IT on the Road

By Perry Glasser  |  Posted 2003-11-20 Print this article Print

Yellow executives still make those trips, to ensure change continues, but now Zollars leadership team makes the journeys. Caddell, meanwhile, takes her cues from Zollars, requiring all IT managers and executives under her command to get out of the office and visit, in person, a Yellow service center, spend time on a loading dock, take a ride with a driver and spend an afternoon at a customer service center "to hear how people do their jobs and what customers are complaining about," Caddell says. "The message is that IT is there to help the business, and the only way to help the business is to understand the business."

Today, Zollars and Caddell work as a team. Zollars has declared that no tech initiative can take longer than 12 months to complete, and all projects have to promise at least a 15 percent rate of return. Caddell has upped the ante, bringing those project times down to seven months, and falling , she says. Furthermore, no project can go over budget. If it does, IT managers are docked pay and penalized at their next performance review.

Zollars and Caddell also shut down IT as a shared service and launched Yellow Technologies, an IT arm of 325 IT employees with an $80 million IT budget thats focused solely on testing IT-driven business strategies and getting the best ones rolled out into operation—and in months, if not weeks. For example, when market research showed that customers wanted an expedited, dated delivery service, Zollars and his Monday strategy team dreamed up Exact Express. Once again, Caddell delivered. Six weeks and 8,000 person-hours later, the Web-accessible Exact Express was launched. "It wasnt pretty," says Zollars, "but that service today is a $200 million business, and growing."

Another Yellow Technologies project, "Get Paid," was rolled out in six months and cost 80 percent less than estimated. Previously, late payments used to average 32 days but now, they average 30, a two-day difference. Which customers payments are up to date? Which are not? Which are eligible for discounts? Yellow Transportations Smid shrugs his shoulders at the simplicity of it. "Thats nearly a 10 percent hike in cash flow," he says. Debt write-offs also have shrunk.

But the crown jewel of Zollars and Caddells technology overhaul has been SYSNET, a state-of-the-art computer system designed jointly by Yellow and CASTLE Lab, an engineering, operations and finance research center at Princeton University. SYSNET is the central nervous system of Yellow Transportation. Operators with headsets and computer screens in front of them sit in office cubicles, routing customers and their loads electronically. On their monitors, theres a map of the United States with large circles marking more than 40 key cities across the country. Around each city are red and green markings, each numbered, representing a truck at a loading dock somewhere in the system. To see whats where, operators click on the map. Up comes the trailer number, the precise number of pounds it is hauling, what its hauling, where its going and for whom—and all in a matter of seconds. The software also lets Yellow change staffing on its loading docks daily, based on predictions of labor demand. The staff averages 90 workers per week, down from 100, even as the number of shipments has increased. That might not sound like much, but its saving Yellow millions of dollars in labor costs. Says Zollars: "If the shipment going into Kansas City tonight requires 108 people, we arent going to have 105, we arent going to have 110. Were going to have 108." Zollars alignment work is also affecting on customers. Service quality has increased by 30 to 40 percent. As for Yellows warring factions? So far, so good. Zollars instituted training programs for executives that required classes in communication and team problem-solving. Says CMO Reid: "No one any longer considers a business issue to be his or her own. Now were expected to bring the talent and creativity of the entire team to bear on any issue confronting the organization." There are no marketing problems or technology problems, he says—only problems for what Zollars now calls One Yellow.

But Zollars is just getting started. He wants to make Yellow a global player by offering its technology systems to companies that want to hire others to manage their logistics and supply chains. Meridian IQ, a Yellow division launched early last year, offers to do just that: Dump your shipping headache over to experts who will have management systems up and running in eight weeks or less. Yellows mission now: to be the leading provider of guaranteed, time-definite, defect-free transportation for business customers worldwide.

But when it comes to alignment, dont expect Zollars to try anything new. Expect more of the same. Expect repetition. "Alignment isnt something that can be achieved, and then, wham!, its done," he says. "It takes continuous work, prodding." Indeed, when the recent $966 million Roadway acquisition is finalized, Zollars says, he and his SWAT teams will probably have to take to the road again, spreading the alignment gospel anew, now in the context of a merger that will nearly double the size of the company. That will mean at least another year of repeat trips, airport lounges, missed flights, motel rooms, 15-hour days and lining up the horses to pull the wagon straight and true.

Will it be easier this time? Dont count on it. In fact, looking at how Zollars and his team transformed a pokey, conservative trucking company into an IT-driven leader that offers full service, including supply chain management, the only thing Zollars says hed do differently now is "go faster."


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