"Where's my stuff?" It's probably the oldest question in logistics, and today the answer is more important than ever as the global shipping crisis continues to rage on. As we gain more visibility in our lives through the tracking of online orders, what solutions are out there for shippers? How do you choose the right one? Jose Ubeda, Senior Vice President of Digital Solutions at Expeditors, shares his perspectives and observations over his 37 year career in logistics and how the needs around visibility have grown in complexity.
Chris Parker: Hello, everyone. And welcome to a very 20th episode of The Expeditors Podcast, where you can hear about front-of-mind topics in the logistics and freight forwarding industry through the lens of a global logistics provider. I'm your host, Chris Parker. And today we are taking a step back from the global shipping crisis to focus on visibility in today's world.
Chris Parker: We're going to start with how it's evolved over several decades. We'll talk about the state of visibility in logistics today. The challenges of bringing the logistics industry into the digital age. And how to navigate a landscape rife with solutions and platforms so that the depth of data and information that you have can continue to drive value. What does quality visibility look like?
Chris Parker: To answer this question and many more that I have is going to be our Senior Vice President of Digital Solutions, Jose Ubeda. Jose, welcome.
Jose Ubeda: Hey, Chris. How are you?
Chris Parker: I am doing well. How are you doing?
Jose Ubeda: Couldn't be better. Happy to be here with you. It's been a while.
Chris Parker: It has been a while. How have the last 18 months for you been?
Jose Ubeda: Been actually busy from a personal side, added a new little creature to my family. A boy.
Chris Parker: Congratulations.
Jose Ubeda: So yeah, things are good.
Chris Parker: Oh, a human creature?
Jose Ubeda: A human creature.
Chris Parker: You didn't go and adopt a dog or anything like that, you added a human.
Jose Ubeda: No, no, no, no. After five tries, I finally got my first boy, so pretty excited.
Chris Parker: Congratulations. Let's get to know you a little bit more on the professional side here. You've been with Expeditors a long time, right? Could you walk us through what your career has been like?
Jose Ubeda: I'll talk about my first 37 years of the company. I started the company at a rather young age, 17. Prior to that, I was delivering newspapers and working for a delicatessen making sandwiches and was fortunate to stumble upon Expeditors in 1984 and have held various positions, spent 25 years in the geographic area, department manager, sales, messenger, DM, RVP, et cetera, and then was asked to move up to corporate and was in the product role managing the Air product for about 10 years. And then recently I was asked to take on a brand new role for Digital Solutions. So I'm now the SVP of our Digital Solutions promoting SaaS (Software as a Service) products. It's been a good 37 years so far.
Chris Parker: Excellent, excellent. Could you talk a little bit more about Digital Solutions? What is the goal of this department?
Jose Ubeda: Chris, as you know, we've always believed that we were leaders in technology. And one of the things we've recognized is that we've always listened to our customers and we've always wanted to curate or create something that would be beneficial to individual customers.
Jose Ubeda: And over time we've developed some really unique, I think, SaaS platforms that we wanted to make available to the entire industry and to customers around the world. So I was asked to lead this group really start it and begin a process of selling our software solutions to customers to answer some of the problems they're trying to solve in supply chain today. So we're fairly young, we're about a year into it. We have five organizations that report into Digital Solutions and it's been a good first year.
Chris Parker: Okay. So then Digital Solutions sounds like a big departure than from Air that you had been doing for 10 years. What got you interested about Digital Solutions and what kind of keeps you excited about what you're doing today?
Jose Ubeda: A couple of things here. One, I was in the Air product for 10 years. So it was just time for a change. And I've always been interested in the tech side, a little bit of a geek that way. I'm not a coder by any means, but this space that helps transform organizations by combining a level of expertise, sprinkling some technology, and then having that global network. I found it extremely interesting when Jeff [Musser] asked me to lead this up. So for one, it was a time of change in my career. And then I was a little curious to know what can we do with this as a company?
Chris Parker: I'm excited to talk to you given your 37-year career here because you've seen a lot of change. I'm going to assume here. Yes?
Jose Ubeda: Quite a bit.
Chris Parker: Maybe, even more, these past couple years than-
Jose Ubeda: We may need more than one podcast to talk about it.
Chris Parker: All right so over the last 37 years, what would you say have been some of the biggest shifts that you've witnessed throughout your career?
Jose Ubeda: Well for one I don't use a chisel in a cement block to log and files anymore. But no, in all seriousness. So I think one of the biggest things that I've seen is globalization and really how products are either manufactured or moved around the world. And also the dominance of China and Japan and Korea, and really the rest of Asia and how that's taken shape and form. You've also seen a lot of consolidation in our industry, whether it's on the service provider side or the freight forwarder side. A huge focus on compliance in all areas, the evolution of technology, things being more data-driven in the speed at which data moves.
Jose Ubeda: And I also think that our industry has really become what I would call more of that professional, and even the pandemic has actually accelerated as well, it's elevated the importance of our industry, whether it's on the service provider side, whether it's with our customer side and supply chain or the freight forwarder side, it's become a really important part of how the world operates. And then the internet, I mean, let's face it, that's really driven a lot. So yeah, I mean, there's a lot to it, but those are some of the things that are top of mind that come to mind.
Chris Parker: Yeah. In terms of, I guess, service norms, expectations, the culture of logistics, the way that either service providers or carriers are working with each other. What are some of the norms back in the day, for lack of a better way to put it, that wouldn't just cut it by today's standards? How are our expectations changing today?
Jose Ubeda: The first one that immediately comes to mind is the speed and accuracy of information. That comes to mind. And it's just the way we work today as humans, whether it's on the personal side or business side, is that we want to know the information, we want to know where things are at any given time. And I think that's trickled into the supply chain side, but no, some of the norms, you think about just from a pure industry standpoint, and this kind of tinkers a little bit with what's changed in that you can't just be a single-mode service provider. You have to be able to do everything on a global base and have that global footprint-
Chris Parker: And do it well.
Jose Ubeda: And do it well. I remember back in the day, I could let a customer know, "Here's your flight information or your bill of lading information with vessel information or flight details," and just give them an estimated transit time. Estimated doesn't work anymore. It's nice to have, but people want to know where things are at any given time. And I think that that has really added a new dimension to what customers are looking for today.
Chris Parker: Looking at today with our customers and other organizations, what kind of world are they navigating in? What do they find stressful? What are they being asked of with no answers to give back?
Jose Ubeda: I think the biggest answer is where's my product? Whether it's an order, whether it's cargo, that's moving and you said, "What roles are they navigating?" I really believe that our customers are living in this new visibility economy. And I think that if you start thinking about it from a personal standpoint, we can order food online and know when it's going to show up. Customers want the same thing with their freight.
Chris Parker: And why not?
Jose Ubeda: And they want that. And I really do believe that because supply chains have become so complex and so multilayer with different tiers of suppliers and where the things are being manufactured and delivered, that customers deserve an enhanced experience of visibility. It really is, can I have access to information anywhere around the world? And can it be instant? Can we make sure that all my stakeholders within the ecosystem, their supply chain collaborate and work together for a common cause for the customer? And the other part is, is that visibility or that data actionable? Can I do something with it? Can I make a decision with it now? Right? And then will it then provide me ongoing value?
Jose Ubeda: And I think when you start thinking about the gravity of the word visibility, it's really that access to information anywhere around the world, instantly. It has to be collaborative, has to be actionable, and has to provide ongoing value. The days of providing a milestone that's entered in by someone after the fact or providing conveyance data is kind of passe. It's good to have, but it's not actionable. And I think where customers are trying to navigate that kind of, that utopia is, "I need this information, regardless of who's involved my supply chain working together, holding hands and helping me out." And I think that's what the industry's trying to get to but the world of visibility, that visibility economy, is where we're at today, in my opinion, when it comes to supply chain and that data and freight have to move simultaneously at the same speed, sometimes data needs to move even faster.
Chris Parker: You said it's a world that logistics is trying to get to, to provide this for customers. Are we not there yet? Are we, I mean, the digitally just here is logistics behind somehow?
Jose Ubeda: I don't know if we're behind. We have some components that have been digitized, but if you think about our industry it's probably one of the last major industries that still have some analog processes involved. And there are some elements of digitization or things that are now using technology, but there are so many different individuals that are involved. And then you have maybe some disruptors of technology that may not understand logistics but are trying to bring technology to the table. They're trying to find that true answer for what customers are looking for. So I think it's moving along, maybe not as fast as people would like. I do think that the pandemic is enhanced it and accelerated it, that we need to get there sooner and fast because it's highlighted a lot of gaps in supply chains that maybe we kind of knew they were there, but now it's become obvious because the challenges that we're having moving cargo all around the world.
Chris Parker: What's an example of that, the pandemic, accelerating things, changing the way that we understand visibility. Could you give an example of what that looks like right now?
Jose Ubeda: Well, if you think about there are less planes flying around the world. But there's a high demand of people still purchasing products and there's still manufacturing going on and you have e-commerce that comes into play. Demand is at an all-time high. Whether it's in the truck side, on the ocean side, on the Airside, and you're starting to create congestion. So imagine freight coming in from Asia into the US, landing in a particular port, and the congestion started, that is enhancing where you're starting, you might've had at times peak periods, or you had congestion or some sort of backlog. Now it's just starting to build up and it's not stopping. And you need to go to find out where your freight is. So it's really pointing towards how do I make my freight more visible?
Jose Ubeda: The other part is, what we've seen is you see organizations at the C-suite take more interest understanding about supply chains and why is this happening? And you're hearing the word resilient being thrown out quite a bit and people are trying to make sure their supply chains become smarter. They're trying to create intelligent supply chains. And that starts with understanding the foundational elements of what are the gaps that I have with visibility. And then how can I use that data, that information to improve. And that's kind of like that ongoing value. So the examples are more like, hey, there's high demand, not enough supply it's challenges at both origin-destination, it's highlighting problems that we always knew existed, but now they're being accelerated. They're being enhanced. And then you're trying to figure out how do I make sure I avoid this in the future?
Jose Ubeda: How do I make sure that they have the capacity I need, I can maybe forecast some predict better? How do I know there's something that's happening at any given time when my freight's moving? Can I course correct that? And so I think all those things the pandemic has accelerated. The things that happened in the past, but maybe it was more seasonal and now it's just continuing to happen. I would imagine that a lot of supply chain leaders out there today, their friends or families probably had no idea what they did. And now they've become supply chain heroes because they're helping commerce or helping move product to get to the shelves and stuff. And it becomes such an important topic. Think about supply chain, the topic itself, it shows up everywhere now.
Jose Ubeda: People talk about it. So people understand the significance and importance. So the visibility piece has become super important. And I believe there's going to be leaders and there's going to be followers. I truly believe that those who take advantage of this time right now to really dig into their supply chain and understand where the gaps are anywhere within the supply chain could be on the international front, could be on the domestic front, could be just on the final mile front. Really understand what is going on and understand that foundational work. And then start looking for the solution. Talk about having an advantage in building a resilient supply chain. That to me, I think those who really take the time to first figure it out in terms internally, and then look for the solution and fit that in and learn from it and add that value, those are the ones, the companies that are going to lead and have that resilience supply chain in my opinion.
Chris Parker: You were talking about the C-suite having a renewed interest or maybe a new interest in logistics and their supply chains. How would you explain visibility and the perfect world of visibility to folks who are kind of coming into this with more questions than an understanding?
Jose Ubeda: Well, I think that I would try to explain to them that first, that visibility is driven by data and data is currency, and that currency should continue to add value. But when I would try to explain something before you even got to the topic of visibility would be, do you currently understand the foundational elements of your supply chain and how it works or doesn't work. And have you highlighted areas where you may have some areas that could be more efficient or are there gaps that happen at manufacturing when you're sourcing your raw material and it doesn't get there on time? And have you figured that out? Or is it just the movement of cargo? I think when people think about their supply chain, they are what I call segments of visibility. It could be at the first mile, could be the middle, could be the end and customers first need to understand the foundational elements of their supply chain, and then start having the question about where do I need that visibility and then why, and how am I going to use it.
Chris Parker: Right, right, right. And at what particular stages to need more visibility than others perhaps
Jose Ubeda: Yeah. I sometimes think, Chris, that we're talking about the word visibility and we've said it several times and it's really driven by technology.
Chris Parker: Sure.
Jose Ubeda: Right. People think that technology is always going to answer what customers are looking for. And I would caution customers before they decide on a platform, a service is going to select, is first understand what the problem is because it may just be one part of the supply chain, not the entire one. And they may end up spending money and doing things they don't need to do. First, identify that. And I think that is the kind of the first step and to be able to go, "What do I really need that that needs to be fixed?"
Chris Parker: Okay, so I've been seeing and hearing a lot about a lot of new entrants in the world of these Digital Solutions out there for organizations. Could you talk a little bit about what that looks like, what that world looks like in terms of wanting to find solutions?
Jose Ubeda: Yeah, I would tell you that when I'm super fascinated about what people are trying to accomplish to support organizations, to help manage their business, be more effective at it. I also think that technology alone is not going to answer that, but Chris, to be honest with you, the list is long in terms of the amount of new companies out there trying to solve a problem, whether it's delivery of shipments, whether it's the middle mile, whether it's the final mile, whether it's a data aggregator, trying to get service providers to provide information to then the end result to the customer gets. There's trade management, visibility, there's forecasting tools that help you. I mean, the list goes on and on, and I think everyone's trying to find that answer. And I think it's really great. I think what really needs to happen is that you have technology providers and that's all they do.
Jose Ubeda: That's what they specialize in, but they may not have the knowledge about logistics, but they're really trying to find those answers. And some of them are startups and they're just trying to navigate their way through their business, but also trying to find that answer or that solution for someone. And I think that then you have the technology solutions that are more mature and have been around and they're evolving over time. And so I think there are a lot of players in the market today and customers need to be conscientious about what they're trying to solve. What is the problem they're trying to solve? What is the job they're trying to get done? Because we all get excited about the new shiny object out there. And I would provide guidance in saying that, and I think I said this earlier, try to determine where you're at today through the supply chain and what are those gaps. And then as you look at what solutions are out there, make sure it's an organization that actually has been around and has some experience in our space. And then actually has the ability to evolve over time and stay relevant and keep their product young because let's face it, the software is inherently broken.
Chris Parker: Yeah.
Jose Ubeda: People always want more. Right.
Jose Ubeda: And do they have the backing to be able to do that? And I think one thing that people always forget is do they accelerate their people, meaning do they help their people accelerate in their careers? Because that, to me is kind of the gift that keeps on giving. If you create a good company that supports their people, helps them grow, will then help the company grow, but also serves their customers. Well.
Jose Ubeda: The other part is that whoever customer decides to use, should also look for someone who's going to accelerate that customer and becoming better at what they do in their supply chain, but also maybe help them accelerate in their career so they look good in front of their company. And I think that technology alone is not going to sell the problem. You need to have experience in logistics. You need to have boots on the ground. You have to have that global network, but you also have to have the ability to have really good people that work for you as well. I think that all work hand in hand in making the decision after you determine what the gaps are within your supply chain.
Chris Parker: I really like what you said about the solution not only helping your customers but also helping the organization from within and advancing those careers and bringing more growth for the personnel too. It's a very interesting perspective I had never even thought of technology being able to do, but it sounds like it can do it. It can and it should.
Jose Ubeda: Hey, listen, machine learning, artificial intelligence, those things are pretty amazing, but I still think it takes good people too. You need lots of good experience and having good people along with technology, I think is a really a strong combination. Chris, something just came to my mind.
Chris Parker: Yeah, please.
As we've been having this conversation. And you start thinking about what we're talking about is that the first question you asked me was like, "Hey, what has changed in your 37 years?" I kind of walk you through some of the things. And when I started thinking about this, supply chains have been forced to change.
Chris Parker: Yeah.
Jose Ubeda: They've had to change. They've had no other choice because whether it's the cost of manufacturer, they have to source somewhere else. Labor costs are cheaper. They have to remain competitive. And with that then comes well, then we're going to, we're an outsource manufacturing through contract manufacturers, or we're just going to do things differently. They stay cost-competitive. But then, we also have to make sure we add other suppliers to do other things. So they just become more complex, but they've almost been forced to do this. They had really no other choice because of the competitive nature of globalization. And so with that came all these other challenges about trying to find out where's my stuff. And I think the combination of that, really there wasn't a choice. Things just become more global, more local as well.
Chris Parker: And if you don't have that choice at the very least, try to maintain control of the path, the trajectory of your organization, and its growth. And it sounds like visibility is definitely, good visibility and a good partner for that is definitely helpful. Closing question for you here. What would you say 50 years down the line, a hundred years into the future in a magical land? How do you see the world operating?
Jose Ubeda: Sorry. You're asking how I see the whole world operating? I wish I knew the answer to that one.
Chris Parker: Yeah.
Jose Ubeda: I would call it kind of a promised land.
Chris Parker: Yeah, the promised land. Yeah.
Jose Ubeda: I think total visibility instantly and globally, period. I think when it comes to this topic that we're talking about and what customers are seeking, because if you have that and you have the information and it's actionable and it provides value over time, yes. Having that at any given time at your fingertips, being able to make decisions and then get the stakeholders to collaborate together in support of the customer. Because I think customers do deserve that enhanced experience. Yeah. Total visibility instantly and globally.
Chris Parker: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time, Jose. If people wanted to get in contact with you to learn more about you or Digital Solutions, where can they find you?
Jose Ubeda: First of all, I just want to say thank you for giving me this time today. This is such an important topic. I know we could go on and on and talk about this and it's an important one. And I think customers are looking for answers. I can be reached here in Seattle, I'm based here at the corporate office. People can find me on LinkedIn. And if supply chain resiliency is top of mind for anyone out there who's interested, our digital solutions, we think we're the right partner to turn your information into insight that's actionable. We think that we can show you and demonstrate how to improve your costs, make your supply chain more efficient, competitive, drive better customer service, but more importantly, ongoing value. And I think we have a couple of solutions out there. In fact, five of those would really drive a lot of benefits to our customers out there. So thanks again.
Chris Parker: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.
Chris Parker: Thanks for listening to today's episode. If you've got any questions or want to learn more about today's topic, check out the show notes for more information. And before you go, make sure you're subscribed on whatever podcast app you're using so you won't miss the next episode. To learn more about Expeditors, you can find us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or simply visit us at expeditors.com. Take care, and I'll see you next time.