Adapting for the Future: Werner Enterprises CTO's Roadmap to IT Modernization

November 17, 2023

Danny Lilley Headshot
Danny Lilley

VP and Chief Technology Officer, Werner


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This viewpoint is a guest post created by Danny Lilley. Lilley is Chief Technology Officer at Werner Enterprises, one of the six largest truckload carriers in the United States. An innovative leader, Lilley has almost 20 years of experience in the transportation industry. In his role at Werner, he focuses on driving business value through streamlining processes, increasing automation, and improving intelligence.

There's a widely held belief in the trucking and logistics (T&L) industry that we're behind in digital transformation. In a recent survey, Accenture found that 72% of T&L leaders agree there is not only an "ignorance of digitalization," but also a lack of a roadmap for what needs to be done. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. 

In my role as CTO at Werner Enterprises, one of the largest truckload carriers in the United States, I've seen a surge of interest in how technology can help the industry deliver better business outcomes. Forward-thinking people, from executives to professional drivers, are creating new and innovative ways to use data to connect their operations. At Werner, we're investing in an initiative to modernize our IT—called Cloud First, Cloud Now—that is helping us enable more innovation, enhance customer service, and keep up with the complex demands of the ever-changing T&L landscape. 

We know we can't predict every technology development, but by modernizing our systems, we're positioning ourselves to be as flexible as possible when new technologies emerge. Take AI, for example: It's going to take some time for the industry to truly understand the scope of everything AI can do. There are so many areas that are ripe for AI innovation, from automating data entry to making smarter shipping routes and more, that we haven't even scratched the surface of yet. But, since we've invested in IT modernization, Werner can quickly adjust when the time comes. 

How can your organization do the same? The digital transformation journey is different for every organization, but here are some best practices to keep in mind when defining a clear path to move forward.

1. Just get started—don't wait for a master plan for digital transformation. 

Good planning and long-term strategy are essential to the success of any business initiative, and IT modernization is no exception. However, becoming overly rigid or fixated on an complete digital transformation blueprint can be counterproductive. Instead, draft a flexible, yet focused plan, and be ready to adjust as circumstances demand. If you see an opportunity to modernize an aspect of your IT, go for it. 

A large part of what makes IT modernization successful is getting real input and data on what's working and what's not from your actual day-to-day operations . You have to get comfortable with making educated guesses, be willing to take a shot, learn from it, and build on what drives actual impact.

2. Don't get hung up on ROI.

In our data-driven world, we can measure business performance indicators more than ever before. Some, like revenue, are always important to keep an eye on, but there’s no reason to invest too much time in tracking every data point and searching for relevant ROI. Your team may suffer from data fatigue as a result, which can obscure its value and end up hurting your efforts to find the benefits you were initially seeking.

Moreover, for companies with legacy technology, trying to figure out the ROI of modernizing your IT should never be a barrier to making essential updates. There's no doubt that your updated IT is delivering more value than the outdated systems, and as your efforts mature, it will become clearer which performance metrics have the biggest impact on your business. 

3. Sharpen your change management skills.

The one thing I wish I had known before starting my IT modernization journey is just how important change management really is. If done right, digital transformation will touch every single system across your business. To be most effective, initiatives will also touch every level of your organization. A technology transformation isn't possible without top-down executive buy-in, but you're not going to be successful if you don't get input from frontline teams and have a deep understanding of their pain points. Any way you slice it, that's an incredible amount of change across the board. 

Before you roll out any new IT or processes, it's essential you set up systems to effectively communicate these changes. Help your employees understand what's coming, how changes will benefit them, and ensure there's follow through on gathering feedback and implementing further change. 

4. Don't just focus on new technology—get rid of the old, too. 

One of the biggest lessons I've learned from leading digital transformation efforts is this: If you're not deprecating technologies, then you're not modernizing.

It's easy for leaders to launch a new technology, declare victory, and then move on, all while that new solution remains siloed and isn't used to its full potential across an organization. The real work of digital transformation happens when you remove legacy technologies. The middle state, where you keep old systems running alongside the new, means more work for more people with worse results. 

Running systems in parallel can be a good strategy to test technologies and see their impact. However, making official switchovers and deprecating legacy systems are important milestones on the road to IT modernization. 

The Accenture survey I mentioned earlier also found that 76 percent of leaders believe that any T&L company not focusing on building digital capabilities will "seriously endanger their business"—in this case, I couldn't agree more. Given the pace of change, if you don't act to modernize your operations now, you may never catch up. Now is the time to make IT modernization a top priority. To learn about other organizations in the industry that are digitally transforming their operations, visit Samsara's Customer Success Stories.


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