DHL Supply Chain Discusses the Impact of Robotic Solutions and the Changing Role of the CIO in Today's World

Sally Miller - Columbus Tech Power Player Honoree

Sally Miller

CIO, North America

DHL Supply Chain



Dan Burke

Account Executive

MRK Technologies


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The CIO for the DHL Supply Chain, Sally Miller, discusses the impact of robotic solutions and the changing role of the CIO in today's world.


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DB: we are here today with Sally Miller, who was a North American Chief Information Officer at DHL Supply Chain. DHL Supply Chain is a global organization. US headquarters are here in Columbus, Ohio with over 145,000 employees worldwide. They are the world's leading contract logistics provider. Welcome, Sally.


SM: Thank you. Happy to be here.


DB: Great. My name is Dan Burke and I am with MRK Technologies, a 20-year-old Ohio based company providing IT technologies and security consulting services to organizations of all sizes. I will be your guest moderator today. So, let's get started. Sally, how are you?


SM: I am well, Dan.


DB: Great. Well, let's start by talking a bit about emerging and disruptive technologies that are going on in your industry. You work in a very dynamic industry today, obviously. So, you know, talk to me a little bit about what are one of the most exciting, disruptive technologies that has impacted your customers, your company in the Industry today?


SM: Sure. In supply chain, I think one of the most disruptive technologies that's going to impact our business and our ability to serve our customers would be the influx of different flexible robotic solutions that have come on the market. There are a lot of startup companies based in Boston and Silicon Valley that due to advancements in technology are able to offer flexible bots that enable us to supplement our existing workforce as well as give us additional capacity. So, today in the US with a low employment, low unemployment rate, it is very difficult for us to hire and retain hourly associates. So, the ability to use robots to do some of the work really helps us reduce our cost base and enables us to provide a better service to our customers. I think as these solutions become more mature and scalable, there will be a lot more inside our operations as time goes on. So, I think that today, robotic solutions are the most compelling technologies to help us advance our business and we're getting great response from our associates who work with them. We didn't expect that we thought that people would view them as there to replace their jobs, but we're finding millennials and younger people in the workforce like to work with the latest technology.


DB: Right. So, it sounds like the robotics technologies you have in place, you know, provide you more operational efficiency, I guess, would be a good way of putting that. How about from a competitive advantage perspective? Do you see that also with these technologies?


SM: Yes, we are the industry leader, so our customers expect us to continuously innovate. So, to maintain that position and grow, we have to evaluate these technologies and make them work. As I mentioned, they are immature and the company's putting them on the market are small startup companies. So, we have to work with them to make their solutions more robust and because we have the resources to do that, I believe it is a competitive advantage for us.


DB: Thanks, Sally. Let me turn a bit to the topic of leadership. So, you're the North American CIO at DHL, a very critical job at the organization. How have you seen your role change as the CIO of the years you've been there?


SM: I've been with DHL for coming up on 14 years now and I've been in the CIO position for over four years and the changes that have happened in the last two or three years to how IT is viewed in the organization are significant. I think the business looks up to IT now as innovators and bringing new technology and new solutions to the company. The days of just being able to execute the day-to-day stuff that's expected as a normal course of business, it's now, “What have you done for me lately? I've heard about this or saw this, have you looked at this?” And I think that the role of CIO has broadened more to include a being a critical part in our operational execution.


DB:  Great. You have a number of frontline managers I'm sure, that report up to you. Correct?


SM: Yes, I do.


DB: And who would love to have a job like yours at some point in time in their career. Right? So, you know, what do aspiring IT leaders need to do to prepare themselves for that next step?


SM: I think that understanding the role and making sure that's what they want is important as it is ever changing, but I will give this advice to all aspiring CIOs, is to network and build the relationship of the people you'll be working with when you get that position. So, I was fortunate to have a mentor with the current CEO, so we got to know each other for a couple of years before I started reporting to him. So I think that experience of building that relationship, I was able to hit the ground running, which is important for a CIO. If you have a misstart to start, it's hard to recover from that.


DB: Right, right. You know, the Central Ohio IT community is a very vibrant community. You've been part of it for a number of years and you've been very involved in the Central Ohio community. You know, why do you invest your time?


SM: I think it's important on many fronts. One, I think it's important for the girls of Columbus, I've made my home here. I raised three children here and think that putting the time in and getting to know your peers and other companies has tremendous value, not only for Columbus, but you'll always pick up a contact that you can call them if you need a reference on a vendor or bounce an idea off of. And I travel frequently for my job and I will say the, the organization we have here in Columbus is definitely best in class. So it benefits me and benefits Columbus, I think.


DB: Yeah. Great. So, last question, I love asking this question. So, professionally, what makes you the most happy?


SM: I think seeing my team excel and be successful makes me the most happy. I'm a firm believer in setting people up to be successful. I think that is a trademark of a really good manager. So, the ability to get them what they need to achieve their best. It's fun to watch that through either a project life cycle or you know, a certain event. I really enjoy working with the team.


DB: Sally, thank you for the time. I really appreciate it. This is Dan Burke from MRK Technologies and Sally Miller from DHL supply chain. To learn more about us, visit Goodbye. Until next time.


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