At the Global Makers and Movers Logistics Summit on 12MAY21, hosted by Alcott Global, the topic, titled “Transportation Access and Cost” was all about Supply Chain Management in the face of the ongoing disruptions through the pandemic. Bringing together shippers, forwarders, airlines, IT providers, and others, the idea was to share best practises with regard to efficiencies, cost management, technology, and overall supply chain fitness.
Over 7,000 people logged on from 120 countries around the globe, for what was a fast-paced, well-structured event, with carefully chosen panels featuring not only well-balanced speaker ensembles,
but also a healthier gender mix than is usually expected at similar events.
How to achieve supply chain fitness
The opening keynote set the scene for the learnings that transpired throughout the day. “Now is the most exciting time in global supply chain management, because technology is creating opportunities that we could only dream of five years ago,” Heiner Murmann, CEO at Orkestra SCS, announced. He founded Orkestra, in 2017 after decades in cargo handling, with the aim of using “new technology and mindset” to support companies in doing things better, more cost-effectively, and efficiently, and underlined that the fastest way to improve a company’s fitness is – rather like getting a “personal trainer” for better personal fitness - to invest in a digital expert to get a holistic understanding of the company’s own supply chain and to set the right targets. “Companies will win by successfully deploying a digital platform that taps into the power of data”, digitizing across the entire, automated, standardized, supply chain ecosystem. This needs to be coupled with employees working with a digital mindset. “It is clear, that if we don’t know how to use technology, we will not see the expected benefits.” End-to-end supply chain transparency with a “single source of truth” with regard to accurate and complete data is key in order to be able to move from firefighting to predicting and mitigating problems, lowering costs, adapting to new situations, and making fact-based decisions going forward. Greater efficiency, agility and resilience are the result if companies invest both in digitalization and human transformation. “Even with the most cutting-edge technology, including AI and machine-learning, supply chain logistics will remain a people business,” he predicted.
Data and digitalization open up a new world of forecasting
“It is about deploying tech to enable people to deal better with complexity and uncertainty,” he concluded. Just how fascinating today’s insights can be if the right data mix is deployed, was shown by Stephan de Barse, Executive Vice President at o9 Solutions, Inc., who took the audience through machine-learning forecasting and S&OE (systems and operations evaluation) Control Tower in “The Digital Brain of Business”. Planning processes are very varied - demand, supply, financial, and/or factory planning – and all have the aim of supporting founded decision-making. Yet, these data are often incomplete, take a long time to compile, and are generally based on past views. The days of excel sheets are gone, however. With digital platforms, real-time data from all aspects of the business – products, customers, suppliers, and operations - can not only be combined internally, but can be merged with external data streams, too, and – using machine learning and artificial intelligence – can provide holistic and deep-reaching insights. Using a graph depicting the sales of a product over the year, he pitted various sales drivers such as temperatures, individual promo runs, display location in the store, or holidays, for example, against the sales development line to establish what was causing its spikes and dips. A second example with the year’s sales development graph of Vitamin Sales in the U.S. was compared against Covid-19 case developments, search trends on Google, and even “glance” views on Amazon. The granularity and variety of analysis that is possible with intelligent digital solutions now bring huge opportunities in forecasting and enable much quicker predictions and reactions to supply and demand.
Agility, flexibility, digitalization, artificial intelligence – all these buzzwords were stated throughout the day. Those companies that had good control over their processes and had already invested in leaner, more real-time, intelligent IT, were in a much better position to react and adapt throughout the pandemic, than those that were mired in old, inflexible processes. Rob McIntosh, SVP, Global Fulfillment, Logistics and Trade at Dell Technologies, put the winning formular out there: “If it’s not broken, break it!”. He explained that Dell had found that where things had broken down in the pandemic, these breakages actually caused opportunities and the processes became more efficient and leaner when the company was forced to quickly figure out solutions. He advocated a company culture that fosters attention to detail, proactivity, keeping up a sense of urgency, pointing out errors and flaws early on, and holding people accountable. With a constant view on improving, the company becomes more resilient and better able to adapt and grow with its challenges. A view that was echoed by other panelists: “unlearn, relearn and adapt!” was Head Group Commercial, Strategy and Cargo Solutions at PSA International, Ghim Siew Ho’s view, and where Decathlon’s , Sami Nazar, Category Head International Transportation, emphasized the soft skills that each employee needed to bring to the table, such as initiative, vitality, accountability, for example, Heiner Murmann underlined that engineering and data science skills are critical for companies going forward.
Pain and gain
“Covid-19 has been painful for everybody. There's no question about that. But from a logistics perspective, it has accelerated a lot of good things as well: digitalization and the need to change, whatever sector you're in. You need to rethink about what you're trying to be and who you want to be going forward.” Charles Brewer, Chief Operating Officer at Canada Post / Postes Canada, talking in the panel that looked at the effect and predictions for air cargo, held a similar view to Rob McIntosh’s “break it!” statement earlier in the day. The pandemic had also accelerated ecommerce: “On 28MAY20, we did the volume on that Monday that we have predicted to do in 2029 – so we were 9 years ahead on the same infrastructure with all the constraints that Covid-19 has created,” he disclosed, and the extreme growth (35% year on year) of goods being handled, forced the company to quickly run sprint teams to establish how to enhance and more efficiently use existing infrastructures – they managed 10-15% increases. These were again examples of forced improvements that may otherwise not have happened. Silk Way West Airline’s President, Wolfgang Meier, underlined that the company’s short decision-making processes which “were already part of our DNA” pre-Covid-19 stood it in good stead to cope with the pandemic: “Being flexible and responding to whatever changes were coming on a daily basis, we were able to offer the right capacity at the right moment. We are still very busy, and are beating our own projections,” he declared. Indeed, air cargo has been a true beneficiary from the pandemic – a situation that all the panelists agreed would continue at least for the next couple of years, given the ongoing capacity crunch: “good news for freight forwarders and cargo - business should be thriving,” Bruno Sidler, Chief Operating Officer at Lonrho, concluded.
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