Every business must be a technology business to be competitive. In the face of supply chain issues and talent shortages, end consumers still expect to be served engaging digital experiences at a rapid pace, in all areas of their lives. And at the heart of one of the most fundamental daily services they expect, is Toyota Material Handling (TMH).
“So many of the things that we take for granted in our personal lives, related to expedited delivery, are only possible through our material handling products,” says Daniel Schumacher, Director of Information Technologies at TMH. “Ten years ago, getting an order in one or two weeks seemed fast. Today, if we don't get something in 48 hours it feels like it's taken forever. We’re helping our customers carry the load and transform the industry.”
Toyota Material Handling’s (TMH) total enterprise reinvention is helping it supply customers with digitally enabled experiences that are in turn transforming experiences for end-consumers. Its differentiators – from more sustainable electric forklifts to data generating machinery – have cemented TMH’s place as an innovative market leader. We spoke to Daniel Schumacher, Director of Information Technologies, about how the company is redefining success and why being part of the industry’s transformation has been such a fun ride.
Most people don't realize how dependent they are on the material handling industry. If you get mail or packages at home or work, there is a good chance that it has been handled by TMH or Raymond material handling products (a Toyota group company). Expedited delivery has been made possible through our products. Toyota and Raymond’s core business is as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of traditional material handling products like forklifts. However, we’re expanding into adjacent areas with heavier-duty products that can pick up and load containers, as well as autonomously guided vehicles and advanced warehousing products through our sister companies like Bastian Solutions. We understand how dependent people are on their supply chain, both personally and commercially. And we're committed to making that a more advanced experience by transitioning from only selling pieces of equipment, to selling solutions and capabilities that can be fully integrated to drive a reliable experience. Distribution centers and warehouses must operate as efficiently as possible to enable the last mile delivery. The Home Depot and other companies, for example, require more than simple unloading and loading of big containers. They need to get the products consumers want to buy directly onto the shelf where they need it to be.
It has been a holistic transformation across the value chain and how we operate as a company. We no longer just manufacture pieces of machinery. We deliver customer portals; e-commerce capabilities; management systems that help our world-class dealers operate more efficiently and effectively; telematics-embedded products. We have fundamentally shifted from being a purveyor of equipment to a provider of holistic solutions that enable our dealer operations and ultimately help our customers achieve the outcomes they're seeking when they use our products. Our external transformation also required us to go through a substantial internal transformation. For example, the line between a business professional and an IT professional is blurring to the point that there really won't be a difference soon. You can't implement technology unless you understand the business outcomes the company needs to deliver, and being able to deliver most business outcomes today independent of technology just isn't possible. We have also had to redefine what success looks like. We come to the market in a fantastic position, but we need to look at how we reinvent our organization in order to deliver outcomes that previously weren't core capabilities. We also have to redefine success for our dealers and our customers, as they look to use the capabilities we're delivering into their platforms to build additional capabilities. It’s a very exciting time.
There’s an analogy I like to use when talking about data-driven transformations. If you got in your car and had no information about how fast you were going or whether you had any gas, you would never leave the parking lot. In business, if you're not a data-driven organization you're just making educated guesses. If you wouldn't do that when you’re driving your car home, how could you possibly do that with a complex business organization? We're not focused on data for its own sake, but on changing that data into insights that drive action. As our business becomes more data-enabled and our machines generate more data, it provides more opportunities to understand what's happening so we can make improvements. For example, we can identify how one customer is using a particular piece of equipment versus another, then use that knowledge to unlock insights that drive reliability, efficiency and optimization. That’s the really fun part of this industry's transformation. Ten years ago, no one could imagine autonomous, interconnected vehicles working in a warehouse. You might think it was the least digital workplace of all. Yet warehouses have undergone a huge transformation, from being the place where you store stuff to being highly interconnected environments that generate massive amounts of operational data and insights. It’s the data and insights coming from our machines that enable our customers to get packages to people on time. Being part of that value chain is really fun.
The same thing that we see with electrification in the automotive industry is happening in the material handling solution industry. Within the past 12 months, Toyota has released 22 new electric forklifts. This year we're coming to market with lithium-ion batteries that will provide new levels of performance and durability to help our customers run their machines longer and deliver on their expectations. It has been fun being part of that shift, from a renewable standpoint. But also looking at the advancements those electric capabilities bring to the table. Going from hydraulic to electric operations unlocks so much new potential within the machine itself. That focus on sustainability and reliability is baked into the DNA of our company and how we operate.