The Digital Supply Chain podcast

Mobility, asset, and logistics solutions - a chat with PowerFleet CEO Chris Wolfe

June 08, 2020 Tom Raftery / Chris Wolfe Season 1 Episode 43
The Digital Supply Chain podcast
Mobility, asset, and logistics solutions - a chat with PowerFleet CEO Chris Wolfe
Chapters
The Digital Supply Chain podcast
Mobility, asset, and logistics solutions - a chat with PowerFleet CEO Chris Wolfe
Jun 08, 2020 Season 1 Episode 43
Tom Raftery / Chris Wolfe

On this episode of the Digital Supply Chain podcast, I spoke with Chris Wolfe. Chris is the CEO of PowerFleet - a global mobile asset solution provider. PowerFleet helps some of the world's largest organisation manage their fleets of trucks, forklifts, containers, and cars ensuring their safety, and efficiency

Chris has a rich history in this space, some of which I managed to tease out of him during this chat. He also talked knowledgeably about the space, and the latest trends in it.

I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, and I think you will too - do let me know your thoughts, by dropping me a comment.

Now we are in June, I am trialling a new feature on the podcast - listeners stories. If you have a cool supply chain story you'd like featured on the show, send it to me via email (tom.raftery @ sap.com), or just send it to me as a direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn. Audio messages will get played (unless you specifically ask me not to).

And if you want to know more about any of SAP's Digital Supply Chain solutions, head on over to www.sap.com/digitalsupplychain and if you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover it. Thanks.

And remember, stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane!





Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of the Digital Supply Chain podcast, I spoke with Chris Wolfe. Chris is the CEO of PowerFleet - a global mobile asset solution provider. PowerFleet helps some of the world's largest organisation manage their fleets of trucks, forklifts, containers, and cars ensuring their safety, and efficiency

Chris has a rich history in this space, some of which I managed to tease out of him during this chat. He also talked knowledgeably about the space, and the latest trends in it.

I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, and I think you will too - do let me know your thoughts, by dropping me a comment.

Now we are in June, I am trialling a new feature on the podcast - listeners stories. If you have a cool supply chain story you'd like featured on the show, send it to me via email (tom.raftery @ sap.com), or just send it to me as a direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn. Audio messages will get played (unless you specifically ask me not to).

And if you want to know more about any of SAP's Digital Supply Chain solutions, head on over to www.sap.com/digitalsupplychain and if you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover it. Thanks.

And remember, stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane!





So you think about, you know, I used to work on it on a dock, right? You have, the trailer comes in, you open the trailer door up and it looks like a gorilla got loose. I was like, what happened? Well, we can tell you what happened. And we can probably tell you where it happened. And by the way we have sensors.
Now that can go on the pallet level. So I can tell you the vibe, the shock, the temp, the humidity at the pallet level for a lot less money than, you know, again, before you can even do it. Now we can do it. We can do it economically. 
Good morning, good afternoon. Or good evening, wherever you are in the world.
This is the digital supply chain podcast. And I am your host, Tom Raftery.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the digital digital supply chain podcast. My name is Tom Raftery from SAP and with me on the show today, I have Chris. Chris, would you like to introduce yourself? 
Hey, thanks Tom. Yeah, my name is Chris Wolf. I'm CEO of powerfully. Uh, we're a mobility solution provider in the supply chain area.
Uh, give a little quick background on myself, just over wen understands that I do come from a black. My DNA is based on supply chain. Uh, my original work was, uh, writing, uh, computer operational systems for roadway express in the United States. One of the largest, less than truckload carriers on the planet, uh, was actually involved in writing the first shipment tracking system, uh, which was actually a, was recognized by the wall street journal way back in the dark ages.
I went to work after that had Penske logistics, Penske logistics was prior to that was lease Wade transportation. Leisha had 90 different operating companies all the way from car hauling ball, calling home delivery, uh, less than truckload and over the road. So. Again, writing computer systems, applying technology to those companies, trying to solve business problems real time, a lot of EDI, electronic data interchange back in the day again.
So that's my background. Uh, I also worked at Omnitracs or Qualcomm. I ran the division there for five years at the end of my stint with Omnitracs. Uh, phenomenal, successful, and that got me into mobility solutions. And so, uh, the nice thing about Omnitracs and my work here at power fleet is solving customer problems with mobility.
So tell us a little bit about what PowerFleet does, because you know, lots of people listening probably are not aware of who PowerFleet are, maybe they are, and it's just me.
Okay, that's great. So, uh, it's kind of interesting. We're a brand new name of two companies that, uh, we basically acquired pointer tell location. And when I say we, our prior name was ID systems and ID systems has been around since really the founding right before the year 2000 a focus really on RF technologies at the time.
Uh, one of our major customers are United States postal service. Uh, we were doing telemetry platforms. Well, before I joined the company, uh, for a company such as Ford motor company, United States, postal service, you know, inside the facility. So if you think about it, we actually have multiple business segments, but we provide mobility solutions to logistics companies.
And as well as any member of the supply chain that has material handling equipment. And I can give you a list of some of our customers, which are phenomenal customers, by the way, general mills, uh, Kroger, a Walmart, uh, uh, public, uh, performance food group, uh, as well as the automotive sector Toyota motor manufacturing has us in every plant, uh, usually material handling equipment, and then either on their trailers, tractors or in their yard.
And what are you doing for them? What problems are you solving for them? 
It varies depending on, uh, the solution set they pick. And that's the nice thing about powerfully. We have a variety of solutions. So in the logistics over the road, trucking segment or private fleet segment, we have truly bumper to bumper solutions.
If you need an in-cab PLD, hos a lot of acronyms there. I hate to get everybody, but if you're in supply chain, you probably know what those are. But we offer everything from ELD in cab to refrigerate it over refrigerated two-way command and control. So if you have reefer units, we also have, uh, mobility platforms, a family of mobility platforms for everything from chassies containers to drive in.
And then we also go on your material, hand equipment, meaning your forklifts, your material handling, or your scissor lifts, et cetera. And what we do is make sure you're safe. And also make sure you can optimize the equipment. I mean, most of you know that there's a, you have to do OSHA checklists on almost every piece of equipment, whether it's a trailer, a tractor or a forklift, we make that all paperless.
We also know that you're the right person on it. You're certified to be on it. And we also know how you used it. And so it's, uh, right now it's interesting with COVID-19, uh, our checklist capability was actually came into play and we had a lot of our customers put in COVID-19 questions in the checklist.
Oh, you know, did you even the equipment, you know, was it cleaned? You know, did it look clean prior person clean it, you know, that type of thing. So that was kind of interesting. 
Fascinating. And so how long have you been in the industry? If you don't mind me asking. 
Well, you're going to date me now.
I got out of the air force in 1978. Went, uh, went to college and actually was working on the dock at the, as is a union dock worker back in the day. 
Wow. That's all I am. 
Okay, super. And tell me what has impressed you most about what's what's changed in the industry in, in, in all the time you've been there.
So it's kind of, again, writing one of the original shipment tracking systems on the planet and implementing a lot of what I call the archaic technologies back in the day. Um, it's what we can do now. I mean, if you think about battery technology, if you think about wireless technology, if you think about how machine learning, you know, it's one thing.
Uh, back in the day, it was all usually, uh, manually entered. You know, it was like paper going into somebody's writing, you know, keying it into a system. And then the system, uh, just our kig cumbersome, uh, taking a lot of time to go through lots of data. That's not the case today. Matter of fact, we have the other extreme where we can actually gather a lot more data.
And I used to always architect systems called decision support systems. So you have strategic decisions, tactical decisions and operational decisions, and what feeds those decisions. It's the data, right? It's the sensor data, it's the activity data, it's the event data. And now we have the capability to capture a lot of that data.
And matter of fact, A lot of data that you wouldn't even know what we call collateral data. So it's like, what's going on around you? What was the environmental? What was the vibe? But what was temp? What was the road condition? What was the, and by the way, we're taking image processing now. So, uh, we, we actually launched a cargo camera and we do machine learning against the images coming back.
So now I can tell you if it's loaded correctly before you hook to it, I can actually tell you that it's probably subject to a cargo damage, by the way, it was loaded. I can actually tell you how to unload it. So you think about, you know, I used to work on it on a dock, right? You, the trailer comes in, you open the trailer door up and it looks like a gorilla got loose.
Right? You was like, what happened? Well, we can tell you what happened. And we could probably tell you where it happened. And by the way, we have sensors. Now that can go on the pallet level. So I can tell you the vibe, the shock, the temp, the humidity at the pallet level for a lot less money than, you know, again, before you can even do it.
Now we can do it. We can do it economically. And so you bring the visual data and all the, what I call sensory data. And you think about, I kind of think these systems like the human being, right. It's like. The machine learning and the system processing is the cerebral cortex. I mean, it's the brain. And basically the nervous system that's bringing all that information back is really the wireless systems that we have today.
You know, the four G three G four G five G is going to enable all that data to come back and, you know, literary without machine learning right now, without those kinds of capabilities, it would just end data overload. You know, you wouldn't be able to do the corollary information. So it's taking all that data back.
And then again, are we helping people drive decisions? You know, if you're not, I always say this. So what, you know, it's like with my team, it's like, okay, a great report. So what it's like, you know, it's like, what is the information helping an operator do the yard manager, uh, you know, the dock manager, what's the shift report, you know, when you get a shift report, it's like, so what.
With a good shift or a bad shift, you know, what would I change? What are the best practices to be gleaned? And what's nice now is with our analytics platforms. And by the way you are for SAP, we actually do a lot of work with SAP, uh, combining our analytics data with the data coming out of SAP, like a Caterpillar plants.
And, uh, we can actually tell people that, Hey, here's how many pallets you've moved, but because we're on the forklift, we can actually tell you if you moved them safely. So we actually have customers like Proctor and gamble and Nestle that incentivize our operators and their managers based on not only productivity, but safely being productive, which I think is that's what this technology allows us to do, you know, combine things and make it more meaningful to humankind.
That's impressive. I'm curious though, because I mean, you, you talked about things like image recognition and having cameras and sensors and figuring things out like that. And I know that the cost curve of these things is coming down and you mentioned other things like motion sensors and heat sensors and things like that.
And they're obviously a lot cheaper than, than cameras today. Uh, and you know, all these things are on a curve and trending in one direction, but. I guess the question I'm trying to get to is motion. GPS. Temperature are. You know, they're, they're getting they're cheap and getting cheaper all the time. Still the image analysis stuff, and the cameras are still quite expensive.
I have to think you correct me if I'm wrong. And so I'm wondering where they are kind of in the curve of deployment, which industries are using, which more, how does, how does all of that play out? 
That's kind of interesting because internally here at powerfleet, we integrate with a lot of different camera technology forward facing rearward facing, and there's a lot of players in the market right now.
That's a pretty crowded space. Um, but a lot of customers are demanding, uh, basically camera technology, even though it's still expensive, uh, even on the forklifts. You know, they want cameras and by the way, they want three 60 cameras, which means, you know, four cameras. Yeah. Just one in the front side, some back.
Cause if you think about the second leading, uh, place for industrial accidents is, you know, like in the facility, by forklift and the trialing equipment, it's always driving backwards. Typically you're getting run over somebody whose foot or leg. Uh, we actually have safety equipment that goes along with our product, like sideline or lights, so that, you know, by the way, if you see the light on your leg, you might want to move to that kind of thing, but getting back to cameras, uh, and like whether or not you're in cab, whether or not you're in car or whether that you're in, uh, like on a forklift, uh, there's a lot of demand for camera technology, even at a higher price.
Now, getting back to our camera, which is looking at the freight, uh, literally you're talking $750. So, and it'll last over five years. So it's like, you know, this, it's not that expensive. And by the way, with all the data that you can get from it, like before your driver hooks up, wouldn't it be nice? You know, it's supposed to be an empty trailer, but somebody is using it for, you know, like.
You know, basically pallets and stuff. Right? So he hooks up, goes down the road. He thinks he's got an empty trailer and all of a sudden, you just wasted four hours of time. Cause when they opened it up, they got the unloaded or he has to take the trailer back. He got the wrong trailer. Uh, so our technology actually helps with all that.
Yeah, just making sure the driver's getting a right trailer that has no tire inflation issues. It has no tail light issues and it's loaded correctly. 
Are there some industries that use this more than others or some regions that use this more than others? How does it break out that way? 
It's kind of interesting in the United States because my company is global by the way.
So we have operations around the globe. Uh, and it does vary, but I would say that in the logistics segment, you have private fleets and they, they have like a closed loop, uh, logistics. Right. You know, it's like from a Depot, they go to store support, come back. Uh, so they actually have a different use case, but they all need basically an in-cab system.
And they all care about safety, especially private fleets, because their name is, you know, like Walmart, you know, it's like their name was on that trailer going down the street. Right. So like, they want to make sure they have, and they, by the way, they probably pay their drivers the best in the industry.
Right. I mean, they, you know, if you want to be a Walmart driver, you want to be a public driver, you know, that kind of thing. So again, private fleets have a specific kind of network that they operate. And so they typically have to have, uh, you know, something in there to make sure they're getting the loads to the stores on time.
And, uh, they might do some back haul to actually, you know, usually the equipment. So if you're doing back hauls. And, you know, with your trucks to utilize them more effectively, like going to a supplier to bring it back to the Depot. Um, you know, that's where it's really nice to know. Hey, is a trailer really empty?
You know, is it, you know, maybe one store didn't take the freight off or maybe he got delayed and he couldn't do it well, there's still freight on that trailer. So it's not, he's not the optimal person to go pick up that other load in the, over the road segment. Uh, again, that segment's been, you know, kind of the pioneers of implementing technology.
If you think about the Schneiders, the JB hunch, the Werners the creates, you know, I there's a whole, you know, And a lot of these are great customers of mine. And, uh, they've been already implemented in cab and a lot of them have implemented trailer and container tracking and, uh, you know, and now they're implementing chassis tracking and all that.
But because of the network change going on right now for three G to five G a lot of people have to refresh, you know? And so are you going to refresh with just the box that beeps, or are you going to refresh with a platform that you can like Legos add to. Over time. And that's where we position ourselves as we're a platform, you know, we're, we're a platform that you can do a lot more with, but we can also do the basics, that kind of thing.
Okay. And I mean, you, you mentioned, uh, near the outset about people using checklists for COVID-19, how has COVID-19 impacted your business and, and your customer's business and what kind of changes have you seen happening there? Apart from that? 
Yeah, again, it's varied across the globe, by the way, just a little side note, all this data that we get activity data across the planet.
We we've actually been able to see the trends of when COVID-19 hit various geographies and various segments of the industry. We could actually see the industry shutting down, you know, whether or not you're in distribution, whether or not you're in retail, whether or not you're in heavy manufacturing, we could actually see them shut down over time.
By geography, which is really interesting. So our analytics team now is showing us what's coming back like Israel, they opened there, they're about a month ahead of us. Right. And there are almost a pre COVID-19 levels, which gives us hope. Right. And the United States was kind of on that same, uh, well, it's a little bit more disjointed because the States are opening, you know, different ways.
Right. But you're actually seeing that. You know, different segments are opening at different rates of speed, but we can actually see it in the data. Now, getting back to your question, what was the hardest hit, obviously, automotive heavy manufacturing. If you, if you were in food and grocery distribution, I had mentioned some of my customers are right.
Uh, they were just doing gangbusters, right? Walgreens couldn't keep enough stuff on the shelf, a Walmart Publix, you know, but if you were supplying the restaurant industry, You know, all this sudden, boom, you know, your business just went off the rails and then the same with the, you know, manufacturing, car manufacturing, uh, one of my customers, again, it's not really a supply chain is Avis, you know, think about Abrams, you know, the whole, you know, and entertainment, industry, travel and entertainment.
Uh, you know, they lost almost a 70% of their business in three weeks. But also all those associated businesses that were also impacted. Right. So it's just, and then if we saw, I don't know if facility shutting down, so a lot of it. You know, we're again on the dock and, uh, you know, they just shut down, especially if they were in the heavy, you know, like engine manufacturing, car, car parts, et cetera.
So is there any way that your software can help your customers? 
And you would say COVID-19 with the whole of coronavirus pandemic, but it's kind of interesting, like in Israel we kind of use Israel as our tech technical hub. Right. But we do have big operations in Israel, uh, and there's kind of a Greenfield opportunity for us because it's a small geography.
And you can actually roll things out there pretty quickly. Uh, you know, cause again, you don't have 50 States and 50 regulations to, you know, figure it out. Um, and so what's interesting. We, we deployed a couple of things during COBIT in Israel, you know, 4,000 defibrillators, you know, that are mounted and monitored.
Okay. Now, again, that's not a supply chain, but, uh, we, but those are tied to, uh, Mata, which is the emergency response group in Israel. And at the same time we view we've already, we're already in their ambulances, right. We're already in the medical response teams and you can actually see where our technologies can help.
You know, like, let's say you were in a truck accident, you know, In Israel, we can actually automatically say, Hey, we know the vehicles in an accident. You don't have to have the driver hit a panic button or whatever. It's like, we can automatically detect that and send it to Mada. And Monica can respond immediately.
So, you know, you're not the Daisy chain of people that you have to call. If you're a driver in trouble is a lot shorter over there. Uh, there's a lot of use cases like that. Um, they were, uh, Evacuations or putting people like we have a buses over there that we monitor specifically for evacuation for things like COVID-19.
So again, if you think about it in our scenario, in the logistics space, and one other thing I'll mention too is, um, you know, how ventilators we couldn't, that we couldn't get ventilators around, uh, Well, we could put ventilators in a approval, just like the Mata example. The ventilators could be in a pool, all tracked and as COVID comes back or COVID 20, you know, Hey, you know, hope that those would happen.
We can actually move ventilators more quickly in a, in a pool environment. And you think about pool use, even in logistics, um, like trailers in the United States. There's still a big issue to me with. You know, just way too many trailers and containers for the amount of freight being moved. And the problem with that is we don't really pool them well.
And if we don't share those assets well enough across companies, and you could easily do that now with the technology that's available. 
Cool., post Covid 19, when, you know, a year or two years, time vaccines have been rolled out to everyone and things are starting to get back to whatever becomes the new abnormal or the new normal.
Uh, how do you, how do you see that working for you guys? 
Well, it's interesting. We, I think we're going to be on the leading edge of the comeback and companies like mine. You know, you look at logistics, you know, that's really the heart of supply chain and logistics. It's kind of a chicken and an egg, is it demand driven or supply driven?
Right. You know, it's like certain chains, like without parts, you can't build cars, right. So you have to, you know, start getting the supply chains up and running the pieces parts. And that's where, like in the United States we could use more government help, you know, because sometimes you have to, you know, visually.
Put some gas in the engine, they get it going in certain areas. Right. And so it's like, you know, we can get the parts, people back up and running, feeding, you know, pre, before feeding the plants to build the cars. Right. So that's just, I think that's going to be kind of a, what do we call choppy? Starting here.
Another thing, like in the food, food, distribution area, it's a huge area of opportunity because we're very specialized there. So, you know, we have people that build, you know, create bulk, right. You know, like I ship in bulk to Disney world, you know, like 9 million hamburgers a year or whatever. It's like.
That bulk can't be shipped to a store or a grocery store. So it's like the reason you're running out of certain things in the store, or, you know, they're thinking about slaughtering, millions of pigs is because those people were all suppliers, you know, they didn't have the processing capability or even the shipping capability to say, Hey, I need to go to the consumer level.
And I think even that's another opportunity for us as a supply chain global supply chain and say, Hey. If we have to re architect our supply chain in real time. Yeah, how do we move things around so that we can move, you know, five bag, you know, potato processing over to a person that's used to doing 50, you know, 50 gallon, uh, type of capacity.
So it's like, I think that as a, as a complete supply chain, uh, group, uh, you know, we, we ought to focus on. 
Nice. We're at kind of the 20 minute mark, just as a past it. Uh, so we're onto the last question on that is basically, is there anything that I haven't asked you that you think I should have? Is there any topics that we haven't touched on that you think would be useful for people to know about?
I think if anything, I would say that. When you look at your operations specifically in the United States, but it's happening everywhere. Okay. So the regulations are being put in place for a reason, which was these like the over the road segment, you know, keeping the drivers safe, keeping, you know, the other drivers safe on the road.
Uh, number one. But what that did is I don't think people really thought through the cause and effect of that. So it's like, okay, now you restricted driver time. A lot of the drivers, like in the U S get paid by the mile. Right. So, yeah. It's his time is critical. He doesn't want to be stuck at a shipper constantly yard for et cetera.
And so. Look for technology, not the problem's gone to the yard, you know, you got, you got to get people scheduled, you have to get them in and out. You got to make sure they hook up to the right trailer, getting my point earlier, you have to make sure that that forklift, you know, and like that is being optimized to load the trailer, unload the trailer.
Cause it's all about. Get these drivers in and out so they can get back to work. And I, I do think that our technologies allow people to do that. Uh, because now we, we shine a light on that part of the supply chain that is now all of a sudden the problem. Right. You know, we do over the road, but it's like, and that's not necessarily the problem.
I mean, it's, it's still always going to be something that could be optimized. Well, you know, like a whack, a mole I'm in the, it's now in the yard. It's cause drivers right now. And by the way, COVID-19 is impacting there too. Cause you don't want drivers queuing up and having to go use the shipper facilities, whatever, because they can't get in and get out.
Right. You know, the drivers don't necessarily want to just sit around and you know, like a shipper yard or constantly yard or at a port or whatever. So of course that's where we need to focus on velocity. 
Cool. Chris has been brilliant. Thanks for coming on the show. If people want to know more
about yourself, about power fleet or anything else like that, where would you have me direct them?
Yeah. www.powerfleet.com. It's the easiest place they can contact us the contact there. Uh, then I'm on LinkedIn as well. So anybody that wants to hook up, uh, feel free. 
Fantastic. Chris. That's been brilliant. Thanks a million for coming on the show today. 
Thank you, Tom. 
Okay, we've come to the end of the show.
Thanks everyone for listening. 
If you'd like to know more about 
digital supply chains, head on over to sap.com/digital supply chain, or simply drop me an email 
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