How to Leverage Technology and Data to Strengthen Your Supply Chain Business with Microsoft’s Dave Sayers

“One of the first ones I’ll talk about is one of our big infrastructure customers that do an awful lot with the logistics companies. They spent about the last 6 to 12 months doing an intelligent operations project. They’re very asset-rich. One of the important things for them is decreasing the amount of downtime. Whenever one of their assets is out of action, money goes out the door and is lost with every minute of downtime they have.

So how can they be more predictive?
How can they be proactive with things like maintenance schedules and so on?

We’ve spent an awful lot of time doing things like sensors and the Internet of Things, ensuring that we can report on the assets they’ve got. We’re collecting a vast pool of data through that, what we would call a data lake. That data lake will be used to feed all sorts of incremental insights. It’s a powerful end-to-end proposition for this customer, and it’s all about collecting that data.

More importantly, nobody wants a bunch of data from which they can’t get any intelligence. The next piece of the puzzle is how do we give dashboards? How do we alert people what the next best action would be when something occurs?” -Dave Sayers, Travel, Transport and Hospitality Director, Microsoft

Full Transcript

Francis Adanza:

Welcome to the Down to Freight podcast. I’m your host, Francis Adanza. And with me today is our guest who has been part of the transformation to a cloud-first, customer-obsessed growth mindset in his organization. His role in travel, transport and hospitality has generated some amazing customer stories. I’m super excited to have Dave Sayers, Travel, Transport and Hospitality Director for Microsoft. Welcome, Dave, thanks for joining us today.

Dave Sayers:

Hi, Francis. Thank you very much for having me today. It’s amazing to be here.

Francis Adanza:

Absolutely. So for the folks out there that might not have heard of Microsoft, can you give us a little bit of background about the company as well as yourself and your role in Microsoft?

Dave Sayers:

Yeah, sure. So Microsoft, obviously, technology company when I first joined, which was 21 years ago. So I’ve been here for quite a long time. And we were probably known as a company that provided Office and Windows to most customers at that point. And I guess over the last five, six years, we’ve really been through our own cultural transformation. We’ve got a new CEO, very people-focused, very outcome-focused, and all about empowerment for both businesses and the individual.

So I guess back in the day when we started, we were very keen on everybody having a licensed copy of Windows and Office. But now it’s definitely much more about industry solutions, and how our technology can actually really help our customers and actually do good for the planet as well. There’s lots of initiatives, things like sustainability is obviously a very hot topic as well. So I guess the key thing that we do is provide technology to both businesses and consumers, for empowering them every day to basically either have a better employee experience, or have a better end user experience as a consumer.

Francis Adanza:

Got it. Thanks for that overview. And then in terms of like your role or line of business that you’re involved in as it pertains to travel, transport and hospitality, can you provide a little bit of context there?

Dave Sayers:

Yeah, sure. So I’m what’s called an Industry Director. And as you say, it’s travel, transport, hospitality, and logistics, which is actually quite a broad spectrum of industries. And when you talk to a Boston real organization, they kind of feel quite different to somebody who’s perhaps and doing freight by sea, or a travel company who’s quite different, I guess, as well. So there’s lots in there. But I’d say I’ve been here for 21 years. I’ve work in all different parts of the business. This is part of the business that I feel really passionate about.

And I guess one of the changes, I mentioned the cultural change at Microsoft recently. One of the big changes was what we would call a pivot to industry. So we’ve kind of moved away, lots of people have moved from being more aligned to specific technologies that we provide, and much more industry focused. So we look after lots of industries like retail, like professional services, manufacturing, as you might expect. And my little piece of the world, if you like, is these travel, transport, hospitality customers. And they’re all what we’d refer to as enterprise customers, Francis, so they’re all the big names and brands that you would recognize in those spaces in the UK. And obviously, quite a few of them have got a global presence as well.

Inside my team, I’ve got 10 people looking after 40 customers. They’re a blend of what we would call client executives, which are responsible for the OLAP relationship and client technology leads, which are the more technology-focused people that really work with customers on building a roadmap for what success looks like for them. Every time we try and boil down what we want to do and what an ideal Microsoft relationship looks like, I think back to- there’s a story that we’ve got, it may be an urban myth, Francis, it might not be true at all, but one of the customers at the manufacturing team works with are basically Formula One racing company. And their perspective, they told their equivalent in my team, hey, what we do is we make a car go around a track really fast. So if what you’re coming to talk to us about doesn’t make the car go faster, you’re pretty much wasting your time.

And I just kind of love that as setting the scene and a challenge for the types of things that we need to be working on. So you know, as I say, before, the answer would have been you need more Windows. And now it is something very, very different than that, something industry focused and proper solution focused as well. So it’s been a great change for us, and that industry piece is one of the reasons that I’m still here, and I love it.

Francis Adanza:

That’s awesome. As you know, we’re here to talk about technology, either deployment or adoption. Is there a particular story that you want to elaborate on? Maybe something along the lines, like what was the problem that you’re trying to solve or the vision for the initiative?

Dave Sayers:

Yeah, sure. So we’ve got a few actually. I think one of the first ones that I talk about is one of our big infrastructure customers that do an awful lot with the logistics companies. And they spent about the last 6 to 12 months doing an intelligent operations type of project. So obviously, they’re very asset-rich. One of the things that’s important for them is how can we decrease the amount of downtime? So whenever one of their assets as I have [action? 0:05:01], obviously, there’s money going out the door and being lost every minute of downtime that they have on that. So how can they be more predictive? And how can they basically be proactive with things like maintenance schedules and so on?

So we spent an awful lot of time doing things like sensors, Internet of Things, making sure that we can report on the assets that they’ve got. And through that, we’re collecting a huge pool of data to what we would call a data lake. And that data lake is going to be used to feed all sorts of incremental insights. So really, it’s a really strong end-to-end proposition for this customer. It’s all about collection of that data. But more importantly, nobody wants a bunch of data that they can’t get any intelligence from. So the next piece of the puzzle is, you know, how do we give dashboards? How do we alert people what the next best action would be when something actually occurs?

And I guess the last 18 months through the pandemic have been such a rollercoaster ride, I guess, for every organization on the planet. But nothing’s taught us agility like that, as I would say, and the types of creativity that we’ve had to come up with. And I think every customer is looking for how can we respond to these unprecedented actions as quickly as we possibly can? And through that, there’s lots of data conversations that we’re having. But more importantly, it’s artificial intelligence and machine learning. So they’re pointing that at the data and saying, you know, tell me what we should do in these circumstances and learn from what went well, learn from what didn’t go well, and that’s a really important thing.

If I can be cheeky, and do one more actually, Francis, because it’s very top of mind for me. And it’s probably, as I say, I’ve been here 21 years, and probably the brightest thing that we’ve worked on. And so Prince William was in Microsoft UK’s head office yesterday to be shown this particular solution. And it’s called Project SEEKER, and it’s in the public domain. So if you look that up, as of yesterday, you’ll be able to find out what it’s all about.

What we’re doing is we’re using image recognition and machine learning and artificial intelligence at Heathrow Airport to basically try and detect if somebody is trying to smuggle illegal animals through the airport. So it’s a really great story of trying to solve a problem that’s really not the sort of thing that anybody wants. It’s a terrible problem, actually, animal smuggling industry. What we’re doing is this image recognition and think of the minutes. We’ve got something like a 70% success rate of finding tusks and so on that otherwise wouldn’t be found.

So artificial intelligence. I don’t know if many people have seen the movies like AI, where it’s all bad. It’s robots taking over the world. And actually, people kind of forget sometimes that, you know, you use artificial intelligence and you see it when you get a Netflix recommendation that you think, oh, yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted, or Spotify recommendation. And that’s all artificial intelligence. And I think one of the key things about the project we’ve just done with Heathrow is, it is artificial intelligence used for good. And there’s so many other things that we can do with that image recognition as well. You’ve got other brands that suffer from counterfeiting of their goods and things like that. So could we use something similar to try and detect that and stop that particular black market happening as well? So yeah, lots of really interesting stuff going on.

Francis Adanza:

Sounds like you’re working on some fascinating solutions over there. Back to the supply chain example that you were talking about, there’s a lot of talk about like supply chain resiliency and having that agility so that you can react to the changes, that solution. How are like the customers actually measuring the before and after?

Dave Sayers:

Yeah. So- and obviously, in lots of instances. One of the reasons for better visibility into supply chain is to save cost and reduce waste. So I guess the good news is, it’s pretty clear in the first couple of weeks of the project going live, just how much cost if they feel like they’ve actually saved. They can see on the bottom line. So that’s a really good thing. I think the other thing, though, is just that success rate of the correct next decision that they make. So things like they’re measuring how long appliances or how long parts of their infrastructure are down for. And they’ve got KPIs about reducing that. So again, there’s really good visibility into a, are they truly saving costs through these solutions?  And b, are they able to deliver a better end customer experience? And they can get that through and NSAT scores and customer satisfaction, as well as an improvement on their KPIs on things like times for recovery, and things like that.

So I think the measurement is a really good point. It’s, you know, very easy sometimes in some technology projects to get a bit carried away and let the technology lead you and think, well, this is cool. And I guess our job is to implement things that aren’t described as cool, but people think are just really valuable and really useful. I’d say on the supply chain side of things, technology is a real enabler for that. And so is cloud actually. So one of the things, again, and the pandemic has just been how volatile requirements have been throughout the supply chain, either lots and lots of demand in some parts of my business like the logistics space, less demand and having to cancel things and things like the aviation space and cancellation of flights.

So that fluctuation of demand is something that they want to be able to, again, have data that identifies demand signals. So they can be proactive and reduce wastage. And again, you know, one of my customers in the aviation space, when you’re working in technology all the time, it’s easy to get sort of a bit blasé about what technology can do for you. And sometimes somebody says something that makes you stop and think, and this customer has said to me, I know it’s a horrible time. And I know my business is massively disrupted. But can you imagine if this was 20 years ago, when people were getting on flights with printed coupons, or handwritten coupons, and have to cancel a flight and change a flight? It would just be absolute bedlam.

And I haven’t really thought about that. But their view was technology is the way that they will see themselves out of this. And it’s proven to be so. And in the UK, we’ve seen some businesses behave in perhaps a better way than others. So there are some that maybe try and hang on to people’s money without giving them a refund quickly, make it difficult to swap their plans. But they’re really agile businesses. There’s one airline in particular, from day one, we’re very clear. If you book with us, you can book with confidence, you can cancel, you can move to another flight, there’s all sorts of flexibility. And just that customer care element, they think it actually means that they can charge a premium for their tickets over what they were able book for. So there’s a real business outcome for them around that agility and that flexibility that the technology gives them. So that’s a fantastic story for them.

Francis Adanza:

Thank you. So when you’re talking about some of the projects in that complexity and that scale and magnitude, when you’re talking about like data, lakes, and IoT, and AI, I think us, as a software providers or technology solution providers, can get really carried away with the value. But as you look at your 40 customers that you’re helping drive adoption, what are some best practices or things and advice that the implementers should pay attention to when rolling out a solution so that it runs smoothly and they can really benefit from that total cost of ownership?

Dave Sayers:

Yeah, I go back to job number one is probably make sure you’re not implementing something just because the technology exists to do so. So I think it’s really important. If I go back to the racing car example, it’s you know, start with a big vision of what are we truly trying to fix for here? And actually, does anyone in the business truly care about it? Or am I on some sort of garage project that I’ll deliver something and everyone goes, that’s great, but we didn’t need it, or we didn’t ask for it.

So I think that’s really important, which is, you know, do you have a stakeholder? Do you have a sponsor, so somebody that really cares about what you’re trying to drive here? And then think about the impacts. And I guess there’s kind of different buckets to this, you know, those will give your organization a competitive edge. Is it a [USP? 0:12:55] for them? Is it something, for example, that makes their employees’ working life better?

So think about, you know, what category it falls into. Are you trying to optimize some operations and save some costs? Are you thinking more about employee well-being? Are you thinking about taking new propositions to market, those types of things? And I think you really just need to hone in on what’s the tagline? If you got into the lift with the CEO, and you’ve got 40 seconds and they say, tell me about what you’re working on. Would they go, that is amazing, we need that, can you go any faster? Or would it be, that’s interesting type of response. So you really want something that has got a big impact.

The second thing that saved me was the third thing, or even the fourth thing, I’ve talked a lot there. But I think the next thing I would say is how to think about reusability. So as you say, sometimes there’s a big cost involved initially on things like building a data lake and getting those feeds. So rather than just building a data lake for your specific project, have a think about if this thing existed actually, what could other parts of your business actually use it for? So if you have that insight on your customer, obviously, could you use it for marketing, as well as sales and follow up and customer complaints?

The data lake piece, just- you need to make sure that again, you’re not just collecting data for its own sake. And maybe have a think about outside of your own organization. So one of the things that is a piece of technology that’s emerged really in the last 12 months on Azure, which is our cloud platform, is data sharing. So data sharing is basically selective sharing with partners. So you can basically be really clear about I want to share these specific elements of it. But I don’t want to share these particular elements because they are company confidential, and shouldn’t leak.

So it lets you have varied, unlimited levels of sharing. Kind of think about the logistics space. We really want to improve the data sharing between the logistics companies that are delivering goods through the supply chain, and ultimately maybe somebody like the supermarket who are receiving those. And that data sharing is really important. We even perhaps see a possibility of something like if a delivery lorry has unloaded in London has to drive back in [inaudible 0:14:59] and maybe Manchester with an empty, could we instead auction that space on the market and just say, if anyone needs a pick up in London right now, and almost basically auction it and make sure that, that is optimizing the time that’s available.

So I think there’s some really good ideas about that. So first thing is, don’t make it an IT project. You need some business stakeholders, ideally try, and get a senior sponsor. And then think about what you would do with the data that you collect outside your own project. I mean, there are definitely some instances as well where you might be able to monetize that. So if you’re running a fleet of delivery trucks, if you think about what Waze does and the crowd source and the amount of information that they actually have about the roads at any given time of the day, means that their AI and machine learning can recommend that if you’re traveling at this time of day, it’s going to take an extra 40 minutes, just based on all that insight and all of that data that they’ve collected over time. So your data may be valuable to other entities as well.

So I’d say data’s a new currency. Everyone needs a strategy for what they’re going to do about data. I’ve had some really fun customer stories, Francis, where I have had an airline that said, if they have to cancel a flight, there’s basically a person who’s been in the business 25 years. And he put three pieces of paper in front of them and say, which one do you think we should cancel? And he goes, yeah, that one. That running a business on gut feel, as opposed to the data, those days need to go, I would say. If you’re not harnessing the power of data to help you make your decisions, you’re probably not in it for the long haul.

I think that’s where Upstart and some of the really innovative startup companies are making decisions based on data, route optimization, based on all that data they’ve collected. Things like your truck data and how often things break down, as we mentioned earlier on, there’s just so much that data can do for your business that will just optimize it and ultimately end up with a better end customer experience.

Francis Adanza:

Yeah, for sure. I think you’re spot on that data is the new currency. So it seems like you have a full plate with a lot going on. What’s on the horizon for you and your team?

Dave Sayers:

Yeah, so we want to basically help customers. Now it’s hard to say, obviously, when the pandemic is truly over, or whether, you know, something [inaudible 0:17:14]. Either way, I’d say the last 18 months has given my team a chance to be really creative. And I think the customers are now looking at how do we come out of this stronger? And it’s been really interesting watching some of the customers adapt and put some new capabilities, and, you know, if get some of the key wins and some of the things that we’re working on or things that we learned during the pandemic.

So I’m not sure about the US. But in the UK, in the early days, there was a shortage of PPE equipment. We’ve got quite a few customers where employees just literally have to work in close proximity to others, and needed it. And whilst that shortage was on, we did things like we work with them. And we quickly built an app that basically let them request and return PPE. And we built it in three days. And within seven days, it was live to 11,000 users that might have needed PPE.

So that agility and fast turnaround has been really important. And I’d say lots of the projects that we’re working on are on a similar vein to that actually, which is you’ve got employees inside your business that do these particular processes day in, day out. And they’re probably some of the best people that can fix those processes or suggest a better way. So those processes, we’re trying to basically help customers with what we would call citizen developers. So just really simple apps that does maybe just one function or a couple of functions, but they do it really well. And there’s a real focus on what we would call first line or frontline workers. So for lots of businesses, they’re the people that interact with members of the public that are, you know, the customers of their products.

And I think through the pandemic, they’ve really come to the fore and proven their value, because they’re there day in, day out. I think there’s been a lot of focus from our customers on have we really looked after these people? And do they have the tools that they need? So we’re looking at things like how can we get more information in their hands quickly? Maybe that’s on a mobile device, again, through a custom application. And again, it then goes back to the agility piece, which people want to know what’s going on, and what they should do next. So if their train is cancelled, how can we get that better experience to that first line worker?

And so I think that’s been something that we’ve worked on quite hard as well. So first line data, AI, and machine learning, those are all the kind of things that people are interested in. But as well, there’s a real focus as well on loyalty. And I think that I go back to there’s been companies that have handled their customer base really well and looked after them through the pandemic and perhaps others that haven’t so much.

And I think that they’ve- our customers have noticed whether their customers are loyal. And if you think about Myspace, part of it is quite a big investment for end customers. So if you think about the travel industry and the organizations that are putting together either flights or holidays, for lots of families, they buy a house, they buy a car, but then every year they save up for those two weeks holiday. And you know, what can we do to help that be a better experience for them, whether it’s through the booking process, what it’s like when they get to the airport, what it’s like on the plane, what it’s like in the resort, and then what’s the follow up.

And I did have one of the customers basically say to me that if you book a two week skiing holiday, and you go to Whistler, and you break your leg on day three, and you spend the rest of your time in plaster, and you get flown back on the plane with your leg in plaster, without fail, two weeks later, you are still getting an email from them that says, hope you had a great skiing holiday. Here’s 10% off next year’s skiing. And this person is thinking, that’s the last thing I ever want to do. They know very little or nothing about you as a customer. And yet, you’ve spent probably one of the biggest things that you’ll spend on that year and you want yourself, your friends, your family, whoever you’re traveling with to just have an absolutely exceptional experience. I think that Customer 360 real view of the customer and what they really care about and knowing them as an individual is a real focus on that type of solution as well, Francis.

Francis Adanza:

Yeah, you made complete sense. That’s spot on and definitely appreciate all the stories that you’ve shared. I think a lot of people don’t know what Microsoft is really up to. And based off of the value in all the different solutions and the real tangible problems that you’re solving, it’s no surprise that you have the trillion dollar market cap. So thank you for sharing these stories. I greatly appreciate it.

Dave Sayers:

No problem. Thank you very much for having me. It’s been great to actually tell the story. I love telling the stories about what our- they’re doing the really exciting things and I guess we’re just enabling them to do the stuff that they really care about. So it’s a great job and I’m really, really pleased that I get a chance to share it with your audience.

Francis Adanza:

Yeah, and thanks again for being on the episode and looking forward to hopefully having you again in the future.

Dave Sayers:

Fantastic. Thank you

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