Making the perfect delivery

Praveen Sashi, head of IT for DHL Express UAE, discusses how he brings local innovation into DHL’s global logistics network.

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Making the perfect delivery Vital data: A package cannot be physically processed without the related digital data, meaning IT must always be on, says Sashi. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  June 21, 2012

Praveen Sashi, head of IT for DHL Express UAE, discusses how he brings local innovation into DHL’s global logistics network.

When it comes to logistics today, it’s fair to say that most of us now take it for granted that we can see where shipments are in transit and that we have instant updates when consignments are delivered or delayed; in essence, we expect transparency, efficiency and trust from our supply chains, thanks to the information revolution.

Today, the huge role of IT in managing logistics and shipping businesses means that the electronic data is almost as important as the physical packages themselves, and even to some extent, while there can occasionally be breakdowns in the physical supply chain, due to physical events or issues, any breakdown in the data chain can be a catastrophic event. Keeping the lights on, for the logistics IT pro, is vital.

It’s a fact that Praveen Sashi, head of IT for DHL Express UAE is well aware of. As the logistics provider, which has a network that reaches 220 countries, with 275,000 employees and over 83,000 vehicles, has added more and more digital services, and shifted more processing to the virtual, so the role of IT has changed dramatically. The company handles over one million customer interactions every hour, and typically sees very high levels of automation. Within the UAE, DHL sees over 90% of shipments processed electronically, meaning manual processing is kept as simple as a pre-printed label being stuck on a package - which all means that IT plays a central role.

“In our business the information network cannot break down. Customers expect to be informed when things go wrong,” Sashi says. “We have got one physical consignment and one electronic consignment. That information has to be synchronised right from the pickup of a shipment through to its delivery. You could probably have a physical shipment, and physical things delay it, like the weather. Information technology has to be kept working, so customers stay informed.”

As a global logistics network, DHL manages a certain amount of its IT at a global level. The company runs two global data centres, one in Malaysia and the other in the Czech Republic, and has been centralising all of its main business applications in these facilities over the past ten years. The optimisation process has reduced the number of applications considerably, which in turn has reduced maintenance requirements and costs.

Central hosting of applications also ensures that those applications can have a higher level of security, and compliance, than if they were all hosted locally. The company has a single global gateway for all customer interaction, and the security and maintenance of that is also handled centrally. It has also recently launched a new centralised portal, myDHL, which provides customers with a range of free online shipping and tracking services, all of which can be customised to their preferences, with a special focus on making shipping processes much simpler for SMEs.

DHL also has a global agreement with Vodafone to provide mobile data and voice services, which provides an optimised communications infrastructure with consistent service levels, and also frees the local IT manager from having to manage telecoms provision. This centralisation means that at a local level, part of Sashi’s role is assuring that the global IT infrastructure and service capabilities are delivered locally as expected.

“We look at an end to end process. We have KPIs to measure performance and functions. When our courier scans a shipment for pickup, we have a KPI for how much time it should take for the scanned data to reach our information network. We have red flags raised if that data doesn’t reach our network within a specified time. This is crucially important because the package cannot get on a plane if the data is not there when the shipment is being sorted at a hub,” he says.

The local IT team also work with global resources on what Sashi describes as a demand/supply model. The local team will work with in-country customers to understand their requirements, and identify the demand for solutions, and then revert back to centralised teams to supply the appropriate solutions. The company has developed a high level of automation to assist customers, and is able to provide authorised plug-ins and APIs for major business applications like ERP, to enable its customers to integrate with DHL’s services automatically, and its supply-side teams are also able to offer high levels of bespoke integration for customers in industries with complex supply chain requirements.

“We have in excess of 1,500 technical staff running the supply organisation and making sure they facilitate customer interactions; whereas we in the country work with the business to understand the demand and align IT to the business,” he explains.

That is not to say that the local IT heads are simply responsible for managing SLAs. At a local level, Sashi has been responsible for the implementation of a number of projects across different business functions, that have delivered a range of benefits, while achieving a 32% reduction in country IT costs over the last two years. Some of these local initiatives have been adopted at a regional level and the successful case studies have also been shared with other companies in the region.

“Within DHL, we encourage innovation. In my role, I have the opportunity to take it a step forward because I have visibility into what’s happening in every function because tech is such an integral part of our business,” Sashi explains.

In the projects that he has implemented, Sashi says he looks to ensure that there is a genuine business need, and also looks towards pilot deployments with vendors on a no risk, limited obligation basis, so DHL has the flexibility to select the right solution.

DHL UAE implemented a managed print service project on this basis, a project which allowed the company to cut the number of print/scan/fax devices it had from 190 to 95 multi-functional devices, with 35% cost savings and an 80% reduction in support requirements. The project is now being rolled out regionally.

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