OIA Global’s business—shipping raw materials and finished products around the world—is centuries old in conception, but the intricacies of international commerce today add great complexity to this service. Success in the logistics business depends as much on providing information to customers as on getting things from Point A to Point B on time and undamaged.
Jay Hemmady, OIA’s chief information officer, points out that as far back as the mid-1990s, leaders of shipping giant FedEx discussed “being in the business of confirming deliveries.” This observation reflected the importance of tracking the movement of packages and other goods, along with making the deliveries themselves. Today, that information, and much more, has become even more crucial.
In the highly complex international trade environment, many customers want a logistics partner to provide information-rich, end-to-end supply chain management capabilities. Hemmady illustrates this reality with the example of a hypothetical sportswear maker. Company X sources raw materials from a variety of suppliers on different continents and needs to maintain high standards on fair trade and sustainability. Its leather, for example, derives from livestock grazed on ranches in multiple countries.
“We don’t think of ourselves as having a separation between Europe and the United States. We are all one global IT department.”
The consumer brand is committed to social responsibility surrounding environmental sustainability, as that’s what consumers want and expect. All of its suppliers must meet these standards. To ensure compliance, third-party organizations monitor the practices of suppliers and certify that they are following desirable protocols.
“They might ask: ‘Did the ranchers cut down precious forestland? What kind of fertilizer did they use on their grassland? How much water did they use?’ All of these details matter,” Hemmady says. Follow the raw materials to factories in multiple locations, and you have another stop on the supply chain that must be scrutinized for compliance. Trade regulations, worker safety and general working conditions, and environmental practices within factories all come under review. As a result, there may be several intermediate suppliers feeding the finished goods manufacturer. With each link on the chain, the complexity increases.
For its part, OIA works to organize all of the compliance data, along with a wealth of shipping data—lot size, shipping date, delivery date, etc.—to provide an audit trail for its customers. This data allows manufacturers to prove that they are following best practices for standards compliance, as well as to track progress on manufacturing and managing inventory. OIA’s complete end-to-end logistics services encompass data that is critical to monitoring and managing the business at each supply chain junction.
Complexities in global trade provide opportunities for OIA to add features and services to systems that create competitive advantage. To make the most of that potential, the company must put the data in a form that customers can use, Hemmady explains. The goal is to devise applications that provide status reports for customers to better manage their business. Thus, product development is a key component of OIA’s competitive strategy.
To create applications efficiently, OIA has fully embraced the scrum model for product development, in which speed, adaptability, and collaboration are highly valued using this method. Project teams work on two-week sprints, culminating with a demonstration of sprint deliverables. “This makes us very responsive to shifting business priorities while involving stakeholders,” Hemmady says.
Hemmady’s leadership skills are tested weekly while overseeing project development and ensuring that collaboration between business and IT personnel results in high quality application development. He also faced a particularly daunting leadership trial soon after joining OIA Global. The European IT team, from a merger a few years prior, didn’t feel valued.
As a result, there were some philosophical divides that had to be bridged. “Europe felt like they were ahead of the US because they were already in the cloud, and functioning in a DevOps mindset,” Hemmady says. Rather than squabble over who had the best approach and systems, he brought together all IT leaders and collectively arrived at a governance framework to help make key decisions objectively and otherwise work as a single globally distributed team. They were able to strike up a positive working relationship, and that was an important start. “At the leadership level, we showed that we could get along, and that signaled to everybody else that we were a globally distributed IT team,” Hemmady continues.
There were strong feelings within the ranks about which platforms the combined entities should choose. The IT leaders came together with an objective view on examining current operational platforms while deciding on next generation options for moving forward. This exercise allowed both sides to kick the tires on each other’s systems and make some dispassionate evaluations. They came to a consensus on using the most superior operational system that would be better suited to the company’s global expansion plans.
This collaborative exercise set the tone for establishing good relations despite the wide geographic divide, and that has carried forward. “We don’t think of ourselves as having a separation between Europe and the United States,” Hemmady says. “We are all one global IT department.”
Now that the two groups are in sync, they are working on far-reaching projects to consolidate two separate freight operational systems into one, two different email/calendaring systems into one, and five disparate SCM systems into one.
The new SCM operational system is a custom-built application that Hemmady says offers opportunities to create features that off-the-shelf products cannot match. Powering the core of OIA’s business, the effort to construct this platform from scratch is well worth the trouble, he says, as the company will be able to give both OIA and its customers the ability to analyze data to suit their needs.
Providing a richer data environment also will propel OIA’s ambitious growth aims, Hemmady says. “We are getting ready to become a bigger global player. We are becoming global without boundaries. What I want to do as CIO is to take us to the next level.”