Future-Fitting your Warehouse for the Future Worker (Feat. Alex Ramirez, CEO & Co-founder of CognitOps)

Future-Fitting your warehouse for the future worker

In this episode, your hosts, Rachael Weber and Wonil Gregg, sit down with the CognitOps CEO & Co-Founder, Alex Ramirez. Get ready to explore strategies for preparing your facilities for the future workforce. Learn about the shifting labor pool, its global supply chain impact, and the proactive approaches essential for businesses & operations managers.

Are we prepping our warehouses not just for the technology, but for NextGen workers? Join us on the DCPerform Podcast as we dive deep into this topic with expert, Alex Ramirez.


00;00;00;08 – 00;00;29;12

Hello and welcome back to the DCPerform podcast. My name is Rachael Weber and I’m Wonil Gregg and we’re excited to be back. It’s been a while. Joining us today, we have Alex Ramirez, the CEO and co-founder of CognitOps. And we’re talking about future fitting your warehouse for the future worker. We’ve known Alex for several years and in this episode we’re going to explore the origins of the workforce and then all the way up into the future and what a vision looks like of what it could be in the next 20 to 25 years.

00;00;29;29 – 00;00;49;23

It’s a fantastic episode and we appreciate you tuning in. Thanks for listening to the DC Perform podcast. Well, welcome back to the DCPerform podcast. Alex Ramirez, thanks for joining us. Welcome. So Alex, you are the CEO and co-founder of CognitOps. Would you like to give a little background about cognate ops and what the company is all about?

00;00;49;28 – 00;01;12;24

Yeah. So 2018, my co-founder and I saw an unmet need in the warehouse, specifically around operations managers, leaders, supervisors and to my co-founder. And I thought about this kind of brain for the warehouse idea. And so what we decided to do is to build this, you know, SAS solution for any warehouse to really help operators make better decisions.

00;01;12;24 – 00;01;29;12

Better decisions drive, of course, productivity and service levels and on time in full and all the cool KPIs that everybody hopefully in your audience is going to be keying on. So and cog in office. Cool name, I have to say. Thank you. As the marketing and branding gal, I love that. I love the name. I think it’s really fun.

00;01;29;13 – 00;01;48;26

Outstanding. Well, I’m going to shout out to Reese, Mac and my co-founder. You see, we we have people that like our studio. Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is predict the problem and compress the time between identification of the problem and resolution. Right. Because in warehouses, you know, by the time you realize you’re late, it’s the 11th hour.

00;01;48;26 – 00;02;11;12

Right? And so now you have to scramble. And that scramble is a massive ripple in your facility, where now you’re kind of catching up to everything that’s behind it. When you think of some of the particularly the software elements that enable so much of the operational capabilities, orchestration with automation, ultimately it comes down to how does that all integrate with the worker?

00;02;11;21 – 00;02;38;08

Yes. So share with us a little bit of your perspective on that, particularly in the evolution of that since COVID? I would say the first thing that, you know, when you think about orchestration of automation with people is you’re there was this wave of we have to smash automation into the facility as quickly as possible because that’s the only way to drive resiliency in me in my operation, because people are getting sick, they’re not coming to the warehouse.

00;02;38;08 – 00;03;04;26

We know that, you know, attrition, absenteeism, just the availability of the worker in the warehouse is shrinking effectively. The human being is going extinct in the four walls. Right. And so as people deployed automation and we continue to see it, it’s the right wave, to be honest, to deploy automation. How do you get the the right people that are digitally native, that are upskilled and reskilled to use the software to understand the machinery?

00;03;05;06 – 00;03;31;11
I know my customers have struggled with orchestrating and getting the maximum throughput because you have individuals that were never trained or change managed to operate this new equipment. But if you don’t have the right people trained and really engaged in using the automation, well then you run into scenarios that you know. DC perform optimizers, which is I’m not hitting throughput well why is that?

00;03;31;11 – 00;03;52;22
You go in and diagnose or maybe have the wrong people or you haven’t invested in right getting that person to be truly trained upskilled and engaged in knowing how to operate the automation. Right. But not everybody is is going to be born a savant in how to operate a good suburban station or to use elegant software or even like CognitOps.

00;03;52;22 – 00;04;14;27
We need to upskill and reskill our team members to know when to use the solution, how to use it, and then when to alert when the overall context of the building is is askew. The end consumer, their buying patterns and how they behave when they buy and make a decision to buy is really driving the back end of the supply chain to be able to meet those new requirements as no demands.

00;04;15;09 – 00;04;47;16
And obviously that impacts the workforce. We’re also seeing that that workforce is also the buyer. Right. So share some of your thoughts on how something like LMS. Yeah. Is being designed now too with those new realities and how is what you’re providing another level of performance above that? There’s a professor at MIT, Dr. Yossi Sheffield, that talks about supply chains being social networks and what a what a great way to think about the supply chain.

00;04;47;16 – 00;05;16;02

And that buyers of an iPhone are also potentially operators in an Apple warehouse using automation, fulfilling more iPhones. Right. And so understanding the magic of it’s not that we should go to a store shelf and doctor, chef, he says this. He he says we shouldn’t go to a shelf and be mad when there’s an out of stock. Instead, we should be pleased when they’re actually in-stock because something worked right.

00;05;16;02 – 00;05;38;19

And you had that new user in a warehouse that is digitally native. Fulfill the order correctly and get it to get it to the store. In fact, thinking about just digitally native and riffing and pivoting here a little bit like Generation Alpha 2011 to 2024, I think are the Earth years. They’re five years away from entering the workforce.

00;05;39;06 – 00;05;57;27

My daughter is Gen Alpha. She’s five years away from potentially going. And you know, finding a job, fulfilling orders, that scary first generation born in the 21st century. Now she’s going to go into a warehouse and she’s going to be bound to, you got to hit rate. You’ve got to be productive. You have to, you know, be utilized.

– 00;06;34;05

And by the way, you know, go work on this machine that you’ve never been trained on. So labor management, I think the construct is switching from how do we squeeze blood out of the rock with labor management instead? How do we use labor management to incentivize people, whether it’s, you know, through rewards or the gamification element of labor management, to get these new entrants to really like want to work in a warehouse understanding that this digitally native workforce is here to stay and we have to meet them where they are vis a vis these solutions.

00;06;34;05 – 00;06;59;21

And how they engage with them is paramount, right? So with labor management, it’s got to be about aligning incentives with behaviors, making sure that the systems are truly usable, that they’re fun to engage with, and that when you scoreboard somebody, it’s for a purpose. Referencing some data, a data point from the Manpower report. Nearly four in five employers globally report difficulty finding the skilled talent that they need in 2023.

00;07;00;05 – 00;07;32;09

So for businesses that are seeking some levels of automating their their whole warehouse, what defines that right employee or the right skill set to make sure that they are getting what they need? Imagine going out to a recruiting event and asking older, you know, teenagers, those in their twenties, all they know is, you know, digital solutions and social networks, etc., to come into a warehouse, look at a green screen and say, isn’t this an exciting place to be?

00;07;33;16 – 00;08;07;09

They’re probably running like it’s on fire as Ebola and COVID. At the same time, you see their eyeballs roll as they come up to the equipment 100%. And so it is not an attractive space for the people that we need driving new innovations, new perspectives. I think the warehouses, supply chains that thrive, bring in fresh generations of thought, empower them to share their perspective lives, and and then include them in the decision making process and goal setting, etc..

00;08;07;09 – 00;08;38;03

The same applies for for the warehouse. And so the best way I think to find that new talent is to offer them upskilling, reskilling, training from a leadership perspective of get let them know that they’re going to be working in fast paced, dynamic, problem solving type situations and that the company is going to invest in them to become better papers, green screens and bad Glassdoor reviews are, I think, will turn people off.

00;08;38;13 – 00;09;02;17

Right. And so many warehouses are guilty of running on paper, running on green screens, having bad management, believing that, you know, they can squeeze people to be productive by screaming at them or not engaging those types of operations have to go extinct because the new workforce my daughter in in five years, she’s not going to she’s not going to have that CFOs.

00;09;02;17 – 00;09;43;16

And you’ve got investors who have sunk millions, hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of dollars into these infrastructures. And their their capital plan still hasn’t been achieved yet. The workforce is changing dramatically, faster than most likely. They’re going to get their investment back. It seems that where we’re seeing activity and the line of thinking that you just mentioned is really in those 200 million to 500, 600 million companies, dollar companies who don’t have that overhead of debt and needing that ROI, and they’re more agile and being able to adapt the workforce and technology.

00;09;43;16 – 00;10;04;16

And they’re going to be the future leaders 20 years from now of what this new supply chain and operating model is going to look like. Give us a vision of what you think that ideal environment would be. When you think of the Amazons at the Wal-Marts today, that company that we just defined, what that could be like and what that work environment will be like compared to what we have today.

00;10;04;18 – 00;10;30;01

When when you think about the companies that are being acquired, they’ve invested so much in their infrastructure, but it’s been old technologies, it’s been old conveyor, it’s been old processes. Yes, you have big monoliths that have infrastructure that dates back to the seventies and eighties. And it’s hard to just throw technology and throw investments when it’s like that’s almost like a rip and replace.

00;10;30;06 – 00;11;03;12

But yet, you’re right, those 200 to 500 million run rate companies almost digitally native that are they’re not bound by the legacy debt, the technology, technological debt, the debt of bad decisions if they appreciate supply chain as competitive advantage, if they appreciate supply chain as a revenue driver and don’t allow the CFO to basically put it as a cost center that needs to be squeezed and maximize that, you know, every every opportunity.

00;11;04;01 – 00;11;35;20

Then they have a shot to get to the velocity and the agility of an Amazon of a Walmart without having to deploy billions, if not trillions of dollars to get to the network that these big companies have, because the technologies have matured 200 to 500 million, where you’re coming in fresh into what should my warehouse be, what should my robotics kind of philosophy and roadmap be, my automation roadmap, what software should I use?

00;11;36;05 – 00;12;09;24

There’s almost an embarrassment of riches right now with companies being able to go out and find the right kind of mix of solutions to have so much leverage without having to say, Gosh, am I going to compete against Walmart and Amazon by having to deploy thousands of warehouses? No, a AI is going to be a productivity driver. The founder of OPENAI says that generative AI and large language models are going to allow one person to build $1,000,000,000 business.

00;12;09;24 – 00;12;30;18

One person, and I don’t think that’s far fetched. I think there are so many solutions you can tether together from a CRM to an order management to a point of sale to, you know, leveraging it for people to basically have one idea, one product and turn it into $1,000,000,000 business. That’s real. And Rachel, it’s no coincidence that this is generational, right?

00;12;30;21 – 00;13;06;19

Yeah. You see the leadership ranks turning over and we talk all the time about generational change. Sure. That’s got to be exciting news for your group and your peers coming out that all that is open to. What do you think of that? I utilize AI every day. It just it is fully integrated in my workflow and it is just so interesting to see the difference between myself and other generations, especially before me, that have almost a difficult time adjusting to that type of lifestyle.

00;13;06;19 – 00;13;31;18

And honestly, just your day to day tasks like I’ve, I’ve learned to start leveraging and optimizing what I do by utilizing AI. And I think that because of that, these future leaders are just going to easily welcome, welcome AI into what their operations are. And they could be that one company that turns into $1,000,000,000 company. I mean, it’s not cheating, not I know you just got to caveat it at the asterisk.

00;13;31;18 – 00;13;46;11

So whatever it is that you’re doing. But it is funny though, because I think a misconception out in the universe is that AI is cheating on a lot of things. It’s funny you say that. My I remember my dad was like, you’re using AI at work. Like, do you even work? And I’m like, No, you don’t get it.

00;13;46;11 – 00;14;17;17

Like, I’m helping. I’m having it. Help me save time. I think the AI piece is something that, you know, in this theme of future proofing the warehouse with the future worker, you absolutely right. This next generation, it’s not even AI. It’s just going to be a fact of life into it for them. You take them from an environment where they have an assistant, right not to cheat, but to simply just optimize and make decisions faster for them or to research things so they can be more productive in life.

00;14;17;17 – 00;14;41;20

Come into the dark ages of a warehouse built in the 1980s. It’s not congruent, right? With, Hey, this is an environment that I want to work in. The smaller companies are going to come in and say, Yes, I can experiment a little bit with a pilot of this software or let’s pilot this, you know, autonomous mobile robot, etc., bigger companies have, let’s just call it older, more stodgy leadership.

00;14;42;03 – 00;15;02;08

Oh, we’ve done that. We’ve tried that. We’ve always done it this way. Which environment will this new set of generations want to work in? One. One thing I actually would like to share recently I was having a discussion about AI with with a coworker, and I was sharing how I actually makes me feel fearless. I feel I feel very powerful.

00;15;02;08 – 00;15;42;24

I feel safe. And the reasoning behind that is because I don’t feel like I’m alone. It’s almost like this little, you know, assistant on my shoulder that’s like, don’t worry. If you have a question, just ask me. It’s a safe space. I’m not going to judge you. I can ask you whatever I want. And I think that that could really translate into the warehouse space as well, because if they’re interacting and utilizing AI through whatever process they’re doing, there is kind of that feeling of, okay, well, this, you know, whatever machine or, you know, form of automation that is utilizing AI it’ll it has my back can have it can make sure that what we

00;15;42;24 – 00;16;00;10

need to get done gets done. And if I maybe have a small mistake or whatever, it’ll help me fix that. One of you’ll probably appreciate this. I’m really good. I’m probably the expert in asking stupid questions. One, I think it drives conversation. But secondly, I don’t know much by nature. I’m going to ask a lot of stupid questions.

00;16;01;00 – 00;16;37;29
Not everybody is built that way, right? Some people get stupid answers, some people get to it isn’t exactly. And so we are not having to depend on a certain personality to say, oh, yeah, we hired, you know, a Type A or, you know, this this type of personality. They’re going to they’re going to be fearless. They’re not going to, you know, worry about asking the wrong questions and opening up the aperture of I want to hire introverts, I want to hire extroverts, I want to hire type A’s, type B’s, whatever the personality profiles are, because, a, it’s going to give us diversity of thought, which is super important for any business to evolve.

00;16;37;29 – 00;16;59;13

And secondly, they’re going to have a sidekick. They can choose to either ask, you know, AI for some assistance or they’re going to be like me and they’re just going to, you know, ask a stupid question and then get the funny faces, right. Different people learn differently, allowing these fresh entrants in the warehouse to learn how they want to learn, I think, is another key element for future proofing a warehouse.

00;17;00;15 – 00;17;25;12

And AI has to be part of the strategy, the needs of the operation changes on a minute by minute basis depended on so many factors that you cannot foresee and the ability to be able to capture that and provide the optimal workflow real time is where everyone trying to get the challenge. I see is the workforce. Yes. 20 years from now.

00;17;25;12 – 00;17;47;04

Yeah. What’s the warehouse going to look like? Having the agility to pivot inside your operation is critical. We know that the workforce is struggling to really rationalize the desire to go work in a warehouse. You have to be thinking about How do I make my facility agile? I’m going to have many different workflows. I’m going to have so many different customer demand.

00;17;48;01 – 00;18;17;14

Context switching is really tough on human beings. It’s fascinating to see what, you know, humanoid robots can do. They could context switch pretty darn quickly because, you know, they’ve got a supercomputer inside. We as a company have a philosophy around real time simulation and all the power that digital twins can bring to an operation. Being ready to say, Oh, wait, you were planning for a but now it’s not even close to a it’s over here on Plan Z.

00;18;17;29 – 00;18;44;04

This is how you should pivot your your operation in real time. There’s got to be a technology for that. Let’s talk about supply chain handling chaos. There’s a lot of existential threats out there right now. Global weather phenomena, political and civil unrest. Obviously, war is always an issue. Yes, that impacts human consumption and it also impacts availability. Getting materials there.

00;18;44;04 – 00;19;20;25

We see it everywhere. Yeah. How do we as an industry respond better to tragedies that’s impacting human life and ultimately consumption and the economies? I would love to say, hey, we as an industry need to pause, take a breath, recognize, for example, the bridge collapsing in Baltimore. Right. There were some reactions that said, you know, we should pray and think about, you know, I think it was six workers that perished.

00;19;20;25 – 00;19;48;16

Right. And then others were like, hey, we should think about the impact on global supply chains and, you know, the impact to the ports and all this stuff. And I’m just thinking, six people just died. All right. You know, it’s okay to take a breath. Does the consumer base, do they have the tolerance for supply chains to. Wait a second.

00;19;49;27 – 00;20;20;06

I don’t know. No. You know, I think most people are inherently good, right? They want the best for their loved ones. Right. But as a mob, that is the consumer base, ain’t nobody got time to wait for a reaction or for us to, you know, take a pause to address the human condition. Everyone responsible for running a business when there is a an event that affects human life.

00;20;20;08 – 00;20;39;12

I should should pause and take a breath, give a heads up to their consumer base to be like, hey, this is going to impact us. We’re going to do our best. But could a business do that right? And would we as the mob, the consumer base, appreciate that to say, okay, you know, Brand X, I totally get it.

00;20;39;17 – 00;21;00;21

And it seems like it always takes this guy an event like World War Two did to that generation. And I feel that we’re coming to that time where we’re going to experience that again, where there’s only so much disruption, what we consider normal, and the way we’ve become accustomed to living our lifestyle the way we do is going to be in jeopardy or change.

00;21;00;21 – 00;21;37;15
Yes. Are we going to react as human beings, as businesspeople, to, you know, try to connect human empathy with maximizing shareholder value? Yeah, right. You know that link sometime now. And I’m an optimist by nature, but but I’m also a practical optimist. And it’s possible, you know, sometimes sometimes we stink as human beings. Unfortunately, I feel like I don’t I think that the consumer base is just going to get worse.

00;21;37;17 – 00;22;05;05

Yeah, we’re not to be a pessimist here, but, you know, I just I just think that we have unfortunately enabled consumers to get whatever they want, whenever they want. And I think it’s just gotten so far that it’s too late to start integrating. And this is just my opinion, but it’s too late to start assuming like, okay, maybe we can have a little bit of human empathy start to trickle in.

00;22;05;17 – 00;22;24;22

I mean, I’m just I notice it in myself like this. I ordered this some workout clothes last week and they said it was going to be there yesterday and the package didn’t arrive yesterday. Yes, I have so many other pieces of clothing that I can work out, but I right now can’t stop thinking about this gosh darn package.

00;22;24;22 – 00;22;43;06

I mean, I’m like, where is it? They said it was the 25th. And, you know, Aunt said knucklehead seats exactly like that. This a cockpit off facility? Yeah. Yeah. I’m like, Rachel, you have seven other pairs of pants you can wear. I’m thinking it’s more of like an Amazon thing where maybe they they don’t really know what they they started here.

00;22;43;06 – 00;23;15;01

Yes. Pandora’s box was basically shipped same day and no matter the consequence, no matter the impact on, you know, the environment, the amount of corrugated that we waste. And now how do you unwind that expectation from again and I say this lovingly, because I’m part of this mob, the consumer base, those those companies that are are evolving, growing, where they have really loyal customers.

00;23;15;24 – 00;23;38;05

Maybe they can start to impart their values, their ethos of like, we don’t need this right now. We are going to manufacture the best product to meet your needs, and we’re going to do so in a very prudent manner where if if it has to come a little later, because it’s going to improve, you know, some efficiency or it’s going to help the business or it’s just going to be good for the environment.

00;23;38;05 – 00;23;56;21

They have a chance to build a really loyal customer base. At some point, though, they may want to consider expanding beyond the customer, the loyal customer base. And that’s when you start to enter, you know, the Colosseum. It’s a tricky thing to navigate, right? So we got to do better. Good stuff. Yeah, that was some good stuff. Any final words that you want to throw in?

00;23;56;21 – 00;24;18;02

No. This has been great. My first podcast, so I didn’t stutter too badly. I’ve been fantastic. I really appreciate it. I love talking about supply chain in the warehouse and certainly with two pros. Thank you for hosting me here in lovely Phenix. Weather has been fantastic. Thank you. And so looking forward to the next one. Great. Yes. Well, Alex Ramirez, such a pleasure to have you.

00;24;18;02 – 00;24;42;20

Give a quick plug for cognitive ops. Can people find your website somewhere? W.W. Incognito off WSJ.com. We, I think, just started to kick off some YouTube content of like and subscribe for sure. And certainly you can reach out to Alex at Cognitive Ops, WSJ.com and and explore how we can certainly, you know, help supply chains evolve in the next 20 years and futureproof them for the future worker.

00;24;42;20 – 00;24;46;18

So awesome to be here. Thanks, guys. Thanks for joining us, Alex. Appreciate you.


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