Curious to see how other leaders are dealing with the operational challenges facing today’s supply chains?

Talking Points is a brand new series of conversations facilitated by LogistiPoint to bring together supply chain experts and industry executives to tackle all the issues and opportunities facing retail leaders right now. Through these quarterly conversations, you’ll not only get to hear how other leaders are successfully navigating the industry in the face of rising costs and changing customer expectations, but you’ll also get access to their personal advice on how to stay ahead of the curve.

In an interview that has been edited for length, our LogistiPoint team talks with Abhijeet Singh, President & CEO of TechSera and Chief Technology Officer for Deliver-EZ and SecurCapital.

Abhijeet Singh is a business-savvy senior supply chain leader, recognized as a strategic change agent, global program manager, team leader and visionary technology executive who leverages people, process and innovation to drive business value and competitive advantage. In addition to his roles at TechSera and Deliver-EZ, Abhijeet also serves as Board Advisor and Chief Technology Officer for SecurCapital Corp. His 15+ years of experience span working with global technology firms in order management, warehouse management, labor management and omni-channel roadmapping for Fortune 100 companies, gathering notable successes at every level.

With a master’s degree in digital communication, Abhijeet has spearheaded multiple different programs in the supply chain domain while working at companies like Manhattan Associates and iGate Global Solutions. During his 12-year tenure with Manhattan Associates, Abhijeet served as the innovation leader of R&D and consulting organizations where he was responsible for driving the future roadmap for the product.

Today he continues to live and breathe supply chain at TechSera, a supply chain product and solutions company that he founded, where he leads his team in solving problems throughout every aspect of supply chains all the way from planning to warehouse management systems and operational efficiencies.

We’re excited for the opportunity to sit down with Abhijeet and learn more about the passion and inspiration behind the work he does today as well as the career path and experience that got him here.

LOGISTIPOINT: You have a passion for the end-user and operator in warehouse management systems, and that was really sparked by your work at Manhattan. Tell us more about that experience.

ABHIJEET SINGH: Having spent almost 16 years in the supply chain and warehousing industry, I’ve learned that you have to think about your audience and your end-users—the ones on the floor using these systems. These are the individuals making $15-16/hr and if you don’t understand their problems and their challenges, they don’t care how cool of an engineer or company you are. Their problem isn’t solved.

As I visited and worked with different customers back at Manhattan, I would go on the floor and check in on the team members and ask them questions about the software. I got to see their challenges firsthand, and that’s where it all started for me. Most of the time, we have these conversations about software and systems in the boardroom and we have an understanding of how they work, but we are not the end user. The end user is someone on the floor, and we need to understand the problem from their perspective and work with them.

That’s why we ultimately founded TechSera. We wanted there to be a common ground between the end user and the decision makers.

LOGISTIPOINT: Was there a specific “ah-hah!” moment that led you to founding TechSera?

ABHIJEET SINGH: After six years spent in product development and R&D, I wanted to actually see “how” people were using the product on the floor. The implementation teams would continually come to me with questions about why the product wasn’t working. And my response was usually, “You’re not using it the way it was intended!” So I moved into the implementation and services team to see how I could better implement the product.

As I started visiting clients and implementing the product I spent the last six years building , I quickly realized: “Hey, we’ve built something great, but if it isn’t what’s needed on the floor, it serves no good.” And there’s a good story that led me to this realization. When I was in R&D, I developed a lot of cool features for a specific client, but during implementation the lead guy on the client team made this comment: “It looks like the guy who wrote this code has never visited a warehouse before.” Shortly after joining the implementation team, I got on the project for this same client, and I got a chance to speak to the same person who made that comment. I said, “You know, you’re spot on. I’ve never visited a warehouse, but now I see and understand the challenges, and the product was not meeting the demand you expected.”

From that point, I realized things had to be done differently. When developing a solution, we need to involve everyone from the people on the floor to the IT team to understand all of their challenges—not just those in the boardroom. We also started asking questions like: Why does implementation take so long each time? Why hasn’t someone from IT come up with a solution that is “multi-purpose” and not so centric to one use? That’s when the idea for TechSera (and more specifically, x.SIP) came to me.

LOGISTIPOINT: Besides your WM and ERP services, x.SIP is something you’ve developed to tackle that exact problem: long implementation times for a software that may only serve a single purpose. Can you talk a bit more about x.SIP and what it does?

ABHIJEET SINGH: x.SIP is a cloud-based supply chain integration platform. I emphasize supply chain, because for a typical integration system, the data is a series of 0s and 1s within system 1 and system 2, and while there is data conversion between the two, the meaning is often lost. For example, when your ERP sends an e-commerce order to your WMS, many of the attributes that order had in ERP are lost (e.g. email address) and the order becomes viewed solely from an inventory perspective. And in this same example, ERP no longer has the status of the order (picked, shipped or the shipment tracking #). So the two systems convert the data, but you are unable to view in reporting format the whole data stream.

As a full supply chain integration platform, x.SIP actually houses the data from all systems. That means ERP order information is alongside WMS status and inventory information. It also means that if you have multiple ERPs pulling from a single set of inventory, x.SIP can update all systems “available inventory” on the site even when the item was purchased via a separate ERP. There’s a continuous stream of data between all systems, sharing all of the order attributes from both ERP and WMS. Plus, all of this is housed in a single reporting dashboard used across the entire userbase.

LOGISTIPOINT: So x.SIP connects and shares information across all your supply chain systems, correct?

ABHIJEET SINGH: Yes. A good example was just last week. I was with an SVP of Operations. They were going live with a new facility and he requested shipping numbers from the previous day… And everyone scrambled! They were going through different systems and pulling ad hoc reporting trying to figure this out. And the numbers didn’t match each other. That’s the funny thing; they all gave different numbers. And the SVP said “Just give me one number, even if it’s wrong!”

I showed him the platform we built for another client, and all the information was already in graphical form, and it was incrementing as orders got dropped and their status was updated. That information is both useful to the SVP, who can go to the board and give an update immediately, as well as the operations team in the DC because they can track orders completed so far and how they are trending for the day. Today, that data exists in all companies, but no one is able to make sense of it or draw conclusions from it because it’s not easily linked across systems.

LOGISTIPOINT: E-commerce has added a layer of complexity to retailers’ supply chains, and we’ve seen many retailers over the years build dedicated DCs for e-commerce fulfillment as well as expand their footprint to be closer to their customers to improve service levels. How has the traditional separate ERP and WMS strategy added to this complexity? What’s the solution?

ABHIJEET SINGH: The traditional business model in retail supply chain is to sell to your own stores, and maybe one or two other large retailers. But the landscape has changed. You now sell not just to your stores, but to your own website… to Amazon and eBay. And you’re probably also drop shipping for other companies. Stores are becoming fulfillment centers with the Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS) model. Retailers now have a lot of custom-built integrations to connect all of this, and it’s a nightmare to manage…. Nobody knows what’s in the code anymore.

So, what we’ve done is reached out to all the major WMS and ERP providers to get their interfaces and we built that connection directly into x.SIP. Traditionally, point-to-point implementation between two systems would take 8-9 months, but since x.SIP already understands all these different interfaces, our implementation only takes around three months. x.SIP creates a common language from all your connected systems. It’s more of a “plug-and-play” solution.Plus, all the layers are viewed in a more manageable format with our reporting module.

LOGISTIPOINT: Drop shipping is a great point. I bet if you had asked executives 10-15 years ago what they wanted to incorporate in their supply chain strategy, drop shipping capabilities would be on that list. Now that the industry has evolved to a point where retailers are often selling on multiple platforms and drop shipping is common, what’s the “next drop shipping” capability executives need to be thinking about in their supply chain strategy today?

ABHIJEET SINGH: Most customers have more than one DC today, traditionally one on the east coast and one on the west coast. Well, guess what—Amazon changed all that by building all these regional DCs. Being as close to the customer as possible is important in e-commerce especially in order to provide 2-day delivery. Amazon has the money and infrastructure to do this, but not all retailers do. So how do you compete? I’ve seen some businesses use their stores as fulfillment centers. Many retailers have also adopted the BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) model. Macy’s and Target are great examples. When a person picks up an order at the store, they are more likely to grab a few more items as they walk through the aisles. But there’s another option becoming more popular, and that is BOSS (Buy Online, Ship from Store).This strategy gives retailers the chance to serve remote areas where they may not have a DC but instead have a store. The delivery is faster since the product is already nearby in a store. The freight cost is also lower since it’s local.

Stores can now serve multiple purposes, and that’s why brick and mortar is making a comeback. They are no longer just a place to go buy the product and walk out. The BOPIS and BOSS strategies leverage stores as fulfillment centers. Kohl’s stores even started taking Amazon returns!

Another one is returns. Traditionally, returns happened because the product wasn’t good and the customer was unhappy. But customers are changing. They are ordering more because mobile devices have made shopping seamless. That’s why I now refer to it as “m-commerce”instead of e-commerce. But m-commerce isn’t seamless for returns. For example, when my wife orders shoes, she will order three different sizes knowing she will only keep one. The other two are returned and it’s a pain to go to the post office and get a label printed. But, using Kohl’s for instance, she’s there every other week, so it’s much more convenient to bring the Amazon return to a Kohl’s store, do her normal shopping and go. This experience is much more convenient.

I think the next revolution will happen in both returns and leveraging stores as a method of fulfillment for final-mile delivery.

LOGISTIPOINT: And something else TechSera is working on is at the forefront of the “returns revolution”—Deliver-EZ. Can you talk a bit more about not just what Deliver-EZ is, but the problem customers face today that makes this a viable option for retailers?

ABHIJEET SINGH: First let me give you a quick introduction to Deliver-EZ.Deliver-EZ is a “last block” delivery as a service and robotics company that offers an automated package handling system. The 40’x16’ hub serves as a central drop off location for mail and small package carriers for a dedicated community and provides a single point for product returns. Our software then dispatches fully integrated third-party autonomous vehicles (robots, drones, cargo shuttles) to deliver packages to residents on their terms.

Residents have full control via our mobile app.  The result is a new community lifestyle service available 24×7 that eliminates porch piracy, weather-damaged packages and missed deliveries due to signature while allowing for cold chain deliveries. The larger community benefits from reduced commercial and criminal traffic.

Porch piracy for some time has been a growing issue in both vertical and horizontal communities; there is no safe space to leave a package if the end consumer is not home. Weather can be an issue. It’s raining and you don’t want your package sitting outside while you’re at work; the temperature is hot, and your purchase requires climate control, so it doesn’t bake in the sun outside your home. Missed shipments is always a contention point for online consumers. As more valuable things are being shipped (such as medication), signatures are required. If you are not at home, the carrier leaves a note and tries to deliver the next day or takes your shipment to an alternative drop-off location. In some cases, after three attempted deliveries the carrier returns your shipment to the retailer. Have you ever had a shipment go to an alternative delivery location? It is a waste of your time and money: a complete inconvenience. Equally as bad is a shipment you really wanted getting returned by the Carrier to the retailer, forcing you to have to start the ordering cycle over again. 

So, there are few problems, and to solve them we thought: “Can we have an unmanned, community hub center, where the carrier comes to the hub, interacts with the machine and drops the packages in one place? And then the package hub can send a notification to the customer that the package has arrived and can be picked up whenever?” We’ve also solved the challenge that no other unmanned stations have to date, and that’s signature required shipments. Carriers no longer need to keep coming back to get your signature.

But Deliver-EZ has also evolved over the last two years. When we started Deliver-EZ, we wanted to make package retrieval as seamless as possible for the consumer, 24-7, 365 days a year. All they have to do is scan the app and get their package. But guess what? Returns has become the #1 priority now since so many customers are looking to return items. Deliver-EZ recognized that community logistics needed an improved return process. By using the Deliver-EZ app you can transact returns from the comfort of your living room chair and bring the return to the community logistics center or use Deliver-EZ community transportation services to get returns back on their way to the retailers.

LOGISTIPOINT: I think many readers will be familiar with Amazon lockers. Are these similar in concept?

ABHIJEET SINGH: Lockers were good entry-level solutions but Deliver-EZ is the next generation of last block delivery. Deliver-EZ does not have fixed-size lockers. Each package location is designed and allocated by our core technology system and physically handled by a robotics system. We get much better cube density than other systems this way.

The whole premise of Deliver-EZ is to support communities and their residents. We want to be the first commercial system that is retail agnostic and carrier agnostic. There’s Amazon lockers. Walmart and Target have their own system, even Home Depot now. But those are specific to those retailers. There is not a single solution out there for the consumer, and that’s where we feel we are different. It’s very important for us to be tied to the end consumer.

Talking Points is an ongoing series featuring experts tackling hot topics in the supply chain industry. If there are certain topics or industry leaders you’d like to hear more about in our upcoming interview, please email your requests to us by contacting brian.skerry@logistipoint.com.