Oct. 14 2008 04:11 PM

As the IT Manager of Shipping Applications for Ditan Distribution LLC, Oscar Murray has seen it all. “The shipping industry is constantly changing,” he shares. “You have to stay on top of things, because what works one day may not work the next.” 
This mantra is especially critical for companies like Ditan, a leading Retail Distribution Services provider specializing in direct-to-store distribution of time-sensitive products. The company has a wide customer base comprised of manufacturers, publishers, major retail chains and distributors. Ditan’s theory is to utilize state-of-the-art information systems in conjunction with point-of-origin shipping capabilities and retail compliance expertise in order to reduce inventories, cut transportation costs, speed deliveries and improve customer service for the company’s customers.
Murray didn’t really expect to be in a position like this 10 years ago — it’s doubtful that he even thought he’d be in this industry! When he first came to Worcester State College in Massachusetts, he dreamed of becoming an electrical engineer. However, he found that his studies weren’t as interesting to him as he had hoped they’d be, so he switched to computer science as a major instead.
A 2000 graduate, he entered the professional world at the height of the dot com craze, and “it was a wild ride for about a year and a half,” he laughs. He worked at Kewill for quite some time, and ironically, the system that he mastered there was a driving force in his hiring at Ditan, although he, of course, didn’t know that at the time. After the dot com market drastically slowed, Murray decided to attend graduate school, where he earned a Management and Computer Science degree.
He graduated at the right time, too. “The market was really starting to pick back up then,” he recalls. “Within four days, I had an offer at Ditan.” He came in as a contract to hire position, and the powers that be were impressed with the substantial changes he made. He was soon promoted to a management position, in large part because of his heavy background in the development and support of the Kewill system.
Movin’ On Up
Now, the former electrical engineering hopeful oversees the IT department in an organization that ships close to 11 million packages a year, and he couldn’t be happier. He takes the tenets of Ditan’s operation to heart and emphasizes that following these tenets are crucial to the organization’s success. “Customer service is a big one,” Murray shares. “We really give that portion of our business a lot of attention because it’s so crucial.”
One way that Ditan and Murray maintain satisfied customers is through their fulfillment and expediting services.  “Our fulfillment services include drop ship to one location; ship to multiple locations; ship by unit to single destinations; warehouse with subsequent pick, pack and ship instructions, in single title lots or mixed title lots,” he explains. “Our expediting services include local bulk or split shipments, by direct, same day or overnight, your courier or ours; coast-to-coast bulk, split shipments, time release or individual, transit shopped by ground, expedited ground, air, deferred air. In short, we’ve got basically every aspect covered.”
Of course, as the IT Manager, Murray works even more closely with the electronic side of it all, and he’s got it down pat. “Our computerized inventory system is state-of-the-art,” he shares. “All products are barcoded for transferring and tracking purposes. Our inventory checking systems are 100% accurate. We have an electronic shipping system, which is integrated with our key carriers. We print and place carrier compliant labels on all shipping cartons to include RFID labels, and we have EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) capability to coordinate work orders with customer computer systems.”

Facing the Challenges

He makes it sound like a breeze, but he’s the first to admit that the challenges that arise can be frustrating. “The biggest challenge in the parcel industry as I see it is customer expectations,” he opines. “Customers might mean vendors or stakeholders. They all expect that you have growth and spend less, and you have to do this more quickly than ever before.”
So how is Ditan handling this? Luckily, pretty well. “Ditan has grown close to 40% a year for the last four years, and we have done it with a tighter budget and yet have delivered more product while exceeding customer expectations,” Murray shares. “I feel that when you trim the budget at some point, you stunt your growth. We as managers have worked together to get the most out of our teams by streamlining a lot of processes. We are on our way to becoming ISO compliant, and that has really helped cut back some costs. But for our IT, we have started to spend again, and the benefits of spending wisely and evaluating each project and working a true project management methodology is really paying off. We are getting three to four times the normally expected ROI — and in record time. I am glad that I could be a crucial leader in bringing our mid size company into the control and process driven future of a large company.”
When asked what he thinks is the most important thing for people in our industry to remember, he thinks back to the craziness of the dot com era. “You have to be prepared,” he emphasizes. “In any industry, but especially ours, anything can change at a given moment, so you have to be on top of things.”
“Other than that, I’d say that you have to know your shipments inside and out. You have to know where they are, where they’re going and how they’re getting there.”