INTERACTIVE SESSION: TECHNOLOGY
UPS Competes Globally with Information Technology
United Parcel Service (UPS) started out in 1907 in a closet-sized basement office. Jim Casey and Claude Ryan—two teenagers from Seattle with two bicycles and one phone—promised the “best service and lowest rates.” UPS has used this formula successfully for more than a century to become the world’s largest ground and air package-distribution company. It is a global enterprise with more than 400,000 employees, 92,000 vehicles, and the world’s eighth largest airline.
Today, UPS delivers more than 15 million parcels and documents each day in the United States and more than 200 other countries and territories. The firm has been able to maintain leadership in small-package delivery services despite stiff competition from FedEx and Airborne Express by investing heavily in advanced information technology. UPS spends more than $1 billion each year to maintain a high level of customer service while keeping costs low and streamlining its overall operations. It all starts with the scannable bar-coded label attached to a package, which contains detailed information about the sender, the destination, and when the package should arrive. Customers can download and print their own labels using special software provided by UPS or by accessing the UPS Web site. Before the package is even picked up, information from the “smart” label is transmitted to one of UPS’s computer centers in Mahwah, New Jersey, or Alpharetta, Georgia and sent to the distribution center nearest its final destination. Dispatchers at this center download the label data and use special software to create the most efficient delivery route for each driver that considers traffic, weather conditions, and the location of each stop. UPS estimates its delivery trucks saved 28 million miles and 3 million gallons of fuel in 2006 compared to the year before as a result of using this technology. The first thing a UPS driver picks up each day is a handheld computer called a Delivery Information Acquisition Device (DIAD), which can access one of the wireless networks cell phones rely on. As soon as the driver logs on, his or her day’s route is downloaded onto the handheld. The DIAD also automatically captures customers’ signatures along with pickup and delivery information. Package tracking information is then transmitted to UPS’s computer network for storage and processing. From there, the information can be accessed worldwide to provide proof of delivery to customers or to respond to customer queries. It usually takes less than 60 seconds from the time a driver presses “complete” on the DIAD for the new information to be available on the Web. Through its automated package tracking system, UPS can monitor and even re-route packages throughout the delivery process. At various points along the route from sender to receiver, bar code devices scan shipping information on the package label and feed data about the progress of the package into the central computer. Customer service representatives are able to check the status of any package from desktop computers linked to the central computers and respond immediately to inquiries from customers. UPS customers can also access this information from the company’s Web site using their own computers or wireless devices.
Anyone with a package to ship can access the UPS Web site to track packages, check delivery routes, calculate shipping rates, determine time in transit, print labels, and schedule a pickup. The data collected at the UPS Web site are transmitted to the UPS central computer and then back to the customer after processing. UPS also provides tools that enable customers, such Cisco Systems, to embed UPS functions, such as tracking and cost calculations, into their own Web sites so that they can track shipments without visiting the UPS site. UPS is now leveraging its decades of expertise managing its own global delivery network to manage logistics and supply-chain management for other companies. It created a UPS Supply Chain Solutions division that provides a complete bundle of standardized services to subscribing companies at a fraction of what it would cost to build their own systems and infrastructure. These services include supply-chain design and management, freight forwarding, customs brokerage, mail services, multimodal transportation, and financial services, in addition to logistics services. Hired Hand Technologies, a Bremen, Alabama based manufacturer of agricultural and horticultural equipment, uses UPS Freight services not only to track shipments but also to build its weekly manufacturing plans. UPS provides up-to-the-minute information about exactly when parts are arriving within 20 seconds.
CASE STUDY QUESTIONS
1. What are the inputs, processing, and outputs of UPS’s package tracking system?
2. What technologies are used by UPS? How are these technologies related to UPS’s business model and business objectives?
3. What problems do UPS’s information systems solve? What would happen if these systems were not available?
MIS IN ACTION
Explore the UPS Web site (www.ups.com) and answer the following questions:
1. What kind of information and services does the Web site provide for individuals, small businesses, and large businesses? List these services and write several paragraphs describing one of them, such as UPS Trade Direct or Automated Shipment Processing. Explain how you or your business would benefit from the service.
2. Explain how the Web site helps UPS achieve some or all of the strategic business objectives we described earlier in this chapter. What would be the impact on UPS’s business if this Web site were not available?