Commtrex Weekly Digest – Ask The Experts – August 23, 2020

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter into the logistics and/or rail industry? What advice should they ignore?

Our industry is in the beginning stages of a tremendous technological transformation. I have 2 recommendations for preparing yourself to thrive in the logistics industry of the future.

  1. Have some technical proficiency. Your specific technical training will need to evolve as technology changes throughout your career. But some initial technical skills and experience will prepare you to understand how data is organized and how different technologies can exchange information with each other.
  2. Develop your soft skills. Automation will change or replace many jobs, but people working together to solve problems will remain central to how this industry operates. Technology will help you make faster, better decisions, but cannot replace good customer relationship management.

– Lindsay English

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Commtrex Weekly Digest – Ask The Experts -August 19, 2020

With 98.8% of route miles now PTC complete, have you found Positive Train Control to be a positive or negative mandate for the railroads?

PTC was mandated for safety reasons, so from that perspective, it has met its mandate.

A side benefit of PTC is that the railways now have a greater visibility to and better timeliness of their operational data. How each railway leverages this information to make improvements for the network and the customers will be the ultimate test of PTC’s value, from my perspective.

– Lindsay English

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Commtrex Weekly Digest – Ask The Experts – July 29, 2020

How is your company responding to the increase in COVID-19 cases?

Our company, and myself personally, take COVID-19 very seriously. We are taking measures to support our employees in all of our global locations to work from home while supporting our customers remotely for an extended period of time. And we have actually found some business process improvements along the way.

See more on what we’re doing in my NEARS Virtual Conference presentation below.

(this was linked to my presentation, which is accessible via this youtube link:

– Lindsay English

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Commtrex Weekly Digest – Ask The Experts – July 23, 2020

Do you personally know anyone who has COVID-19? If so, how severe are the symptoms and have they recovered?

Unfortunately, I do. Our Rochester, MI, team member Julianna and her fiancé Avery had a very serious experience with COVID.

Avery is an EMT, so they expected him to eventually catch the virus during his front-line work. But as a healthy 37-year-old with no underlying medical conditions, they assumed he was not considered “high risk”.

Avery did indeed contract COVID in late March. His symptoms progressed quickly and severely:

  • Week 1: Avery developed a rash, then loss of vision in one eye, followed by shortness of breath and lost sense of smell.
  • Week 2: Julianna also began to experience COVID symptoms while her fiancée’s condition worsened. Avery was hospitalized with a blood oxygen saturation of 83% (it should be 98%).
  • Week 3: Avery was placed in a medically induced coma and put on a ventilator. His condition was not improving.
  • Week 4: Julianna, while still extremely sick herself and unable to visit the hospital, advocated for Avery to be put on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine, which essentially does the work of the heart and lungs when the body cannot oxygenate blood on its own. ECMO machine parts are in short supply, and the patient must be put on the ECMO within 7 days of the ventilator for the treatment to work. Avery was put on the ECMO on day 6. The process itself is horrific, as a tube must be placed through the jugular vein in the neck and threaded through the aorta into the heart.
  • Weeks 4-7: Avery was on the ventilator, ECMO, central line, feeding tube, and additional IVs – physically paralyzed, but not fully unconscious, although the doctors were giving him more than the safe limit of sedation medication. He was in a constant state of physiological fight-or-flight, causing his heart rate to skyrocket and his oxygen saturation to plummet over and over. He experienced night terrors where he feared for his life but was unable to move. From what Julianna could deduce from her own research and discussions with the nurses, Avery was NOT on a positive trajectory.
  • Weeks 7-8: One doctor decided to try an untested drug combination, and Avery was finally stabilized to a point where he could open his eyes. In the following days, he regained a small amount of motor and respiratory functions.
  • Week 9: Julianna was able to visit her fiancée for the first time since he was hospitalized. He was discharged 3 weeks later.

Although nowhere near fully recovered, Julianna and Avery decided to finally set a date for their wedding. They were married June 26, 3 months after their COVID battle began, at the Beaumont Royal Oak Hospital as a tribute to the medical team that saved their lives. One of the nurses was their best man. The story was covered by local news station WDTV.

I want to thank Julianna and Avery for letting me share their very personal and terrifying story with the Commtrex community. They hope their story helps “encourage people to realize that anyone can get it, and there’s no way to predict if you’ll live or die from it. Statistically, younger people are in less danger, but statistics are cold comfort when you’ve got to brace yourself to ask your fiancé’s father if he wants his son buried next to his son’s mother.”

– Lindsay English

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Commtrex Weekly Digest – Ask The Experts – July 1, 2020

What 3 technology resources do you spend the most time using?

  1. Our own software! We do not “sell” our software, we offer it as a service. So it’s critical that we proactively manage our system and data quality. If I am not in the system on a daily basis just like my customers are, I won’t see the opportunities to improve the product for them.
  2. LinkedIn. It is even more valuable now that in-person networking events are on hold. I have really enjoyed keeping the conversation going about freight rail and supply chain tech online. Virtual meeting technology to take those online conversations “face to face” has become part of my daily routine.
  3. Fitbit. I’m relying more on the nudge notifications, like reminders to get up and move every hour, while working from home. I love that I don’t have to download a bunch of data to look at my health patters, the built-in analytics do this for me. Our professional lives need to catch up to what we’re already doing in our personal life — ask Alexa or Siri what a railcar’s ETA is, receive a nudge for railcars not moving to plan, or pull up fleet analytics on your mobile device (or watch!) without touching a spreadsheet.

– Lindsay English

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Commtrex Weekly Digest – Ask The Experts – June 30, 2020

What technology initiatives would provide the greatest impact for your business?

Developing rail industry standards.

There’s a ton of investment right now — new hardware (drones, GPS data from ELDs on trucks, remote monitoring units on railcars/containers), and new mediums (APIs replacing EDI, for example). And with new data science methods, including AI and Machine Learning, there is potential to derive meaningful insights from all the new transportation data. If every carrier/shipper/technology provider creates their own data formats and standards for what these data points represent and how they are triggered, there will be a significant workload to harmonize the data between all the logistics providers handling a shipment. These costs will ultimately be paid by the shipper, either directly or through increased cost to implement technology. As an industry, we should be working toward making it easier not harder, to do business by rail (vs other modes). The implementation of new technologies is an opportunity to correct some of these problems and set the path for our future, but only if our efforts are collaborative.

– Lindsay English

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Commtrex Weekly Digest – Ask The Experts – June 25, 2020

How important is data when making operational and commercial decisions for your company?

We practice continuous improvement, which means we rely heavily on data to quantify and resolve problems, both operational and commercial.

We research a problem using both qualitative data (speaking with frontline team members about their experience with that problem and any ideas they have to resolve it) and quantitative data (time spent manually resolving the recurring problem).

We can then test different solutions to the problem, measure the impact of each solution, and implement the best solution at scale elsewhere in the company.

If we didn’t conduct our day-to-day work in a measurable way, we would not be able to “test” solutions and would be more averse to change. We don’t know future outcomes for certain, but data and small-scale testing can help us make an informed prediction.

– Lindsay English

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Commtrex Weekly Digest – Ask The Experts – June 9, 2020

What piece of advice have you received in your career that has had the most impact?

Someone once told me to spend more time listening than talking, because people will tell you things you could never imagine to ask them about. I’m continuously trying new approaches for open-ended conversations, to better understand the “why” behind what I’m being told.

I learn something new from my business partners every day!

Lindsay English

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Commtrex Weekly Digest – Ask the Experts – May 27, 2020

Are there any initiatives or projects that you are considering executing now, that you did not execute pre-COVID-19?

This pause in out-of-office activities has been an opportunity for us to re-examine our product and how we can improve it for our customers. We are implementing improvements to our ETA algorithms, enhanced business analytics, new technologies to automate workflows, and a new customer support and ticketing system. We also have additional initiatives underway related to new technologies and ease of use enhancements. This is a result of our ongoing engagement with customers and business partners via video conferencing and online channels such as virtual events. Although how (and where!) many of us do our work has changed, the need to access accurate, real-time insights about rail shipments has not.

-Lindsay English

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