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Click, ship, done: How a 150-year-old logistics company is delighting

From delivering heavy cargo through drones to automating repetitive processes, Shantanu Roy, CIO for the Indian subcontinent at global logistics firm DB Schenker, is balancing innovation with business continuity. In a free-wheeling discussion with CIO India, he throws light on the efficient use of digital technologies in the company and the emerging trends in the logistics industry.

CIO India: Integrated logistics is extremely demanding. As a 150-year-old company, what is DB Schenker doing to align technology for meeting the ever-changing needs of customers?

Roy: We realize that technology can create a strong differentiation. Keeping this is mind, about a month back, we kickstarted an enterprise-wide digital transformation initiative at the global level. The aim is to relook at the entire business and technology landscape to make the company future-ready. As part of this, all the warehouses will be upgraded, customer processes and issues would be addressed, and the entire technology stack will be updated.

DB Schenker has a vast footprint — a presence at 1,850 locations across the world, which includes 725 warehouses, hundreds of offices, sites at airports, and customs handling points. I am not sure when the project will be over but when it does the company will have radically different processes to meet the present and future market needs.

Digital transformationShantanu Roy, CIO, cluster India & Indian subcontinent, DB Schenker

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CIO India: Talking about digital initiatives at a country level, 70% to 80% of DB Schenker’s processes in India run on bots. How is robotic process automation redefining business processes for the company?

Roy: To maximize RPA, we have had a complete rethink on the entire IT architecture. We decided to leverage a third-party RPA platform to internally build customized bots. It has resulted in several processes getting automated.

For instance, one of the operational processes involves comparing shipping instruction with the bill of loading. As a logistics company, we must ensure the shipping instruction provided to the carrier is mirrored. Matching this information manually took us about four hours. We automated the process, and now it gets completed in seconds.

Bots help us in handling the huge volume of invoices we receive from CFAs [clearing and forwarding agents] and customs. From customs’ handling alone, we process 7,000 to 8,000 invoices each month. The RPA bot reads and posts all the invoices into our ERP solution. RPA also aids us in the reconciliation process by checking whether the invoices have been deposited in the bank account or not.

Overall, automation has reduced manual effort by about 30% to 35%.

CIO India: But the current bots are very process-centric and transactional. What are your plans to make automation strategic?

Roy: While we are currently leveraging bots for automating process, the next two to three years will see a rapid adoption of AI and machine learning to influence business decisions. The data gathered by bots will be merged with multiple data sets to create a point of view for the organisation. Taking informed decisions will help us enhance customer experience and overall growth.

CIO India: You are right; customer experience is critical for sustained growth. But customer expectations have skyrocketed in the last couple of years. How are you helping customers to save time and money?

Roy: We have developed an innovative strategy called click-ship-done that hinges on technology. At the core of this strategy lies a digital platform—Connect 4.0—which helps customers in booking and tracking shipments in real-time. This is critical today given the increasing demand of supplies in the market.

Earlier, customers used to call us or send emails for booking shipments. This process was tiresome and time-consuming. It used to take about two hours before a customer’s mail was converted into shipment.

With the new platform, the shipments now flow through Connect 4.0. As a result, the response is immediate, and customers no longer have to wait. The click-ship-done approach provides customers complete visibility. They can now save time and book their shipments online, compare prices and timings in real time, and gain access to tracking of their land, air, or ocean freight.

CIO India: Which technology has gone into building this platform? Did you develop it in-house?

Roy: We already had the base components for the platform. The data lake, which we leveraged for BI, the pricing engine, and certain APIs were all integrated together to build this platform in-house.

CIO India: Drones and electric vehicles are two trends that are poised to disrupt the logistics industry. How is DB Schenker gearing up to meet them?

Roy: The trend of delivering through drones to meet last-mile deliveries for customers is picking up across the world. Currently, most drones are delivering cargo weighing 50g to 2kg. At Schenker, we are piloting a concept of delivering 250kg through drones. If successful, transporting such a heavy cargo will be a different ballgame altogether.

As for electric vehicles, we have a specific EV strategy as we now have EVs not just for land but also for air and ocean.

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