How To Meet Growing Tech Demands When Resources Are Squeezed

It’s a constant balancing act, says Zach Jecklin, CIO of Echo Global Logistics. He tells StrategicCIO360 how he does it.
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Zach Jecklin, CIO of Chicago-based Echo Global Logistics, a supply chain and logistics management provider based in Chicago, has seen his share of demanding tech challenges in recent years. Add in the dearth of tech talent and an unstable economy and work can get hard for an information chief.

But with the right approaches, says Jecklin, it’s possible to not just do well but flourish today. He spoke with StrategicCIO360 about how he keeps an eye on strategic goals, what he’s doing to attract talent and when it makes sense to buy, not build tech.

As a CIO, I’m sure you’re constantly navigating an overloaded roadmap with resource constraints. How are you prioritizing the workload of your team?

It starts with a great relationship between the technology organization and our business stakeholders. Understanding the longer-term strategy of the business allows us as a technology team to make sure our roadmap is facilitating that strategy. Being able to plan for not just the “next” project, but multiple quarters, or even multiple years in advance allows us to strategically sequence the initiatives in ways that both drive the most business value, as well as efficient development of the new tools and functionality.  

On top of focusing on immediate business value, our technology organization must also consider general maintenance of our current platforms. In most tech organizations, there is some amount of technical debt that exists that slows down new development and can possibly create instability of the systems. Balancing the resources between solving for technical debt (which will speed up development in the long run), and building new features is critical for maximizing output and long-term value of the organization as a whole.

Speaking of resource constraints, what is Echo doing to find talent in this challenging environment?

Strong technology talent has been in high demand for decades, but that demand in relation to supply has really peaked over the last 18 months or so. Recruiting for new talent has become what we call an “all-hands-on-deck” priority. This is not a task that we can sit back and wait for a recruiting department to handle on their own. Our technology team needs to be an active partner with recruiting to find and hire top talent in the marketplace.

We have increased our incentive to employees to refer individuals in their network. We communicate open positions weekly to the entire department to ensure the teams know what type of talent we are looking for. We use our office space to host events to share the Echo name within the Chicagoland market as a top destination for tech talent.

We also are stepping up our presence on social media to find talent as well. On top of that, we are now looking for talent nationwide, as our work from home policy for the technology team is completely optional for the employee. That has opened up a significant talent pool that hasn’t existed for us in the past.

We’ve seen a tremendous amount of technology investment in the transportation and logistics industry. What areas within logistics are seeing the greatest amount of change?

We’ve seen significant investment in many areas of transportation and logistics, but the area that has stood out the most is capabilities that provide more seamless and valuable integrations with clients and carriers.

Shippers and carriers want transportation management to be simplified. Their ability to integrate seamlessly with their primary partners is a major component of that simplicity. We know those integration points are not a one offering fits all approach. The needs of a large F100 shipper are very different than the needs of a small business owner, yet both are looking for automation, visibility, options for capacity and strong service.

We offer a full suite of API offerings, direct integrations into TMS’s, ERP’s, WMS’s and EDI capabilities for the shippers and carriers that are looking for a more automated setup. We also offer external facing portals to enable shippers and carriers to be completely self-serve for quoting, booking, tracking, uploading documents and paying or getting paid for their transportation spend.

How does Echo consider the buy versus build decision when it comes to all the logistics tech coming into the industry?

Our primary decision points for buy versus build are whether or not the service being considered could be a competitive advantage for Echo in the future. Since Echo’s founding in 2005, we have built a proprietary TMS that supports our clients, carriers and internal employees. The processes and workflows associated with these systems is proprietary to the way that Echo services freight. We believe this technology is a differentiator for us in the market, and a large reason we have been able to take considerable market share over the last two decades. There are certain components of our TMS though that make more sense to outsource, or “buy.” Maps within our system is a great example.

There are technology companies that have spent millions and millions of dollars developing the best map capabilities. It does not make sense for Echo to spend our valuable technology resources trying to reinvent the wheel on map development. This is an area that we partner with a third party, and embed their maps into our technology platform. We take each of these buy versus build decisions separately and evaluate the best way forward.

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