CEO PERSPECTIVE: Improving Customer Supply Chain Visibility

Written by JJ Ruest, President and CEO, Canadian National Railway Company

As part of a special series in Railway Age’s March 2021 issue, 11 North American railroad CEOs address the daunting challenges the freight rail industry faces as the 21st century enters its third decade—from operations and technology to marketing and growth. Here, JJ Ruest, President and CEO of Canadian National Railway Company, covers delivering a seamless experience for the whole supply chain.

Even if our beginnings date back to the Industrial Revolution, CN has always been at the forefront of innovation, the main agent of change for our company. We were the first North American railroad to use diesel engines in mainline service and we invented remote-operated locomotives, to name just two examples. CN also pioneered a revolutionary model for railroading, Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which has become the standard for the industry. Now, CN is moving from PSR toward Digitalized Scheduled Railroading (DSR) to create more operational efficiency and more value for our customers and their supply chains.

The freight and logistics industry has undergone a major transformation in the way goods are transported. Complex global supply chains are now the norm, and real-time visibility of vast amounts of data is key to success. With DSR leading the way and leveraging advanced integrated B2B technologies to improve operations, safety and ease of doing business, CN is bringing railroading into the 21st century. The strategic development and deployment of state-of-the-art technology—CN’s next big driver of value—is well under way, signaling a new era of innovation, business transparency and seamless integration to help our customers succeed in their local and global markets by partnering with CN.

An important part of this multi-faceted modernization strategy is to enable better connectivity and collaboration with customers and supply chain partners by making shipment information more visible and delivering a seamless experience for the whole supply chain. By enabling easy access to real-time shipping data, CN will unlock critical supply chain information to give our customers better visibility of their shipments, not only on CN’s network, but also on those of our supply chain partners. 

Our goal is to connect with and display actionable data from our supply chain partners to provide timely and accurate information to customers about the complete end-to-end move as cargo transits from one supply chain partner to another. We want to provide an optimal digital experience for CN customers and supply chain partners, regardless of how they connect to and consume data, to help them build competitive advantage.

At CN, it’s all about the customer experience, and we’re going to make it better and simpler to do business with us.

In our vision, the superior customer experience we will deliver will be simple, intuitive, consistent and connected through a digital ecosystem encompassing a supply chain community of customers and partners. Simply put: Its functions will benefit all links in the supply chain, allowing them to plan and execute better and make quicker, data-driven business decisions. By offering shipment information at their fingertips, we will empower our customers and partners to build revenues, streamline operations, improve on-time shipping performance and grow their business. 

Concretely, CN will provide customers with a transparent view of the complete transaction across the plan-ship-track-pay value stream. Customers will be able to visualize their shipments using maps, status-based graphics and KPIs, with drilldown capabilities to shipment details, using a mobile device or web to query information or execute a transaction with ease. To that effect, customers will be able to choose the omni-channel that best meets their needs (API, mobile, EDI, web). Of course, access to live customer service will also be available via chat, text or voice.

As we move toward new levels of connectivity, CN will help deliver optimized supply chain operations and advanced services devoid of silos. By adopting a design-thinking mindset, agile culture and platforms-based ecosystems, CN is building the digital railroad of the future. We are leading the way as an essential enabler of the digital economy with new technologies. 

Next-generation digital technologies and intelligent systems are laying the foundation that will safely usher us into our next century of successful operations, creating the best solutions for our customers, while generating value for our investors and delivering sustainably for all communities. 

At CN, it’s all about the customer experience, and we’re going to make it better and simpler to do business with us. 

Read more of Railway Age’s special CEO Perspectives series:

Ian Jefferies, Association of American Railroads: Sustainable Economic and Legislative Policies
• Katie Farmer, BNSF: Leveraging Advanced Technologies
• Keith Creel, Canadian Pacific: Growing the Top Line
• Jim Foote, CSX: Railroads as a Sustainable Business
• Pat Ottensmeyer, Kansas City Southern: Maximizing USMCA for Cross-Border Growth
• Jim Squires, Norfolk Southern: Building the Digital Railroad of the Future
• Lance Fritz, Union Pacific: Smart Capital Investment Strategies
• Peter Gilbertson, Anacostia Rail Holdings: Providing Outstanding Customer Service
• Dean Piacente, OmniTRAX: Building Better Communities Through Industrial Development
• Dan Smith, Watco: Integrated Transportation Services Fuel Growth

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