Linfox’s John Ansley: CIOs aren’t ‘head geeks’ anymore

John Ansley is a thoroughly modern chief information officer.

His role as CIO at Linfox is a big one, managing the information technology services across about 300 warehouses (50 overseas) and 6,000 vehicles, an enormous network of comings and goings across our continent and various countries in south-east Asia.

The trucking business is not what it used to be; IT is transforming the industry in ways that seem quite boggling. Staff at the Linfox operations centre can detect if a truck in their fleet has braked suddenly, swerved harshly or tipped over, and can immediately contact the driver to see if they are OK.

If the temperature of a cold truck rises or falls, or if the refrigeration unit’s oil level is insufficient, sensors detect and relay the problem before the chilled goods in the truck are damaged. Truckies are reminded to take their “fatigue” breaks using the company’s proprietary communications system, log in and out of their trucks, and can use the system to email their families, or Skype with their kids during rest breaks. Proof of delivery – a signature on a hand-held device – is instantaneously relayed to head office. Trucks, drivers and containers are tagged, connected and followed in a virtual shadow of their real-life progress.

In warehouses, lights guide the pickers to the correct goods to be packed and transported – an automated system that has come in handy since the changes to tobacco packaging laws that make all brands look the same, for example, or for transporting small packages such as pharmaceuticals. In some warehouses, clients have requested full automation – and few human hands are required. In India, the warehouses range from the fully automated stacking and reclaiming process to the “go downs”, in which every job is done manually.

But it is not enough for Ansley to be able to guide his 150-strong technology team and his seven reports and keep this complex system running smoothly. The network is constantly being upgraded, improved, and overhauled. In the next few months, for example, the drivers of all trucks will have all their IT services on one tablet, replacing their current grab bag of phones, tablets, delivery systems, communications and entertainment devices.

Ansley is also responsible for the “supply chain solutions”, managing a team that he calls, after careful thought, “data savants”. Ansley tells LeadingCompany: “They have a skill-set that is just amazing; they are almost like data savants. They can look at information and intuitively go to the heart of the matter. It looks intuitive to me, but it is actually years of training and using the right tools. They can really drive some amazing outcomes, and they run a large number of projects every year.”

Ansley spends a lot of time talking to the board and management of Linfox, explaining to them the reasons for the changes he is making. Bill Kelty, the former head of the ACTU, is on the Linfox board, as is Peter Fox, son of the company’s patriarch and founder, Lindsay Fox.

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