DHL is shelving ‘out of stock,’ thanks to smart supply chains built in the cloud

Venter’s vision is to leverage DHL’s unique position to optimize customers’ supply chains, making them more resilient and, at the same time, more agile and flexible.

“The importance of access to real-time information was evident pre-crisis, but the pandemic exposed an even greater need for end-to-end visibility across the supply chain to enable fast response. A solid IT infrastructure and powerful tools to predict and analyze terabytes of data in real time is helping us make supply chains smarter,” says Venter.

The company’s ability to support its customers through this challenging period was because DHL Supply Chain invested significantly over the past few years in digital transformation, working in partnership with Microsoft and Blue Yonder on the strategic deployment of automation and digital solutions.

A safe working environment, high transparency and visibility along the whole supply chain, as well as a sophisticated technology infrastructure are what Venter believes sets DHL apart from its competitors. “Smart supply chains, fueled by data help us unlock higher service levels, optimize costs and enable predictive modelling – as well as faster response times. This is what it is all about,” he says.

Examples of such optimization include routing in DHL’s sizeable warehouses to pick and pack goods faster and more effectively, or the “more intelligent” allocation and the structured processing of millions of orders each day.

But it’s not just about coping with the expected, it’s about anticipating demand.

Data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) are essential technology investments for DHL, as it goes beyond “just putting a bunch of robots in a warehouse,” as Venter explains. “It’s about really making supply chains intelligent and smart.”

A forklift driver, one of DHL’s “everyday heroes,” at a warehouse in Beringe, the Netherlands.

The company’s worldwide scale and access to information across regions helped it earlier on in the pandemic: “Our global footprint gave us early supply warning signals from Asia, which meant we could take quick action in Europe”.

Predictive modelling is enabling the company to better manage demand and anticipate potential disruption to keep customers’ businesses moving, and crucially, keep them competitive.

Are we ready for the next challenge? Venter considers the next big challenge for international supply chains will be the global distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, which some experts have described as the supply chain challenge of the century.

“This may sound superlative, but I can’t recall having seen any operation of that scale,” he says. “We are preparing for that, and we stand by to execute as soon as we will be assigned to do so.”

As DHL prepares for this, Venter highlights the importance of collaboration to leverage digitalization successfully and scale globally, “data is a sensitive topic and its fundamental to build your digital capabilities through a secure platform, with a partner you can trust. It’s business critical,” Venter says.

”Smart supply chains will not only save businesses and keep industries afloat – but in the truest sense of the word, smart supply chains will save lives.”

Top photo: A DHL employee uses “vision picking,” a form of augmented reality, at a DHL warehouse in Beringe, the Netherlands. (Photos courtesy of DHL)

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