The moving industry is generally considered a basic services industry. Because the barriers to entry into the business are relatively low, the common but wrong assumption is that technology does not play a critical role.
While two men and a truck may still be enough to start a moving business these days, the world of moving, along with most industries in the service sector, has undergone dramatic changes over the years.
Complexity, Specialization & Aggregation
The processes for packing a dish or moving furniture across town may not have changed much but the moving industry itself has experienced some major disruptions and has quietly been adapting to these changes. One notable response has been the increased willingness by most companies to embrace and leverage technology to improve efficiency, redefine services and become more responsive to customer needs. Another response has been for businesses to specialize and focus on distinct segments of the moving market to help them navigate the increasing complexity of today’s business world. For the larger players, the response has been to acquire smaller businesses to enable them to leverage economies of scale. With the necessary scale, a company can further invest in information technology as a way to differentiate and improve one’s competitiveness.
Pace of Change
As it relates to today’s business world and specifically to information technology, the pace of change is not only relentless; it is exponential not linear.
Think of the linear pace of change as it relates to a truck and how it has slowly evolved over the last 100 years. Now think of what’s to come within the next 10 years: self-driving, autonomous trucks plus the developments that will emerge from this. That is revelatory of the exponential pace of change.
The moving industry is starting to adapt to the impacts of accelerating changes in information technology, but an obstacle stands in the way of shifting the momentum into the next gear.
Understanding this obstacle can help us not only to overcome it but to flip it and turn it into opportunity. This is where the word interoperability comes in.
Interoperability in the context of information technology refers to the extent to which disparate systems can exchange and interpret shared data. In an industry that relies on the ability of separate, distinct, entrepreneurial companies to collaborate together to deliver a seamless service to its end customers, the systems are unfortunately disparate because the computer systems of the moving industry have been developed separately, in isolation and without the benefit of common standards.
Let’s examine the flow of data in today’s typical relocation scenario. A corporate customer initiates a move for one of their executives who is transferring from New York to Tokyo. The corporate customer makes a mistake and misspells the last name of the transferee while relaying the move details to the relocation company. The relocation company communicates the relevant details of the transfer to the assigned New York moving company unaware that the transferee’s name is incorrectly spelled. The moving company passes on that erroneous detail along with the initial information necessary for obtaining customs clearance, to its destination counterpart in Tokyo.
At some point, the origin mover in New York is advised by the transferee that his last name’s spelling is wrong and needs to be corrected. The correction is done but not communicated soon enough to the relocation company. It fails to reach Tokyo in time. The agent has gone ahead and submitted the paperwork requirements to customs. When the shipment arrives, a huge delay has become inevitable. The culprit is obvious. The name on the ocean bill of lading and paperwork does not match the name in the customs clearance paperwork.
Many of the service failures and issues related to the industry occur because of data exchange errors where information required by the disparate partners working together on the same relocation gets out of sync.
Not only do those types of errors have a huge and very real impact on the business, the sheer inefficiency of exchanging information via e-mail and e-mail attachments causes a tremendous drag, not to mention unpleasant friction within the industry.
If it is any consolation, most industries that rely on data flow are also struggling to deal with interoperability issues. Take the example of a patient who falls ill while visiting a family relative in another city.
His medical file in his home city is not readily accessible to his current attending physician due to lack of interoperability among hospitals and clinics. You can already see how this difficulty in obtaining crucial information can cause bigger troubles for the patient.
A Way Forward
Technology has advanced to a stage where we can start to address these interoperability issues. The sad fact though is that technology remains less of a barrier than our human tendency to be set in our ways and to be indifferent and apathetic to change.
The moving and relocation industry is not immune to such barriers. While we may fully understand and agree on the benefits including the huge positive economic impacts, the industry is more comfortable being cautious and suspicious of those advocating a way forward.
A major step towards paving the way for disparate systems to finally talk to each other is the development of an industry-wide standard for data interchange. The technology is accessible and one industry association, the International Association of Movers has begun the work by developing an ISO Standard (ISO 17451) for the codification of the information contained in a household goods descriptive inventory. The steps to a phased approach toward interoperability which would allow the disparate computers systems used by the industry and its customers to efficiently and accurately exchange information are within reach.
The next stage relies on establishing an industry partnership where members have to collaborate on implementing a single, open standard, accessible to all stakeholders within the industry and extending to its customers.
The benefits are far-reaching and profound.
It’s time for the industry to wake up and rise to the challenge.
About the Author: Ray daSilva is co-founder of Mobility Exchange, a strategic consulting and technology company focused on delivering collaborative solutions for the moving, relocation and mobility services industry. Visit IAM Mobility Exchange. Mobility Exchange, LLC is a partner to the International Association of Movers which represents over 2000 moving and relocation companies worldwide.
Ray daSilva has a career that spans close to 40 years in the moving and relocation industry. His experience includes executive and consultant positions at some of the industry’s leading moving companies.