Features

Abe Alirez – Duncan and Son Lines

IT leader builds on trucking company’s advanced technologies

As Abe Alirez was growing up, he dreamt of driving a truck—hauling loads of freight that help keep the economy going while seeing the U.S. along its highways and byways.

Alirez also loved technology. He wasn’t old enough to drive a truck, but he was old—and skilled enough—to repair his friends’ video game systems.

Abe Alirez | Director and Chief Information Officer | Duncan and Son Lines

Abe Alirez | Director and Chief Information Officer | Duncan and Son Lines

For the past two years, Alirez has been able to merge his childhood aspiration and tech skillset as director and chief information officer for Duncan and Son, a trucking and logistics company headquartered near Phoenix that’s celebrating its 80th anniversary in business.

Alirez doesn’t take the wheel in trucks hauling containers to and from the cargo facilities in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, but he and his team of four have implemented tech tools including robotic process automation and artificial intelligence to the benefit of front and back-office operations, such as billing, invoicing, customer service and dispatching.

“For as long as I remember, I’ve loved technology,” Alirez says. “I love finding new ways to incorporate technology and there are no limitations on doing so at Duncan.”

Collecting containers

Now in its fourth generation of family ownership and operation, Duncan and Son was founded in 1943. For about 50 years, the company has focused on intermodal logistics—hauling shipping containers arriving from Asia or to the port facilities for shipment to that continent. Alirez notes the company is one of the largest haulers of raw cotton for export.

Duncan and Son has a fleet of more than 220 trucks, and Alirez says it’s refreshed annually with as many as 80 new models. The fleet includes as many as 30 electric powered trucks, although their operating ranges limit them to short hauling at the West Coast port facilities.

Abe Alirez | Director and Chief Information Officer | Duncan and Son Lines

The company invests in its fleet and the technology inside the trucks, too. Truck cabs are equipped with cameras and Duncan and Son uses artificial intelligence to view footage and trigger alerts about operator movements and reactions as they drive.

“They’re safe in the things they’re doing and we’re giving them the safest options to provide them a level of comfort,” Alirez says.

Bots for billing

The robotic automation Alirez and his team have implemented aren’t found on freight docks but play a crucial role in transferring shipping containers as they’re picked up on the West Coast and trucked to Duncan and Son’s Laveen, Arizona, terminal or directly to customers.

Instead, the robotic process automation tools from Kofax Inc. log into customer websites and search, sort and track items such as container numbers, bills of lading and other shipping information. The bots then use the data and information to create shipping documents and invoices to a service area that includes California and Arizona (the company also stores containers for other shipping companies to pick up and deliver).

Abe Alirez | Director and Chief Information Officer | Duncan and Son Lines

With supply chain knots and container ships backed up in West Coast ports during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the resultant increase in freight traffic, the bots have proved invaluable because employees no longer need to manually search for freight information and can more readily respond to customer questions on the status of shipments.

“My team does the work on the front end to make sure that automation is the most optimal solution,” Alirez says. “We can build and maintain them, it’s what sets us apart.”

AI emerging

Freight traffic from the ports has slowed in the past year, and Alirez says that’s provided the opportunity to add more artificial intelligence tools, specifically from Linc-AI, a startup company founded at Duke University.

The AI used to promote and enhance driver safety is being augmented in operations including finding the best routes to dispatch trucks, for instance. Alirez says the technology can optimize loads and help keep drivers operating closer to home.

Abe Alirez | Director and Chief Information Officer | Duncan and Son Lines

AI can also teach the bots used in the front office operations. The bots will be able to read invoices and mix and match freight rates to streamline customer service and billing.

“The biggest thing we want them to do is get the numbers correct,” Alirez says. “We need them to differentiate part and truck numbers, costs and invoices, and do the math for freight rates.”

Driven to add technology

Alirez continues to marvel at the technology Duncan and Son had in place before he joined the company in September 2021.

“The company found me,” he says. “It was an entirely new industry for me, and I was blown away by how much tech is in a logistics and trucking company.”

Alirez was born in Hawaii and grew up in New Mexico. He also lived in Alaska in his early 20s. He earned his bachelor’s degree in information technology engineering from Charter College and a master’s degree in technology leadership from the University of Advanced Technology. He’s also a certified information system security professional, or CISSP.

Abe Alirez | Director and Chief Information Officer | Duncan and Son Lines

Before joining Duncan and Son, Alirez applied his IT skillset in health care. He was director of IT for Arizona Cardiology Group, network operations manager for the University of Advanced Technology, and IT director for the nonprofit Crisis Response Network in Tempe, Arizona.

In his private life, Alirez enjoys working out and hot yoga as well as traveling. This year, he’s been to Ibiza and Barcelona in Spain.

Alirez says Duncan and Son’s willingness to embrace new technologies is matched by its familial approach. Company President David Duncan is a daily visible presence and welcomes open discussions about the company and its operations.

“Technology can be a little cold and I want to provide resources and tools to make it more enjoyable,” Alirez says. “I also love that I can learn something new every day.”

View this feature in the Fall I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: September 19, 2023

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