How FedEx Streamlines Operations At Freight Docks

EDEN system helps the logistics company shave time -- and money -- off dock operations. One of eight profiles of InformationWeek Elite 100 Business Innovation Award winners.

Much of the muscle behind FedEx's massive delivery service takes place at freight distribution centers, where supervisors, forklift drivers, and truck drivers work together to load and unload packages.

A freight dock can be chaotic, but if communications and logistics break down, business customers suffer. For most of 2013, FedEx IT rolled out a scheduling and messaging system it calls EDEN (Equipment Detection, Event Notification) Dock/Yard, with the goal of shaving time off dock operations.

EDEN Dock/Yard is multidimensional. In one platform, it controls messaging among all dock staffers via FedEx mobile devices and touchscreen displays mounted in trucks, on forklifts, and throughout freight dock facilities. It also automates dock assignments and schedules in near real time across handheld devices and truck, dock, and office computers.

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But the most dynamic aspect of the system is in applications that bring the fabled "Internet of things" to life. For instance, incoming tractor-trailers contain sensors with GPS coordinates that communicate information to the truck's EDEN-connected onboard computer. Meantime, workers at freight docks use EDEN to see how much freight is on an incoming truck, where the truck is, and which dock door will be available when it arrives. The dock doors contain sensors connected to EDEN that tell drivers which doors are available, so all parties are on the same page.

"I think of EDEN like a no-huddle offense in football, where the team always has a few plays called ahead," says Kenneth Spangler, senior VP of IT at FedEx. "We're keeping the plays, or in our case the work assignments, in front of everyone."

Before the EDEN application was deployed, dockworkers would gather around a supervisor's workstation for assignments. It took manual effort for supervisors to plan staffing requirements or get a log of hours worked. As for truck delivery logistics, accurate driver information on estimated time of arrival wasn't available, and dock doors were considered occupied only when the dock computer was manually updated.

With the help of an integrator, 51 FedEx IT pros spent two years developing EDEN Dock/Yard, and they deployed it on schedule in September, Spangler says. He has two suggestions for those rolling out such a broad scheduling and messaging system: First, make sure to use the latest event-driven messaging technology, on top of an architecture that can support millions of transactions a day. Second, make sure the system is intuitively easy to navigate. EDEN is so user-friendly, Spangler says, that FedEx was able to implement it fairly quickly to 12,000 users in 250 locations. "The training really only consisted of a short video and a quick reference guide," he says.

FedEx expects the system to deliver annual savings of more than $9 million as a result of more efficient dock management, dock planning, trailer yard management, and improved ETA accuracy.

Feedback from the field is positive. "It's a long overdue tool," says Curt Graff, a FedEx dock operations manager in Indianapolis. "It lets supervisors be more proactive simply by clicking on the trailer to view the freight on board and assigning a door."

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