Cutting-Edge Technologies Revamping the Mailing and Shipping Industry: Dr. James Fairweather, CIO, Pitney Bowes
Dr. James Fairweather, Chief Innovation Officer, Pitney Bowes, speaks to Express Computer and provides insights into the innovative technologies driving the company’s solutions and services in mailing and shipping. He discusses how these technologies address evolving business needs, the company’s influence on the global parcel shipping landscape, and his vision for advancing Pitney Bowes’ offerings.
Fairweather also highlights challenges and opportunities in implementing new technologies, emphasises the importance of upskilling the workforce, and shares examples of fostering a culture of continuous learning. He predicts that the future of mailing and shipping will involve increasing complexity, with emerging technologies like generative AI playing a pivotal role in reshaping the industry.
Pitney Bowes has been a key player in the mailing and shipping industries for decades. Could you highlight some of the most innovative technologies that are currently driving your solutions and services in this space?
When we think about innovation at Pitney Bowes, technology-based innovation is one of three types of innovation we focus on: technology innovation, business innovation, and process innovation. Recently, we have been developing a new payment evidencing platform based on a combination of an immutable ledger database and a cloud-based hardware security module solution. This solution enables us to build a software-defined payment evidencing solution that can meet a large number of diverse use cases.
We are also innovating in the physical world with the introduction of the industry’s first integrated scale and printer for shipping, the PitneyShipTM Cube. In this case, a combination of beautiful design, coupled with knowledge of client workflows, and a cloud-based print agent allows us to integrate shipping seamlessly into a large number of applications and improve both the digital and physical experience. In another example of business innovation, the Pitney Bowes SendPro® 360 platform customises and delivers fast, high-quality service for our clients through simple configurations instead of lengthy development cycles. It creates a strong set of capabilities across our portfolio of products and solutions and lowers the cost of management, thereby improving our profitability.
How do these innovative technologies address the evolving needs and challenges faced by businesses in today’s rapidly changing digital landscape?
Our clients face increasing complexity in the execution of shipping and mailing. As the number of carriers and services offered increases, consumers increasingly want to exert preference on their use of services, the number of selling channels increases, and cost pressures mount on organisations, forcing them to optimise their spend. Our solutions sit at the intersection of this complexity and reduce the burden on a business through effective use of technology. One example of how our products support evolving business needs is the SendPro® 360 platform. In 2021, SendPro® 360 enabled one of the largest healthcare and pharmaceutical companies to send nearly 100,000 packages per day from its 9,000 stores to serve its customers’ critical pharmaceutical needs.
The global parcel shipping landscape has transformed significantly, especially with the rise of e-commerce. How has Pitney Bowes technology influenced and shaped this landscape, particularly in light of India’s booming e-commerce sector?
Pitney Bowes technology has always been agile in meeting the increasing demands of the market, especially with the rise of e-commerce. Our foundation and structure for digital client interaction, along with leveraging technologies like data science and a strong emphasis on machine learning and AI, have been robust. We have further strengthened these capabilities in a significant way since the pandemic, allowing us to efficiently handle larger volumes. Our cross-border solutions facilitate seamless international shipping, leveraging our extensive global presence to support cross-border operations. We have strong relationships with well-known clients, enabling and supporting their growing shipping needs. Leveraging our comprehensive global presence, our shipping solutions ensure seamless international shipping for our clients. Our adaptability and agility have positioned us to thrive in the fast-moving e-commerce landscape.
As the CIO of Pitney Bowes, your role is pivotal in driving technological innovations. Could you elaborate on your vision and strategy for advancing the company’s offerings in the areas of mailing and shipping?
The common unifying strategic vision for our shipping and mailing services is to be the best platform to remove complexity from the ecosystem through a combination of exceptional client experience and technological innovation. Everything we do is aimed at making the process of mailing and shipping easier for our clients.
This requires two things. First, we are constantly investing in technology to make the process of shipping and mailing for any business easier than it is today and to remove the complexity of orchestrating digital processes with physical operations. So, whether you are using our shipping and mailing technology solutions, our shipping and mailing services, or a combination of the two, our technology will help you operate more effectively and efficiently. Second, it requires that we invest in the people in our organisation. This includes job training, career path planning, skills and technology training, and, most importantly, an investment in them to ensure they understand our clients and what they are looking for from Pitney Bowes, so they know how to deliver the best possible client experience.
What challenges and opportunities have you encountered while leading the implementation of new technologies in the shipping industry?
Pitney Bowes has a long history of delivering shipping technology solutions to clients. Whenever you have this kind of history and a client base using solutions and getting value from them, it creates both challenges and opportunities. From a challenge perspective, clients are already using your technology and software, and those solutions are not necessarily your most recent products and services. To move them forward and give them new value from your latest solutions, you have to ensure that the majority of use cases and functionalities are supported in your new solution. The opportunity is enormous to extend client relationships, provide more value, find new and modern ways to deliver your solutions, and integrate more deeply into their environments with your new platforms.
With the introduction of cutting-edge technologies, upskilling and reskilling of the workforce often become crucial. How is Pitney Bowes ensuring that employees are equipped with the necessary skills to leverage these innovations effectively?
We make sure we have a wide range of learning and development opportunities and tools in place and that we encourage participation. All employees are actively encouraged to have development plans in place that target areas where they wish to grow and where the enterprise needs skills and capability. We utilise a range of educational and training tools. For example, all our innovation and IT resources have access to Udemy Business Pro. We also incorporate training on key business concepts into our ‘All Hands’ meetings and other large communication forums. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that every employee has access to a rich set of training and resources and feels encouraged to take advantage of them.
Could you share examples of how Pitney Bowes is fostering a culture of continuous learning and development to embrace technological advancements?
One great example of our culture embracing new technologies and continuously learning is the way in which generative AI has come into our organisation. First, it wasn’t a technology we had to tell people about. Just after the release of the first major ChatGPT model, we had developers, analysts, and businesspeople immediately aware of it and talking about it. We quickly formed a lightweight governance team to think through our principles for use. They initiated an inventory of projects that revealed we already had dozens of use cases being explored in the company.
Following on the heels of this early work, we’ve seen our organisation embrace associated technologies and initiate self-training on these technologies. We have also seen an amazing learning culture and mindset when it comes to developing business acumen within our engineering teams. As our teams are pulled into more problems involving data science to optimise business results and performance, I have seen a huge increase among my developers in taking courses on cost accounting and other topics directly related to the analytical work they are tasked to perform.
Looking ahead, what is Pitney Bowes vision for the future of mailing and shipping? How do you see technology continuing to reshape these industries in the coming years?
Business shipping and e-commerce fulfillment shipping are going to continue to get increasingly complicated in the coming years. The number of delivery points and delivery carriers (and drop-offs in the case of returns) continues to rise. In addition, addressing the preferences of the shipper or the receiver in terms of the types of service they want to receive (lowest cost vs. same day vs. time and day definite) requires shipping software and technology systems to have more and more capabilities—to integrate with carriers, connect to other systems, and execute rules.
What emerging technologies or trends do you believe will play a pivotal role in shaping the next phase of growth for Pitney Bowes mailing and shipping solutions?
Clearly, generative AI is a technology that all of us are keenly watching. I believe that generative AI, coupled with the ability to look at streams of business data and act with urgency—i.e., they can take action and not just answer questions—will be truly transformative to business intelligence and analytics. Ultimately, at their core, the problems and complexity associated with shipping and mailing are business challenges, and generative AI can be foundational in automating business processes, gaining insight through data analysis, and engaging with customers and employees.