Published on January 22, 2024, 6:21 am

Under conditions of aggressive growth, IT roadmaps accelerate, experimentation increases, and adaptability is king. Here’s how IT leaders are proving their mettle in facilitating upward momentum.

Supporting business objectives has long been IT’s mantra, but how to go about doing that when the objective is aggressive business growth isn’t always cut and dry.

For Jim McCullen, CIO of Century Supply Chain Solutions, doing so effectively for the past several years has meant a lot of IT work on the fly.

As a global logistics provider, Century saw enormous growth during the COVID-19 pandemic and IT played a pivotal role in facilitating that growth. Key to that effort was an accelerated IT roadmap on many fronts, McCullen says.

First was expediting a final push to move all remaining servers into the cloud for scalability, stability, and security. Acceleration plans also included fast-tracking the evaluation and implementation of new technologies, such as AI to enhance robotic process automation (RPA) and optical character recognition (OCR), as well as delivering new cloud-based data storage and analytics systems.

“We had to advance the technology to handle the growth that was coming,” recalls McCullen. “From an IT perspective, that’s one of the key factors to being able to handle growth. You don’t always know what’s coming or when it’s coming, and the ability to adapt and scale your platform when you need it is so critically important.”

Today, McCullen is creating new technical foundations to ensure that adaptability, and further support ongoing business growth. Key to these efforts are advances in Century’s automation strategy and forays into generative AI.

Century does a lot of business in Europe and Asia, and RPA has helped propel the company’s growth by ensuring a high level of service without having to add headcount, McCullen says.

The company has also started using “copilot tools,” including chatbots which he says will be useful for “creating a gateway or transition period to take processes into a fully automated state … a lot of offshore processes tend to be repetitive work and are a great opportunity for automation.”

This will be helpful to operators in making complex decisions about shipment routes, he says. As chatbots get smarter, they can help with cost considerations and customer requirements and bring together data to show an operator what the options are. “In the past, it would have taken a lot of time to document and share the value we bring to the customer in these decision processes,” McCullen says. “We make critical supply chain decisions on behalf of our customers every day,” and tracking down the necessary information used to be a cumbersome and manual process.

“With these new technologies, the available options and final decisions can all be documented to show customers how we met all their requirements, including lowering costs, delivering on time, meeting carrier commitments, and reducing [our] carbon footprint.”

One of the main issues that comes with growing the business is staffing given the highly specific nature of logistics, he notes. “There’s still the human factor because it takes time to get people up to speed,” McCullen explains. Technology can scale but people can’t, he adds.

McCullen has seen some companies “bet too big and then have to pull back dramatically so we have to figure out the sweet spot of resources we need to run the business today and meet demands of tomorrow,” he says.

What helps is the approach Century takes in building out teams. “Even though we’re a large company, we’re entrepreneurial and give people a lot of autonomy and that’s appreciated,” he says noting that he has been with Century for 34 years – others on his staff for decades.

“It’s a lot about creating an environment where staff feel they add real value and help customers solve complex supply chain challenges,” McCullen says. “Each supply chain is unique and special …and there’s a lot of passion across the organization to support our customers. …That is rewarding and keeps our teams excited and engaged.”

Still, staffing remains a “constant challenge and we have to keep evaluating and adjusting so people see the value and feel valued and appreciated and want to stay with us,” he says.

As for balancing Century’s desire to grow with the challenge of keeping costs down, McCullen takes a two-sided approach. The first is having a clearly defined strategy on where the company wants to go–and the second is ensuring IT is prepared to execute.

Doing so requires McCullen to play the roles of two CIO archetypes at once: the foundational IT chief focused on managing IT infrastructure, and the strategic CIO who prioritizes understanding business needs.

“It’s critically important to companies today that the CIO has true ability to understand what the business is doing, what they sell their customers” he says “because that will help them on strategy side in terms of what they need to be working on next.”

On the foundational side, McCullen takes a partnership approach engaging and working with technology partners when needed building out small proof-of-concept projects

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