The Intersection of Customer Demand and Technology

August 15, 2019

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The story of UPS is a series of chapters in agility: a string of decisions made at the intersection of customer demand and technology. 

What started as a messenger service in 1907 later evolved into a national common carrier … then a global company with not just brown trucks but airplanes with brown tails in the sky … then a digital force that could track packages instantly with the click of a button … and finally, the mobile-first organization we all know today.

In other words, for more than a century, UPS has operated as a collection of startups — always exploring, adapting and plotting a new course forward. Amid breakneck disruption, it’s an approach that will remain the foundation for all that we do.

UPS’s goal is to provide new solutions by leapfrogging current technologies and advancing our Global Smart Logistics Network. Our Advanced Technology Group is playing in many sandboxes — drones, artificial intelligence, robotics and augmented reality — to shape UPS’s future and to better serve our future customers.

The takeaway? This is no linear journey. We’ve made many changes along the way — and will continue to do so as we redefine what’s possible in the world of transportation and logistics. 

Each pivot is a new business model

Taking a page out of our founder Jim Casey’s playbook, we’re venturing into many unexpected areas today.

For example, we wondered: What if we could connect the gig sharing model with warehousing? What if we could do something about that glut of unused capacity around the world? 

Those simple questions served as the impetus behind Ware2Go, a new technology company and digital platform that matches available warehouse space and fulfillment services with merchants. 

This innovation is a game changer for small and medium-sized businesses in particular, allowing them to position products closer to their customers, shortening their supply chains while tapping into profitable efficiencies. 

In the healthcare space, with an assist from drone technology, we’re reimagining the delivery of life-saving medical products, both in the United States and remote communities on the other side of the world.

When thinking about delivering vaccines to under-served areas in Rwanda, for instance, the questions previously centered around how to construct a cold supply chain in places lacking electricity.

Turns out, those were the wrong questions. Thanks to advances in technology, we can circumvent those challenges altogether. Now we can move medical samples via drone in the African nation as soon as we receive a call from a healthcare professional.

And when every second matters, this will certainly save lives.

Making history

Back in the United States, a similar business pivot is underway.

We made history in healthcare logistics through our collaboration with drone manufacturer Matternet to deliver medical samples via unmanned aerial vehicles in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

The first autonomous drone service ever sanctioned by the Federal Aviation Administration, we now make routine daily drone flights of medical samples from clinics to central laboratory at WakeMed Health & Hospitals’ flagship facility.

These are not tests — these are revenue-generating flights. The lessons we take from this collaboration will certainly pave our path to additional commercial applications in the future.

For example, what could this technology mean in assisting drivers in delivering packages in rural settings? And how might it enhance our last-mile efforts globally?

Each of these pivots effectively represent a new business model, a new chapter in UPS’s century-long commitment to predict customer needs and align emerging technologies with those needs.

Technology for technology’s sake is not enough. For us, it starts first with assessing customer needs and then identifying the right technology that can work within the context of our network. 

A drone by itself doesn’t mean a whole lot unless you figure out how to use it efficiently, reliably and safely, and a robot isn’t that effective unless you can design it to move parcels as small as envelopes and larger items like mini fridges.

"We look at innovation through the prism of the three A’s: authority, autonomy and action." 

When we look at the next innovations for UPS and the culture that will enable them, we do so through the prism of the three A’s: authority, autonomy and action.

Without all three, you don’t have the foundation for a successful business pivot. UPS is bringing its expertise and culture of constructive dissatisfaction to solve the greatest challenges this fast-moving world has to offer.

Some new ideas work, some don’t. But you have to constantly innovate. Unless you’re in the game, you’re not going to win.

[Editor's Note: This article first appeared on Longitudes, UPS’s thought leadership blog, and was republished with permission.]