SEKO's Vice President of Marketing, Brian Bourke, recently joined us to discuss how the remarkably efficient organization is using technology to ensure their customers' satisfaction, and, consequently, their own sustainability.
- Give me a brief overview of SEKO.
SEKO provides web-based technology solutions with integrated logistics services to mid-sized and major multinational companies with 60 U.S. locations and 120 facilities around the globe. In addition to air freight, ocean freight, ground transportation, warehousing, order fulfillment, or any combination of these services, SEKO also provides Software as a Service (SaaS) such as TMS, PO Management, WMS and eCommerce solutions in order to enable our customers to use their supply chains as competitive differentiators.
- How has SEKO evolved over the years to become such an IT-centric organization?
SEKO has always been very IT-focused. Technology has been part of our DNA almost from day one. Our CEO, Bill Wascher, started out at SEKO as head of IT and finance--which was pretty unique at the time. He knows seven programming languages and even wrote the code for our operating system. We've always been ahead of the curve.
In 1997, SEKO was sold to another company that wasn't very tech savvy. Bill and two partners re-acquired SEKO in 2002 and rebuilt it from scratch using Microsoft.net, which is the foundation for everything we do. It's such a robust and customizable platform, and it's powerful--so powerful we were able to deploy it globally. This is a differentiator for us because, to operate globally, most of our competitors are using legacy systems or making patchwork, "Band-Aid" connections.
It's been a 30-year process to get to where we are today, but it's been a natural evolution — proactive technological solutions coupled with responses to customer needs.
- Your customers' supply chains look much different today than a decade ago. Can you talk a little about how your IT solutions have benefitted them as e-commerce has become a more significant part of their businesses?
Sure. Ten years ago, e-commerce occupied about 5 percent of a retailer's business. Today it's more like 40 percent. This has forced companies to retool their supply chains as they consider how to manage and protect brand integrity through various sales channels. Regardless of how an order is placed, customers expect the same brand and same quality.
Enter SEKO's Omni Channel Logistics solution. Instead of investing capital expenditures into warehouses and equipment, they outsource that function to SEKO and use SEKO facilities. We offer global fulfillment, global delivery management, and e-commerce development and design. We allow our customers to focus their attention where it should be—on their brand and sales—while we integrate with their sales order management systems and deliver products anywhere.
- What excites/delights your customers about your IT offerings?
I get to go out on sales calls, so I get to see those moments where people's jaws hit the floor. Omni Channel Logistics is very impressive to people but, many times, they react to some of our basic tools. Like our calendar. We've developed a user-friendly tool that allows customers to monitor 100 percent of their shipments, whether air, ocean, or ground. That sounds basic, but shipments get complicated quickly. Our customers appreciate that they don't need advanced education in logistics management to understand where and when their shipments will be arriving. Another item that excites customers is that our tools are easily exported into Excel; businesses love spreadsheets, and Excel is still highly used in supply chain management. Rather than fight that, we embrace it.
- You have a number of IT solutions outlined on your website. Tell me about one or two of your biggest differentiators.
In the medical technology world, it's often necessary to demonstrate products to prove their value. Inventory management becomes critical. You could have 100 sales reps around the country needing these products to demonstrate, and the financial implications are significant. We use our warehouse management system methodology to track inventory on behalf of these companies, only the entire world is our warehouse.
We have access to SEKO warehouses around the country so that, if a sales rep needs a product in New York tomorrow, we can send it from our location in Connecticut. We track it, control the inventory location, and then ensure it's ready to go back out again. Sometimes, these products are accompanied by various accessories which can be difficult for companies to manage. Our systems will perform "kitting" when the demo unit arrives back to our warehouse. Through this process, we make sure all accessories are accounted for. Missing accessories can be collected by communicating with the appropriate sales associate to find the missing piece and restore it. This service alone helps control accessories and saves customers thousands—even millions—of dollars in inventory.
- Can you give me an example of one of your technologies in action/how you've helped a specific customer?
Our store development services are a great example. Let's say a company is planning to open a location in three months. We can cut that back to two months while saving them transportation costs. That gives them four additional sales week in their first year—critical to their bottom line.
We do this by tracking inventory down to the purchase order item and SKU level for all fixtures, hangers, and other pieces coming into a store. Then we make sure all product is shipped to one central SEKO warehouse. We wait until all product has arrived, and then we send a single truckload of everything the company needs. The items are sequenced and prioritized for easy placement at the precise time it's needed. We optimize everything for the retailer.
- What advice would you give to a company that would like to invest in technology but is reluctant to do so because of the expense?
Technology is a considerable investment. One consideration is outsourcing. You can pay as you go on a per-order or a per-user basis. It eliminates a lot of headaches for organizations.