Craig Ponton brings flexibility and agility to IL2000’s roadmap and a renewed promise to find customized customer solutions.
Craig Ponton, Vice President, Product Development & IT, has been developing IL2000’s tech for over twenty years.
“Our first product went from inception to release in six months -- a very abbreviated timeframe -- and was devoid of many features. But it is still in use today as the base of our TMS. We identified that we needed to iterate quicker to give our clients what they wanted. That's what pushed us from our earlier disc-based software to the web. No more sending out discs for every software update,” Ponton laughs.
Treasuring clients and a get-it-done attitude: A winning combination
“Looking back and then looking at where we are now, I think we’re right where we wanted to be,” says Ponton.
“The standards we set out early are still there. We treasure our clients. We look at them like they’re our partners, and we’re going to take care of them for the long haul.” - Ponton
It’s much the same with the culture, he explains. “There's still a get-it-done attitude, where people don't consider failure an option. Each person individually understands that they have a responsibility to their team, and that's really what's at the core of it all: We all want to make sure that we support each other so that we can support our clients.”
A connected team
Ponton explains that early on, he fostered the belief that the company would have a multi-national team that could work remotely. The company always took seriously the idea that strong business continuance was necessary to protect clients and to act as an extension of their business.
When the pandemic hit, IL2000 shifted virtually overnight to fully remote work. All the critical infrastructure was already in place.
“We didn't have any reliance on our on-premises stuff; it goes to the architecture of our systems. So, we were able to switch instantaneously with no interruption in service. And I am very proud of the people because it was a big cultural change. How quickly everybody adapted was remarkable. Bringing together very bright people from all over is really cool. Seeing that everybody can stay productive and stay connected is amazing.”
Anticipating client needs drives product development
The conversation then turned to product development. Ponton describes IL2000’s process as driven not just by looking at the market now but also by anticipating future client needs.
“We look at the marketplace, but because we have a very diverse client base, we get all these features and enhancement requests from the field. Our clients see what’s out there competitively and know what they need. Combining those two information streams allows us to come up with our feature development map.” - Ponton
Ponton explains how he then goes about deciding on the priorities, emphasizing that security is a consideration that can never be compromised. To learn more about what that looks like to IL2000, check out Ponton’s article, Why it's vital to work with a 3PL you trust and his white paper on How to mitigate the risk of supply chain cyberattack.
For everything else, it becomes a question of how fast and how many features you want. “Those two wants are in opposition. We've chosen to iterate quickly and add small features rapidly. It goes back to my belief in owning your mistakes and learning from them. We want to find out if it's right or wrong, and if we have to change direction, we get that prototyped quickly and out for our internal users to test. They're the subject matter experts, and we talk to our clients every day. That's how we ensure we're balancing speed and quality while simultaneously getting the features out there to accurately satisfy the need.”
On the other hand, Ponton cautions against constantly changing direction. “Sometimes you need to slow down the zigging and zagging and let something play out. Failing fast can be measured in days or it can be measured in months, it depends on the complexity of the project.“
A solution-driven approach
According to Ponton, IL2000’s tech roadmap is guided by finding the unique, optimum solution for each client. Clients have a logistics problem they’re trying to solve. Along with that usually comes a discovery that there’s a workflow problem. And within that workflow problem, there’s a systems issue.
“That issue is generally because they have a system that isn't necessarily meant to do what they need it to do. A system may be great at one thing but not at another. We can take the information amassed through building solutions for our diverse client base and synthesize it into a solution for that customer.
“Each of our clients is different. Even if they make the exact same product, they often do it differently. They have unique processes and people. We use this accumulated knowledge from many clients over the years to offer a solution.”
“We are not one size fits all. We will make them a solution, and it works well because it's not a half-measure. They're going to be happy with it, and it's going to work well for our team as well.” - Ponton
The distance we’ll go
While Ponton can’t talk about the details, he paints a broad-strokes picture of an upcoming feature he’s very excited about. Distance.
“There are some really exciting distance features that we're bringing into effect. We'll start coupling straight measurements and distance with machine learning to offer predictive analysis on transit factors dealing with lateness. This feature will combine unique perspectives on how distance can be used and then apply our treasure trove of data to make predictions. Instead of working with the time a carrier says the delivery will arrive, this feature will unlock data and predict the time it will really arrive.”
Challenges in a saturated market
The biggest challenge today, according to Ponton, is getting past the wall people put up in a saturated market. Even if you have a great solution, it’s about getting it in front of people and breaking down that barrier so you can show them that one thing that’s going to help them out.
In terms of the obstacles facing logistics, certain market forces and just-in-time (JIT), things that go way back in procurement, have put a pinch on logistics—sometimes setting up for disaster.
“Take the ship grounding in the Suez. All it takes is a few days and you have this giant ripple around the world because everything is made to work so precisely. We can overcome those challenges with greater collaboration but this is still lacking within the supply chain. There have been some advances, but the systems are not very connected, especially internationally. In domestic transportation, big advances in API adoption have led to a much-improved situation where we can predict the timing and costing with LTL carriers. With the TL carriers, it’s tougher because there are a lot more of them, many with fewer resources. People still rely on spreadsheets to determine how long they have to get their containers to the port without incurring charges, which you think would be set up in a system. But efforts are being made there as well.”
What success means to Ponton
“I believe the sole measure of your success - how quickly and how well you're developing your software - is that your software works. It has to provide a real-world solution. The metrics, the granular things you get done: These don't tell the whole story. How do you set the gold standard? You have working, reliable software. It's easy to use, it's secure, and it satisfies the need every time.” – Ponton
Ponton shares a success story about a solution that surpassed both IL2000’s and a client’s expectations. “The customer had a unique workflow, very different from what we do, that they had implemented with a prior provider. They had not experienced great success with this and weren’t using many of the features that they had bought. It was a tough concept to wrap our heads around because it's not where I would have started designing a system and a workflow. But it was a prerequisite that we could set this up and provide an analog to their system yet make it work. In other words, we had to provide all the features that the other company had not been able to provide.”
We can do that
Ponton and the team took on the challenge and provided the solution the customer wanted by inverting many parts of IL2000’s workflow while instituting some features on the backend that allowed them to provide the functionality that was missing in the initial implementation.
“After we stepped in, the customer had better client satisfaction because they got what they wanted. Given the time frame and feature constraints, it was technologically challenging to get it done, but we did it. And that’s the culture; We push hard and do a lot of work in a compressed timeframe. So while we can't coast, we can settle into a rhythm. We do the work, get there and cross the divide quickly.”