2020 Future of Freight Series General Logistics Technology LogTech

Johnson & Johnson on why Q3 is all about data, standards, and visibility

In this article, we summarize some of the key insights from our interview with Neil Ackerman, Head of Advanced Technologies, Global Supply Chain, Middle East and Africa at Johnson & Johnson, touching on what enterprise shippers/beneficial cargo owners are looking for from logistics providers and how tech can help.

After hearing from logistics technology insiders, ocean carriers, global freight forwarders and even Alibaba, on how tech is changing the industry, we also wanted to hear from a shipper. A big one.

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Neil Ackerman is J&J’s Head of Advanced Technologies, Global Supply Chain, Middle East and Africa and a former inventor at Amazon where he helped launch the Fulfillment By Amazon program. And, of course, J&J fits the bill – it’s one of the largest healthcare companies in the world with over $80B dollars in revenue last year and a supply chain that spans the globe.

Neil was kind enough to share what’s most important to enterprise shippers – what things they want most from their logistics providers, and how tech can (excuse the pun… or don’t) deliver them. 



Shippers still need that human touch

Neil made an interesting point we hadn’t heard from previous guests. For all our talk of automation, digitization, and optimization, the human aspect of logistics is still important to shippers.

Especially in crisis mode during the pandemic, shippers are looking to logistics experts for reassurance and guidance in terms of planning and execution. 

“No one has exclusivity on great ideas, so when you can bring great people together with the data magic, you have the combination you need.”

They of course want insights to be data-backed and reliable, but data alone is often not enough. The ability to leverage expertise and experience to tell the most compelling story from the data, is the human touch shippers are still seeking. For us, that meant that logistics providers must package the right balance, and even the right delivery method of that personal touch.

It’s all about visibility

Yes, visibility might have reached peak buzzword status in these conversations. But there’s a reason it appeared in our conversations with forwarders, carriers and Alibaba too. The desire for tech to provide visibility – not just in terms of track and trace, but of inventory, demand, orders, and pricing –  across the supply chain, takes on new meaning when discussing urgent healthcare goods or delivery of time-sensitive goods during a medical (and supply chain) crisis.

To that end, Neil is bullish on tracking through IOT and increased data flows through Robotic Process Automation, in that they can significantly increase the amount of data collected about the supply chain, and improve visibility and transparency. 

Speaking of data

J&J is also very interested in advances in AI-based demand forecasting to inform and optimize their inventory management. Machine learning that can generate insights from J&J’s own supply chain data, as well as downstream consumer data and even social media is a new key source for supply chain visibility.  

This was actually a point that stuck out in the conversation as well. Despite the sprawling supply chain operated by J&J, Neil preached the benefit of identifying as many data points as possible. No one company has enough data or vertical integration to live in a data island, regardless of how sophisticated their data is. 

And in air cargo, J&J is also looking for transparency, this time in pricing. In Neil’s view, air carriers need to democratize pricing so that they can focus on providing shippers with great customer service. So data…set free.

But data standards are key

As we also heard in all our previous episodes, data can only provide real visibility when there are standards to unite the disparate sources. 

Jamin Dick of Alibaba considered the lack of standards a big blocker to smoothe logistics. Hapag-Lloyd’s CDO Ralf Belusa stressed that multiple standards – one for each data type/purpose – need to take hold in order to unlock the full value of data and the visibility it can provide.

Get the latest research on logistics data standards


As an awarded inventor at Amazon, Neil noted that among the advantages of facilitating third party sales on the Amazon platform through FBA, were the huge increases in selection and price competitiveness. 

But customers would never be won over if the experience ended in friction-filled shipping.  Increasing the number of players on the marketplace meant that Amazon had to create new ways to keep fulfillment smooth. 

“No one’s coming back to your site even if it is inexpensive, if in the end you can’t actually receive your order.”

As we heard from Agility, one of the biggest impacts Amazon has had on the supply chain is their modeling of successful standardization. By creating standards that made all sellers and logistics providers speak the same language, Amazon fulfillment can move smoothly and remove bottlenecks. 

Steps toward industry-wide data standardization are already being taken, but much more needs to happen before the entire industry is speaking the same language. 

Could this be the crisis-driven year of visibility through standardization?

Thanks again to Neil for joining us. You can register now for Episode 6 where we’ll talk innovation in air cargo with Air France KLM Martinair Cargo VP Robert Kunen.