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Data Driven: How Crowley’s Innovative Technology Moves the Defense Supply Chain

As published in the October 2019 edition of the Defense Transportation Journal

Data Driven: How Crowley’s Innovative Technology Moves the Defense Supply Chain

By Jim Romeo

In March 2019, General Stephen R. Lyons, Commander, US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee by framing the immensity of moving the supply chain of the US Department of Defense (DOD).

“The department’s global deployment networks, transportation capacity in air, on land, and over the sea, and our global command and control capabilities, combine to provide the United States with a strategic comparative advantage unmatched around the world,” he stated.

Lyons’ statements underscore the heightened importance of logistics management to move the supply chain that supports the warfighter—directly and indirectly. But meeting this demand requires strategic partners who share their mission and their objectives.

With the assistance of data science, associated technological strength, and a long history of logistics solutions, Crowley has firmly established itself as one of those like-minded partners. The company’s capability to integrate systems with flexibility to adapt to partners and carriers has resulted in job performance that meets or exceeds on-time standards of 99 percent. That high capability enhances the DOD supply chain to support the depth of global reach that defense leaders and USTRANSCOM require.

Technological Horsepower for Global Reach

In 2017, Crowley was awarded the $2.3 billion Defense Freight Transportation (DFTS) contract by USTRANSCOM.

The contract is one of the largest logistics contracts of its kind ever awarded. It requires careful planning to manage a complex network of moving goods and an enormous volume of cargo in the aggregate.

Every day, cargo managed by the Crowley Solutions business unit move among material suppliers, 29 Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) sites, and nine Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) sites in North America.

The cargo descriptions are many. Their load-outs include less-than-truckload (LTL), full-truckload (FTL), time-definite, refrigerated cargo, as well as many other types via different transport modes. The company has built a de facto “Supply Chain 4.0” for DOD with transportation services used in rapid response, load optimization, improved visibility, better control, coordination of customs documentation, and many other services. They’ve become a catalyst to move the freight, to and from various facilities and distribution centers within the Department of Defense and US military installations.

Nimble and Quick Via Cloud-Based Technology

To meet DOD challenges required of the contract, the company developed its Crowley Integration Framework to adapt the changes requested by government. The cloud-based platform provides flexible architecture that serves as a roadmap to plan, track and execute transportation requirements while providing valuable data management to increase efficiency.

The Crowley Integration Framework partnership with 3Gtms, a global provider of Tier 1 transportation management software, is also instrumental in helping Crowley process more than 1,800 moves a day that involve over 100,000 transactions across multiple systems. This integration framework also mitigates functionality gaps and leverages other transportation management systems (TMS) like TMW systems in the existing Crowley technology landscape.

The new technology framework allows Crowley to expedite DOD orders with a rapid response time, said Smijith Kunhiraman, Director of Technology at Crowley Solutions. Kunhiraman says the contract has multiple key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure Crowley’s performance and response time—and those KPIs are being met or exceeded nearly 100 percent of the time as result of the technology being leveraged.

The DOD submits orders using electronic data interchange (EDI). While EDI is older format and technology, it is still leveraged by many within the transportation industry, and DOD is no different. However, Crowley needed to leverage new technologies to speed the processing of these files from their legacy systems.

Crowley put its integration framework to work, accommodated the legacy technology, and can provide unprecedented response time to on demand orders. Crowley’s integration framework solution was a mixture of the TMS working with a unique combination of the existing EDI and an application programming interface (API). The unique API framework developed by Crowley Solutions is used by the company’s network carriers and partners, both internally and externally, to facilitate data transfers among platforms to support the successful execution of the DFTS contract from order entry to final delivery.

Leveraging Data Science and Enterprise Enablers

Kunhiraman also describes another important component: Data science.

The Crowley Solutions group has a team of data scientists who dedicate much of their time and effort to examining movements and computing cargo flow optimization models based on data analytics.

With an organic team of data scientists, they turned data into analytical information, and those analytics into decision tools. The team’s work results in operational efficiency and cost savings, as well as better utilization of the carrier networks.

Another notable and key strategic step Crowley implemented with their role in the DFTS contract was to align their own culture and objectives with those of DLA. DLA’s “Strategic Plan Enterprise Enablers” became essential ingredients for Crowley to build a nimble supply chain network. Specifically, these enablers included innovation, data management, technology, and cybersecurity. By focusing on these enablers, they incorporated their IT and data operations to sync with those of the DLA.

“We used their enablers and incorporated them into our own processes,” said Kunhiraman. “Namely, we employed automation to precipitate things like error handling, performing internal and external penetration tests [to ensure cyber security]. We are simply executing the contract by aligning our lanes of technology with theirs.”

Logistics Muscle

USTRANSCOM has overwhelming responsibilities. They can’t do it alone. For Crowley’s DFTS program, implementing innovative tools and technology, and meeting essential performance measures is a formidable achievement, making the company not only a like-minded partner, but ready for the next order.

And they’re able to do this because they’re putting their logistics muscle to work. When it comes to transportation, Crowley has muscle to flex as a company that has operated in diverse sectors and locations for more than 127 years. The company started as a maritime provider but has grown to be leader in achieving solutions in various transportation and logistics modes. For its commercial and government customers, it coordinates over 3 million freight transportation moves across the United States annually.

This vast operational experience, combined with its fleet assets and a strong network of transportation partners, was strategically aligned and suited to handle DOD’s intense cargo demand. Crowley’s management of DFTS is designed to be flexible and expandable to support all Service branches, as well as adaptable to operational needs in the regions that DFTS services.

For example, Crowley’s management of freight transportation for DLA has led it to identify growth opportunities that add value and efficiency for government customers. In one case, they identified volume and flow improvements that could be made by introducing a technology-supported cross-dock facility serving the DLA Distribution Center in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, for final-mile deliveries. That will enhance consolidation services for the military distribution center, as well as add options for future streamlining to aid locations farther away. The Crowley technology framework will continue to be used to optimize cargo deliveries and on-time rates.

With its deep history, Crowley has built its wide capabilities in transportation management and logistics services for a wide base of customers over the years, moving goods of all types, from point of origin to final destination. Building on its immense capabilities in maritime operations, the company has proven its ability as an inland freight transportation company. The efficiency and optimization the company has been able to achieve, facilitates the strategic comparative advantage General Lyons spoke of.

This all loops back to the need for USTRANSCOM to reinforce DOD’s global reach. Crowley’s technology advances continue to contribute to this effort by helping the DOD supply chain move with ease.

The company knows the importance of visibility and control, and how to provide it to customers along traveled paths. It is able to leverage a legacy of transportation experience along with all the knowledge gained over the years and put it to use for USTRANSCOM—helping to make the DOD go—on-time and on schedule.