An interview with Phil Danner
By Lynne Richardson
When someone is described to you as “a supply chain technology guru”, the first question that springs to mind is “how did you become a guru?” The answer, it transpires after a 40-minute chat trans-Tasman, is through vast experience in a number of supply chain management roles across a range of industry sectors.
“Technology is no longer just
about the products and
services – it’s about the
information it provides and
how you use that to improve
your business productivity”
– Phil Danner
Phil Danner was in Sydney to address the Intermec ANZ Developers Conference in early March – a two-day event designed to bring together supply chain technology developers from across Australia and New Zealand for educational and knowledge-sharing sessions. Presented by engineers for industry professionals, resellers and Intermec partners, the conference provided ideas, training and solutions – ‘toolkits’ as Phil refers to them during our conference call.
“Intermec is following a product development path that specialises in ‘ruggedised’ technology for supply chain practitioners, so the opportunity to bring together our engineers and managers with our end-user clients over these two days has been extremely valuable,” By Lynne Richardson When someone is described to you as “a supply chain technology guru”, the first question that springs to mind is “how did you become a guru?” The answer, it transpires after a 40-minute chat trans-Tasman, is through vast experience in a number of supply chain management roles across a range of industry sectors. he says. “It’s so important that we have personal contact to share knowledge and exchange ideas.”
An unstoppable build-up
Phil gave the keynote address at the conference, calling on his 20-years-plus of experience to address delegates on technology trends and recent innovations. “What we’re seeing is an unstoppable build-up of wireless and cellular networks, with a dramatic increase in geographical coverage and speed,” he says. “Most of this infrastructure has been paid for by the consumer, and we’re now at the point where the business end-user can start to leverage value from it. The information that’s available to them is becoming of equal or greater value than the product that’s actually being delivered.”
He details, as an example, Intermec’s CN50 mobile computer which was released mid-2009. “The CN50 is the most advanced 3G wireless WAN computer for field mobility applications. It consolidates a number of devices – scanner, radio, GPS, cellular phone – into one lightweight, rugged device for mobile workforces in postal, field service, transportation and delivery operations. There’s no need to use other devices. All transactions are carried out in real time, which vastly improves efficiency and productivity, and provides assurance for the consumer and the provider.”
From a New Zealand perspective, this “convergence of technology”, as Phil calls it, is very exciting, as these world’s best-practice innovations are totally scaleable. “We’re seeing an important trend,” he says. “Several years ago, only the really big players – UPS, FedEx – were able to use this sort of technology within their business operations. Look at track and trace, for example – it was only a dream for many. Nowadays, that function is the norm.
“These very powerful products and applications have been miniaturised, so that even oneman and small-fleet operators can utilise them. It’s the software and the availability of network services that have enabled this.”
Are they concerned about the hiccups with the delivery of high-performance cellular networks within New Zealand? “We’ve certainly been following the situation,” Phil says, “but our devices can use any existing service, be it GSM or the newer 3G, so they’re adaptable to whatever’s available.”
Are today’s tertiary institutions doing enough to prepare tomorrow’s young leaders for a technological world? Phil thinks they are. “Bearing in mind that there’s a wide range of universities and standards around the world – from the Harvards and MITs to the smaller institutions – I believe they are. Intermec is certainly recruiting some very good young engineers with electrical engineering and programming degrees.
“And it’s vital that we do – we need the fresh new ideas that these talented young people bring. We balance their input with that of our experienced engineers who know and understand end-user needs.
“What we are seeing is that, whilst the rate of advancement of technology is still accelerating, this new breed of engineers is pushing for simplicity. They have a ‘healthy’ disdain for overly complicated devices – and acceptance of those that are not complex – which is entirely refreshing.”
Here and now
What do our business leaders and managers need to know to ensure their business can make the most of these new developments? “My key piece of advice would be to look at the existing information they have within their companies, and ask, ‘How can we take advantage of this?’ Don’t go looking to create more information,” Phil emphasises. “It’s about taking what you have here and now, and using it more effectively. Can you create any value-added services from it? Can you make your internal processes more efficient?
“Technology has come such a long way. Look at what it does for us now, compared to just a generation ago. Today’s kids can’t imagine life without the Internet, for example. Technology is no longer just about the products and services – it’s about the information it provides and how you use that to improve your business productivity.”
What would be his key piece of advice for New Zealand businesses regarding technology trends? “Reach out to your peers. Use networking opportunities, such as our developers conference, to learn about ‘how to’ solutions and ‘toolkits’ for businesses. Brainstorm new ideas for enduser needs. It’s all about finding new ways to do things without it costing any more.”
And finally, is he happy being labelled a ‘guru’? “I fear that might be a self-proclaimed title,” Phil laughs, “so I suppose I must be happy with it. I’ve also been called an 'oracle’, but I much prefer ‘guru’!”
Phil Danner is the vice president of global product development for Intermec; prior to joining the company in 2007, he spent 16 years at General Electric, becoming vice president of engineering and global signalling in the corporation’s transportation business, with responsibility for worldwide development and the oversight of over 250 engineers throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.