Uncovering value

“I wouldn’t use the term ‘creating value’,” says Allen Thomas, describing his work with the customers of APS Technology Group. He prefers to talk about “uncovering the value that’s captive within their operation.”

Allen Thomas, Vice President of Operations at APS Technology Group

"From a marine terminal perspective, it’s all about the efficiency of that operation,” he says, “finding out what the capabilities are, identifying the potential that’s there.” APS offers automation solutions to improve the productivity of both marine container terminal and intermodal and railroad operations. 

Working with change agents

“We start with the concept of the why, not the what,” he says. “We’re not selling a widget, in a lot of cases, we’re selling a new way of looking at a problem they’ve had for a long time. In every organization you have progressive individuals who want to initiate change. They have done some research on their own and we help uncover the value that’s there.”

“We start from simply asking questions about the operation that we’ve seen. In certain cases they’ve contacted us, and they have a vision. In other cases, they look for a better understanding of what’s possible.” 

“They’re usually quite passionate about their operation. We know the market and terminal operations – that establishes a bond and some credibility,” says Thomas. “Then we begin fact finding to figure out what and how important their problems are and assign a value to each of those problems.” 

An iterative process 

“It’s a slow, iterative process. Basically, we like to identify KPIs (key performance indicators),” says Thomas, “We look at how they make money, and at different scenarios on productivity gains or cost reductions, reallocation of labor, extended hours, whether they’re paid per lift or transaction. We put all that into the business case and it’s a simple cost-benefit or a return on investment (ROI) calculation”.

“Based on the data given by the customer, we present what we believe are the benefits from the solution we could provide, with an estimated payback period. We like to interview our customers and then report back on the status to make sure we have a shared understanding of both the challenges and the process of how to get to a solution.”

“It’s a consultative process, because they may not be ready to proceed. The value may not be there, and we want to know as soon as possible, because if there’s no value in it, it’s best for us to focus on other opportunities.

A team decision

“If you’re buying multimillion dollar systems, there’s a decision making team, and we like to understand the responsibilities and concerns of each, because the CFO has different boxes to check than the operational head. There’s a technical aspect, there’s an engineering aspect and then there may be a corporate or a board level involvement, as well. We like to see that there is agreement on the value that should be realized.”

“After a few sessions of analysis, we have a brainstorming session and report that back in a pre-proposal with ideas to improve on the issues. If we don’t get any confirmation from that point, we don’t proceed. If we do, we start building the business case on the underlying metrics. We show what the customer is missing by operating ‘as is’ versus the cost of implementing the solution – what the ROI would be.”

Value proposition first

“The sale comes after that value proposition has been put to bed,” Allen Thomas says, not denying that there is a sales aspect, but emphasizing that in more evolved markets the clients are technically savvy, they have very savvy procurement departments, who cannot be approached from the perspective of just trying to make a sale. “That’s distrustful”, he says. “It’s not just a search for revenue. We were forced to change our approach many, many years ago because some of our customers are large, multinational industrial entities, and for us to survive, we had to really understand that we only prosper when our customers prosper.”

If you are buying multi-million dollar systems, there is a decision making team, and we like to understand their individual responsibilities and concerns.

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