September 2019

What can’t technology do? Change your behavior…


It seems that technological changes are coming at us at the speed of, well, technology—from an app to deliver food to your door within minutes of your order, to the latest innovation that keeps your car in its lane while also keeping it a safe distance from the car in front of you. In ICM’s world, technology includes onboard computers, remote tank monitors and parts inventory management systems. In all cases, the technology was way out in front of the behavior, but eventually those who would benefit from the technology adapted to it and reaped the benefits.

We sometimes like to be nostalgic and think about the “simpler times” in our industry, when a handshake was a contract, attrition only happened when a home was sold and you didn’t have to compete against an online discount marketer. The truth is that, for the past 50 years, the most successful companies took advantage of an innovative technology very soon after it became available.

Many of us are starting to see around the bend as to the power of technology, and we—willingly or begrudgingly—are starting to accept that things are going to be different in three, five and 10 years from now. However, most of what will be “usual and customary” in five years is actually available now—if only we could change the way we act. Changes to behavior are hard to accept—and even harder to force others to implement.

Stocking the shelves
Due to the resistance to change, many in the technology world surpass the roadblocks to simply go out and get the job done. The largest retailers used to have inventory sheets on clipboards to track when replacement inventory needed to be ordered. Then there was an automated system that tracked sales at the checkout register and presented a report to the purchasing manager. That was better, but took time to adopt. Now, the purchasing manager—to his or her benefit—is totally skipped over, as automated inventory systems also act as automated inventory replenishment systems linked directly to suppliers. That is how Wal-Mart, Target and Starbucks keep supplied.

Fuel distributors, a.k.a oil dealers, are starting to look at their delivery businesses as inventory management systems. In this case, inventory is the oil in your customers’ tanks, and effective management is ensuring those tanks don’t run out. That is the way we have operated for decades. However, thanks to technology, we can start to bypass some of the human systems (changes in behavior) and realize tremendous savings from operating more efficiently.

The back-office accounting systems (BOS) that are used in our industry are excellent at what they do with regards to setting up deliveries according to the needs of the individual customer. The relationship between the BOS and the experienced dispatcher create the unique DNA that makes our ecosystem work. With the advent and adoption of remote monitoring and routing software, dispatchers are starting to look better—and be better.

Fuel oil managers are starting to look at supply and demand as an inventory system.

However, the industry will continue to face these challenges:

• Inventory: knowing when to fill a tank and how to best utilize your fleet;
• Staffing: finding drivers and, even harder, finding dispatchers and;
• Cost: the expenses of maintaining and insuring a fleet increase each year.

We see a time in the very near future when these challenges will be met by an optimized system that works seamlessly with the BOS and dispatchers, in the same way that Wal-Mart gets the next shipment of X-Men pajamas (spoken like the grandfather of a 4-year-old) shipped to the right location at the right time, fully automatically.

“Actionable Behavior” is all-too-often not acted upon. That is not a flaw in human nature, it is human nature. That is why true optimization and automation take that factor into account and allow you to run your business without getting in your own way. ICM

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