We recently sat down with James Langley, president of Trimble Transportation, to get his thoughts on where the industry is headed, his new role and what excites him most about the future of transportation.
Q: You have been in the transportation industry for more than 25 years. How did your career in transportation begin?
I worked my way through college with a job at UPS. While I was in school, I got stuck in my major in Computer Information Systems due to work schedule conflicts. I didn’t want to stay in school forever, so I walked down to the head of the Transportation and Logistics program, and he promised to work with my schedule to help me balance work and school. As I was finishing my senior year, I had the opportunity to go work for JB Hunt. They gave me great exposure to their entire business, working in a wide range of departments to really give me an appreciation of the complexities of the transportation industry as a whole.
Q: You previously worked with Trimble’s TMW Systems. What brought you to the technology side initially and what encouraged you to come back?
I was approached by Trimble’s TMW Systems. Then-President Dave Wangler said to me: “before you go to work for another trucking company and solve an individual company’s problems, why don’t you come help us work to solve an entire industry’s problems instead?” That idea really appealed to me, and I was fortunate to eventually lead the Business Intelligence and Optimization teams within TMW Systems.
This was the best job I ever had, but with kids in middle and high school, the travel demands made it difficult for me to be as home as often as I would like. I made the choice to join Eagan, Minnesota-based Dart Transit as COO and was eventually promoted to President, which was an incredible experience. Three of my kids are in college now, and the youngest is a junior at Eagan High School. She is very actively involved with school and community functions and has a driver’s license, so we are lucky to see her on nights and weekends. I had the opportunity to come back to Trimble, initially as general manager of the Transportation Enterprise division and continue on in what Dave Wangler mentioned several years earlier: applying technology to solve an industry’s problems.
Q: Are the industry’s challenges the same since you got started in transportation more than 25 years ago?
When you work on the technology side, you look at many different transportation companies and you begin to see patterns. What generally works? What generally does not work? Even though companies might vary in areas like modes of transport, lengths of haul, verticals they serve – there are some patterns that repeat themselves among successful companies.
I am centered around five key pillars of transportation challenges: asset utilization, mitigating maintenance, reducing fuel expenses, managing driver constraints and designing and yield managing your freight network. If you do those five things well, you tend to be a successful asset-based transportation company. Of course, you have to be safe and take care of customers, also.
Q: What has been the biggest change in the industry from where it is today compared to when you began your career?
While the key transportation challenges are largely the same, what’s really changed recently is this perfect storm of eCommerce driving supply chain disruption, regulation (ELD), and movement towards cloud-based solutions. Up until recently, you didn’t have Amazon Prime creating this culture of instant gratification. People want things in their hands right now and shippers have to dynamically change how they do business. As a shipper recently pointed out to me, not everything moves that way but enough things move that way to cause people to shop around for items more than they ever have before.
The need to have product closer to the end consumer and more nimbly provide capacity to get things in people’s hands changes everything in the way we, as an industry, do business. This requires better and more actionable data to provide more collaboration and to optimize the movement of freight. This combination of buyer behavior, regulation, and shift towards cloud-based technology has attracted a lot of financial investment to our industry.
Q: What makes Trimble unique in providing this actionable data?
Trimble has a connection between deep domain knowledge and innovation. Trimble started off as a company of innovation and engineering, a company that “builds cool stuff.” Trimble President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Berglund has connected that innovation with domain knowledge to transform entire industries.
When you look at transportation, we are connected to 1.3 million trucks and are more deeply connected to these assets than anyone in the industry, from our telematics solutions, enterprise solutions, analytics solutions, Optimization and Visibility. When these are all combined, we have access to more of that data than anyone else. If you want to go change an industry, it starts with understanding the business, and we are connected to more of that business than anyone else.
Q: How has technology adoption within the transportation industry changed in recent years?
Customer demands are forcing everyone to embrace technology. What is changing, too, is that transportation companies are starting to understand that while they do some things really well, they don’t need to be the best at everything. There is a more openness to outsource, partner or connect with expertise in other ways.
The movement, now more than ever, is: I am going to do what I do best, I am going to execute my transportation business, I am going to understand that business and optimize that business to deliver for my customers, but I am going to partner with others to fill in those technology gaps. Even larger, more sophisticated fleets with sizeable IT departments recognize that they have limited resources and need to focus on their core competencies to be successful.
Q: What excites you most about your new role?
I am excited about how the industry is starting to embrace the power of data. The demand for collaboration and optimization of our industry creates tremendous opportunities for all of us. There are more devices and assets that are connected than ever before, and we are uniquely positioned to leverage it all.
Our transportation customers realize that they have to fundamentally disrupt themselves and connect to this growing world of technology. There has never been a better time to put it all together to have a truly innovative data strategy to connect. Trimble is dedicated to helping customers collaborate and optimize in a way that they have never been able to before, which is why I am excited that Thomas Fansler (former president of Trimble Transportation) is leading Trimble’s efforts for connected innovation through data and data science.
Q: You aren’t the are the only Langley with a deep transportation background, with three of your brothers also in the industry. How did the Langley family get into transportation?
Between the four of us, we have a combined 99 years of transportation industry experience.
It started off by our family being located in Northwest Arkansas, which is home to a number of large fleets. While each of us has spent significant time in the industry, we have all focused on different aspects of it. One brother has focused on technology and held executive positions in IT. Another has done everything from non-asset logistics to dedicated contract services. The third brother has spent most of his time in asset maintenance and held VP level positions at large carriers. I have been very fortunate over the years, because I can reach out to each of them to get their feedback and advice.