Long-standing success requires innovative thinking
As supply chain demands become more complex, the key to success lies in the ability to think creatively and solve problems in innovative ways. At ArcBest, innovation isn’t just a buzzword. We’ve assembled a team that’s passionate about being on the leading edge to help our customers navigate their supply chain challenges now and in the future.
While we’ve always had a spirit of creativity and innovation, in 2022, ArcBest Technologies formalized the Innovation Management and Strategy team as a part of our mission to connect and positively impact the world through solving logistics challenges. With the creation of this team, we’re focused on continuously growing and adapting to a changing industry.
How our Innovation Management and Strategy team approaches strategic innovation
As an integrated logistics company with a focus on our customers, innovation is core to executing ArcBest’s strategy. We encourage our employees to invest time into thinking and challenging the ways things have always been done. The Innovation Management and Strategy team helps address gaps in achieving ArcBest’s long-term strategy, while also working towards innovation that benefits customers and enables the company to stay agile in a fast-paced, shifting industry.
As a result, we continually develop solutions that help solve our customers’ most pressing challenges and move the global supply chain forward.
Michael Newcity, Chief Innovation Officer at ArcBest and President of ArcBest Technologies, explained the company’s pragmatic approach to innovation: “The pace of change in our industry and the complexity of the logistics landscape can create significant challenges for our customers. It’s our goal to make this complex system more accessible to those who are using it. To do this, we continuously listen to our customers to understand their needs, and then we empower our people — the brightest and most talented in the industry — to develop solutions and innovative technologies that create operational efficiencies and make it easier to do business.”
The Innovation Management and Strategy team focuses on these areas at the heart of our innovation strategy:
- Internal ideation
- External ideation
- Monetization strategy
- Venture capital (VC) strategy
ArcBest Technologies’ project management and financial management functions also reside within the broader Innovation Management and Strategy function.
Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Giving our people the space and time needed to ideate and test those ideas is critical to serving our company and customers well. “Team members in all areas of the company have wonderful ideas, but finding a pathway to integration was a roadblock in the past,” said Kevin Yoder, Vice President of Innovation Management and Strategy at ArcBest Technologies. “Several years ago, we put a process in motion that began enabling collaboration across the organization, allowing us to reach out to other departments and discover and implement solutions that make a difference both internally and in our customers’ businesses.”
One shining example of this is Vaux™, revolutionary freight movement technology that ArcBest launched in early 2023, transforming how freight is loaded and unloaded inside warehouses, on docks and over the road. The idea for this technology came from one of our people, we built and tested it at our own facilities, and today it is available for use in customer locations.
Other ways our people participate in internal ideation include:
Our Innovation Lab provides a space for employees to experiment with hardware and software that helps guide decisions on implementing technology into our business and network. Our innovation teams use the lab to test devices such as 3D printers and VR (Virtual Reality) headsets and to research and explore other emerging technologies.
At our 235,000-square-foot Innovation Warehouse, our team of robotics engineers, mechanical engineers, fabricators, research and development analysts, engineers and data scientists test technology in a space that simulates our customers’ unique warehouse environments — enabling us to create solutions that meet their most critical needs.
What began in 2019 as a hackathon has transitioned into an annual ideation competition called ArcBest Imagine. This event is one of the company’s best outlets for mining new initiatives. It brings together teams from all areas of ArcBest to collaborate and present ideas and solutions that have the potential to enhance business operations. Each year, the competition focuses on a different challenge.
In 2022, teams worked through issues surrounding Environmental, Social and Governance practices. One group tackled the problem of waste created at company events, proposing recycling solutions. Through cross-departmental collaboration, we implemented a partnership with Food Loops, a local food waste recycling service. During our multi-campus Employee Appreciation Lunch, we worked with Food Loops and the caterers to provide compostable single-use products and successfully diverted 94% of the waste from landfills into compost.
ArcBest Innovation Ambassadors
In 2017, a group of leaders across the organization came together to form the ArcBest Innovation Accelerator. In 2023, the group transitioned into the ArcBest Innovation Ambassador program.
The goal of the ArcBest Innovation Ambassador program, which is open for application to all non-union employees, is to speed innovation, increase employee engagement and expand growth opportunities for ArcBest and its employees. The first group of seven ambassadors was announced on March 31st. Innovation ambassadors are inquisitive, positive, forward-thinking, diverse and passionate about doing things better. Yoder said, “Innovative thinking drives us forward, and it certainly isn’t limited to employees on the ArcBest Technologies team. This program helps connect our innovation process to many departments across the company. As employees listen to our customers’ challenges and develop solutions, they can bring their transformational ideas to the table.”
Innovation can also come from outside our organization, and this focus area allows us to tap into the knowledge and creativity of those beyond our company. “Through external ideation, we can be proactive and strategic in identifying new opportunities,” Yoder said. Building relationships and engaging in pilot projects with startups or emerging technology companies opens a world of opportunities where ArcBest can create value quickly, providing engagement and value while serving as an accelerator and incubator.
Creating a plan and options to monetize internally developed technologies and services can help us deliver added value for customers and investors. Yoder explained, “We want to take the technologies we have created and develop new revenue streams.”
Strategic investments, like the one we made in 2022 with Phantom Auto, can accelerate growth for our business and the industry at large. What we learn from external partnerships and investments can serve as fuel to many creative endeavors outside the scope of our projects.
Building the future of logistics
Now in our 100th year of business, ArcBest has stood the test of time due in large part to the company’s commitment to ensuring its people and technology grow and change with the industry. Ultimately, strategic innovation is not just about generating new services or software; it’s about looking forward, so we support our customers in whatever comes next. With a focus on strategic innovation, we can create solutions and processes that enable us to pivot when our customers’ needs, and market demands change.
Newcity explained, “There’s a broad understanding that companies and industries are constantly disrupted. At ArcBest, we’re focused on creating an efficient innovation pipeline that enables us to be proactive — so we’re never surprised by shifts in the industry. Our teams’ emphasis on disruptive innovation allows us to consistently deliver smart, transformative solutions to help keep our customers’ supply chains moving.”
With a clear plan for strategic innovation and a culture that encourages innovative thinking at every level, ArcBest is dedicated to providing customized logistics solutions that drive our industry forward today, and in the future.