Schneider in Green Bay is one of the largest over-the-road transportation companies in the nation, but to its chief information officer, Shaleen Devgun, it’s much more: It’s also an information services company. Devgun, who Forbes honored with its 2018 CIO Innovation Award, guides Schneider as it embraces technology in innovative ways to provide customers with better service while creating a workplace that attracts and retains its employees.
Devgun sat down with Insight to talk about the role technology plays in everything Schneider does.
Insight: Did you grow up interested in technology?
Shaleen Devgun: No, I started out in consulting. I had the opportunity to be involved with some really large-scale business transformation efforts early on in my career. Now, most of these efforts involved technology to influence positive business change, whether it was simplifying, redefining or optimizing core operational and infrastructure processes. That was my first exposure to the transformative power of technology. What I realized over time as I got to do these transformations in multiple industries all over the globe was that I loved the impact technology could make on business models and on resulting products. Since then, I’ve always worked right at the intersection of business and technology, leveraging technology to enable and sometimes disrupt business models to drive business performance and product innovation. I get to do this every day at Schneider, and I love it.
When people think about Schneider, many picture orange trucks. What kind of role does technology play behind the scenes?
Technology has always been core to transportation, but people don’t always realize it. Schneider historically has been a leading innovator in this space. In the late 1980s, Schneider was among the first transportation companies to enable two-way satellite communication with its trucks. Using technology to innovate is in our DNA at Schneider. We hear about the technology in vehicles, whether it’s trucks or cars, but if you look at the transportation value chain, every aspect of this industry’s value chain requires technology. We’re in the supply chain business, and the supply chain business is about information. Schneider is essentially in the information services business. The only difference is our information is on the back of a truck, so the ability to know where the freight is located is essential. The ability to track our assets — tractors, trailers and containers — to see where they are and to make decisions on where they need to be all leverages technology.
What about the technology inside the truck?
If you’ve had the opportunity to be in a truck cab, it’s something. When you get in, it looks like you’re in the cockpit of an aircraft. We leverage technology platforms in the truck that look at engine data, how fast the assets are moving and any critical events. An example of a critical event is noticing a deacceleration in the truck from a particular speed to a large reduction in that speed. And if we see it happening more than a specified amount of times in an hour, we know there’s something going on — the driver’s distracted or tired and we need to pull that driver off the road.
Our ability to be in constant touch with our assets and to communicate with them takes billions of bytes of information. In a given day, we’re moving over two terabytes of data between our moving assets and Schneider. We drive our whole network based on, “Hey, the driver’s here. This is where the driver’s going to be.”
For every decision or every assignment that we make, there are more than 300 trillion combinations that we consider before that assignment is made. All of that is happening through algorithmic systems that we’ve built over the years. The ability to make near real-time decisions is key to success. Those real-time decisions need data. That data is derived from our moving assets. The ability to take that data in near real-time, digest it, make those decisions and then push that decision to the right actor in our value chain is critical to success.
Do you utilize artificial intelligence with that?
Definitely. Our platforms are learning platforms. They are getting smarter by the day. Here’s an example: Our core decision science platform makes a recommendation to accept a load. The person receiving the recommendation, let’s say it’s a customer service representative, says the recommendation is not accepted and gives a reason code. The system learns from that. It processes that it made a recommendation, it wasn’t accepted because of this reason and learns from that mistake. Our systems are actually getting smarter based on use.
How does using technology affect employees? If a platform can make a decision that a person previously did, what happens to that worker?
One of our strategic differentiators in the industry is the quality of our people. But imagine our potential when we have the ability to maximize the productivity of our associates. Our people truly become multipliers because if I can take your commodity tasks and move you to do things that are higher in the value chain, that’s good for you because that changes the profile of your job, right? You’re taking someone who builds spreadsheets and manipulates the data and now you’re saying to them, “Let me do that for you. You can become an analyst since you know so much about the industry. I will present you with the data and you can think about what the data is saying.” I always talk about automation not in the context of role elimination; it’s role maximization. It’s taking our valued associates and making them more productive.
How does technology affect the drivers?
I believe the driving profession is one of the noblest professions, but it’s also one of the hardest. So, we use technology to help the driver so he can just focus on the driving. For example, finding a place to park and take a break can be a challenge. What if we can help by having the platform say, “Hey, you’re getting to the end of your shift. Do you want me to make a reservation at the next truck stop, a parking reservation for you? And while I’m making the reservation based on your profile, can I order a sandwich for you and reserve a hot shower for you?” Anything you can do to make the driver more productive, so they focus only on driving, is a positive. Driver experience is very important to us, and we’re focusing our technology efforts to create that best-in-class driver experience for the driver of the cab. We’ve got the best drivers in the country and we want to keep them driving for us.