Global forwarder DB Schenker is positioning itself on the forefront of contract logistics offerings in India as the country puts heavier focus on supply chain efficiency via trade reforms and technology implementation. Focussing to better serve customers with a digital-first approach, the firm has begun to utilise autonomous robots to enhance productivity, and also bringing transparency and visibility across the supply chain, reducing the efforts of track and trace. Vishal Sharma, CEO – Cluster India and Indian subcontinent at DB Schenker informs Upamanyu Borah, how they have been keeping pace with ever-evolving industry demands and offering specialised operations to deepen their logistics value chain in the region, covering every aspect from planning to execution.

What expedited and alternate solutions are you offering to provide a satisfactory shipping experience to shippers amid uncertainties?

We are offering alternatives for air freight via charter options connecting Europe, USA and Latin America. In the current environment, we are also encouraging customers to use digital tools for booking and pricing.

We are working closely with our customers to establish forecasts which allow us to plan capacity with carriers and shipping lines.

How do you foster innovation internally during time of a crisis? How do you manage to keep your people aligned to service your customers more abruptly than ever?

Irrespective of the challenges due to the pandemic, the fundamental priority for us remains the safety of our employees, drivers, and loaders and unloaders. We at DB Schenker in India are committed to enabling a seamless, safe and well-informed working environment. To ensure the safety of our employees, usage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is mandatory for our ground staff and those working on the field, as well as the ones at contract logistics sites who are ensuring health care supply chains remain active. The tools, technology and product experts have brought us closer to customers although we are miles apart through various digital online platforms. Further, the attention to details taken by our teams to embrace customer expectations across products has allowed us to stay ahead of the curve.

Additionally, with effective measures for road transportation, we have undertaken various initiatives to keep supply chains moving, including arranging pick-up/drop-off for our driver fraternity, as well as lodging and refreshments needed to ensure we minimise exposure of our trucks and drivers to the public environment.

How may we best summarise the current state of the 3PL market in India? Does it continue to strengthen, or has it plateaued?

3PL plays a vital role in meeting the warehousing demand from customers, which is followed by e-commerce and manufacturing sectors. It is a primary growth driver for the e-commerce industry in India, providing one-stop solutions for enterprise supply chains in packaging, warehousing, transportation, and order fulfilment.

3PL business is getting accelerated towards automation and innovation with a lot more companies investing in automated equipment to improve productivity and efficiency. The business has developed with more predictive supply chain demands and resource optimisation, resulting in more cost efficiencies.

Which recent innovations at DB Schenker do you claim to be the most ground-breaking for the industry?

Carefully strategising our business continuity plan well before the lockdown was started in India enabled us to take necessary steps to keep the supply chain resilient in these unprecedented times. With the ability to meet the last-mile delivery for customers, we started charter operations in the month of April for both imports and exports between India and the USA, Europe and other Asian countries.

As passenger capacity was reduced to zero and due to the scheduled cancellations of many cargo freighters, we had to deploy 25 charters to support customers who are into the manufacturing of vaccine, PPE and other health care equipment. We simultaneously started security escort services for the safe movement of cargo by road to mitigate any challenges amid the lockdown.

Our multimodal solutions for customers also played a key role in these tough times. Multimodal solutions were offered as an alternative to air freight, which offered cost-effectiveness and alternate capacity to us. For example, we offered air charter services between India and Europe and ocean services between Europe and the USA, with less than 20 days transit and cost differential of 25-30 per cent savings, making it a viable option for customers who wanted to expedite the delivery of pharmaceutical products to the USA but had a lead time of three weeks to deliver.

How are you adding value proposition in India’s contract logistics market? Do you see your company’s global warehouse space scan service as having the potential to augment existing offerings and complement contract logistics business models or product sales?

Contract logistics is expected to get more structured as the country starts to seek providers who can offer automation and mechanised solutions rather than manual options. The sector will mature in the future with modernised facilities, state-of-the-art technology for material handling, and highly secure and safe premises.

With the support of our worldwide network of branches, DB Schenker in India connects all-important global economic regions and offers contract logistics solutions tailor-made to the customers’ requirements.

To address the growing demand from customers for storage capacities, DB Schenker’s latest global space scan service aids to identify and assess available idle space in all 794 of our own contract logistics warehouses in more than 60 countries.

India being one of the globally focussed markets for DB Schenker, this service has been introduced here, helping us to provide on-demand service to customers for extra space requirement and stocking up of goods. With this new service, we not only serve the market during this transition to the new normality but also improve the agility and flexibility of our customer’s supply chains.

What are the key areas in which technology has had a deep impact on the way DB Schenker works?

Digital technology is one of the key strengths of DB Schenker in India. We are scaling up our supply chain to address the growing need of the customers and meet the last-mile delivery, specifically in the current tough times. Our integrated solutions and digital platforms like ‘eSchenker’ and ‘Connect 4.0 Ocean’ help customers across verticals to customise their shipping services and keep a real-time check on their cargo.

Our emphasis on digitalisation, robotics, artificial intelligence and predictive analysis supports us in decision making in every aspect of our business. To increase productivity and efficiency during the pandemic, we have increased our focus towards Robotic Process Automation (RPA) not only in our warehouses but also for our transportation solutions.

What about human resources? After the outbreak fades, would 3PLs be able to find the skilled workforce they need for growth? How can companies adapt to this reality?

We have invested in valuable partners who have ensured the availability of skilled resources during the COVID-19 journey. Additionally, our industry-leading HR practices have always led to the availability of skilled resources.

It is going to be demand vs availability as the market opens further and domestic consumption increases. We are confident our migrant workforce will come back to work to complement the current situation.

You have deep expertise in supply chain and logistics. What else is important according to you to understand or know about the two during these times?

We have witnessed various trends in the logistics sector in the wake of the crisis.

For instance, during the COVID-19 period, the government had enabled various possibilities around digital transformation for out of charge, bill of lading, etc. in the shipping sector under the Customs processes to simplify the process and increase paperless and faceless transactions.

Others that are trending can be summarised as:

  • A change in customer preferences as the demand increases for integrated solutions and organised players who can scale up the supply chain management efficiently and effectively.
  • Automation is emerging as one of the key trends in the logistics sector as we witness a major shift towards RPA. This will increase efficiencies in the supply chain process.
  • Emphasis on new-age technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming critical to next-generation supply chains due to elevated turnaround times for responding to emergencies.

Can you help us understand DB Schenker’s role in future logistics, and services evolving around this concept?

DB Schenker covers all stages of the supply chain– from supplier to customer delivery and reverse logistics to aftermarket support in different industries such as automotive, pharma, retail and consumer, industrial, electronics, aerospace, and others.

The focus towards adopting advanced technologies will increase to keep simplifying and streamlining the supply chain process for our customers in these sectors. We will further continue to invest in people and technology to differentiate ourselves against our peers.

Data mining will become more important in the coming years. Access to historical data and ability to predict the future will remain true game changers, with a flavour of global expertise and local mindset for customer satisfaction.

As a whole, transformation to a digital era will be a key growth driver for the logistics industry in the coming years. And, DB Schenker will be supporting this growth with opportunities to introduce new and advanced technologies such as scanning, auto picking, and locational capability at our upcoming facilities over the next few years.

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