1978 in a deal with Radio Shack. It turns out that Radio Shack needed a source for low cost printers for their personal computers, thus the Microline 80 was born and has enjoyed a very successful evolution as a workhorse dot matrix printer still being sold today!  It's funny that the Microline line of printers has stood the test of time, while we see Radio Shack on verge of collapse. According to this history of the Microline printer, it truly is a workhorse with an MTBF of 20,000 hours - that's nearly 10 working man-years!  The printhead has a 200 MILLION character life and the ribbon has a 3 million character life - pretty impressive, no wonder they are market leaders in low cost, high quality dot matrix printers around the globe. So while it may not be sexy looking technology supporting the flight operation, it sure looks like it's delivering the functionality needed to do the job.  Now I realize that this workhorse will likely be replaced with some tablet-based, wireless printing solution at some point in time, but I find it hard to imagine that when this system was first installed that anyone on the development or implementation team would have believed it would last this long. 

Send us some examples of workhorse technology that has stood the test of time at your place of work.  And if you happen to include an example using a Microline 186 we might just feature that in our next blog!  Delivering a solution to address a business need does not always imply that it has be the sexiest technology available - just remember that the next time you board a plane.

Microline 186





















Sometimes it's the simple approach that is needed

By Steve Simmerman | 11/14/2014 | 11:06 AM

We've all struggled with some of the complexities of technology in our daily lives - thank you early VCRs (not that anyone has one today, but did anyone really ever figure out how to program a VCR?). Sometimes it just takes a little creativity and simplified thinking to make big improvements in processes.  I toured a DC recently that was absolutely immaculate thanks to a very simple but thorough implementation of 5S techniques.  No technology was deployed, no extensive training, just simple visual cues throughout the facility to help with organization, cleanliness and preparedness to complete the various jobs in the building.  Simple, clean and highly, highly effective not to mention the benefits of safety and improved employee morale.

So as you look to implement process changes, don't overcomplicate things, step back, look at the bigger picture and don't overlook the obvious small, simple changes that could dramatically improve the process and results.

A friend of mine shared this video with me recently and I was struck by the sheer engineering simplicty applied to a very labor intensive process - chopping wood.  The solution did not involve lots of people, did not involve sophisticated technology or machines, but rather some simple laws of physics applied to a tough job.  Compare this solution to the people that have engineered, built, sold and purchased gas-powered engines (and the on-going maintenance) that supposedly made chopping wood easier!


A simple car spring, some weight and a lever sure made this guy's day a lot better.  No gas powered log splitter, no engine maintenance, no gasoline to purchase...you get the picture.

Let the DC Velocity readers hear about your process improvements!  If you have a good example, let us know we'd appreciate your feedback!

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Steve Simmerman

Steve Simmerman

Steve Simmerman is a Senior Director with JDA. Simmerman has more than 25 years of experience in the supply chain industry including software, consulting and material handling. He has focused his efforts on working with clients to achieve high performance supply chain results through partnerships and creative solutions. He is a member of CSCMP, WERC, and MHIA and is a regular contributor to several industry publications and events. Simmerman holds his undergraduate and MBA degrees from The University of Notre Dame.


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