How FedEx thinks differently — about thinking differently
Innovation is about dreaming the big dream — we all know that. But while businesses often believe “thinking big” requires leaping beyond their established products and services, the surprising truth is the most profitable innovations are often found by refocusing on the day to day.
This is a lesson FedEx has taken to heart over the years: By imagining new and better ways to do what you already do well, you can reduce your risks, increase your chances for success and increase your market advantage.
Here’s an example of how that can work in practice.
Thinking inside the box
For the past few years, FedEx Innovation had been experimenting with sensor technology with the goal of enhancing the FedEx shipping network and the overall customer experience. Initial research revealed that sensors did indeed offer FedEx several opportunities for incremental process and service improvements — but the team wasn’t satisfied.
Using a disciplined innovation process, the team pushed their thinking even further, eventually arriving at a breakthrough that impacted not only network performance and customer service — but also presented FedEx with an entirely new business model.
The result was SenseAwareSM, a multi-sensor service that lets customers monitor in-transit conditions. SenseAware combines a patent-pending GPS sensor device and a Web-based collaboration platform, to enable near real-time alerts and analytics between trusted parties. SenseAware continually feeds customers the most critical data about their shipment, such as:
- Its exact location in the transportation process.
- Its precise temperature.
- Whether it’s been opened or the contents have been exposed to light.
Initial target market: life sciences
Okay, cool idea, you might be thinking, but what is it good for?
It turns out that life sciences businesses that ship sensitive, high-value products, such as implants or medical equipment, crave the very information that SenseAware delivers. It’s one reason why FedEx specifically designed SenseAware so multiple parties can use an information-sharing platform to chat electronically about a shipment. The data enables businesses to make smarter decisions and manage their supply chain more effectively.
- A surgical team collaborates with a spinal implant company to monitor the safe temperature range of an implant shipment while it is en route. The operating room can be prepped and ready to go in time for its arrival.
- A pharmaceutical company works with its suppliers to monitor shipments of millions of dollars of active ingredients to their manufacturing plant. The secure and temperature-sensitive shipments are then monitored from the plant to clinics.
- A clinical administrator partners with a biotech company and a regulatory agency — monitoring the shipment of blood and other light-sensitive compounds with precise recordkeeping for documenting custodial control.
Intensive research and testing with customers in the health care and life sciences industries were key to the successful development of SenseAware. Businesses immediately recognized its benefits, says Eric Newmark, research manager, IDC Health Insights, who gathers business intelligence about the health care industry. "SenseAware gives the industry next-generation sensing capabilities, coupled with information services that provide a new level of visibility to critical data,” he says.
For highly regulated products, the enhanced information helps businesses comply with mandatory audits and quality checks. Many health care products, for example, must remain within a specific temperature range to be effective when used. With better and more timely information, businesses can respond faster to unexpected conditions.
Smart technology? Yes, but SenseAware is more than a high-tech solution, stresses Laurie Tucker, senior vice president of marketing, FedEx Services. "It combines the power of the FedEx brand and our heritage of innovation with a new product and platform that has the capability to transform the life sciences industry,” she says.
Not a bad breakthrough — especially for thinking inside the box.
For more information on SenseAware, visit their Web site at www.senseaware.com.
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