From hands-free in­ven­tory oper­a­tions to car­bon-free de­liv­ery, in­no­va­tion takes cen­ter stage

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - NEWS - — David Gould

When you think of sec­tors that de­ploy new tech­nol­ogy as fast as re­search can gen­er­ate it, aero­space, elec­tron­ics and healthcare of­ten leap to mind. Freight ship­ping and lo­gis­tics? Not so much. But that’s rapidly chang­ing. To­day, the in­dus­try at­tracts both tech star­tups hop­ing to ap­ply new con­cepts, and ven­ture cap­i­tal firms that spe­cial­ize in high-tech fi­nance. The ma­jor lo­gis­tics play­ers are also rec­og­niz­ing the need to get in on the act, ei­ther through strate­gic part­ner­ships with these new­com­ers or their own in-house in­no­va­tions.

So when you hear about work­ers wear­ing aug­mented re­al­ity glasses mov­ing boxes around a DHL ware­house, it shouldn’t come as a sur­prise. In part­ner­ship with elec­tron­ics com­pany Ri­coh, the lo­gis­tics giant is run­ning a pi­lot pro­gram in the Nether­lands

to har­ness aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) via smart glasses. Its goal, ac­cord­ing to Markus Kueck­el­haus, DHL’s Vice Pres­i­dent of In­no­va­tion and Trend Re­search, is to “en­able in­tel­li­gent hands-free oper­a­tions.” In this “vi­sion pick­ing” sce­nario, smart glasses worn by work­ers scan bar­codes dur­ing the gath­er­ing of prod­ucts from in­ven­tory, and early re­sults have yielded a 25 per­cent in­crease in ef­fi­ciency

Be­hind all of this is a de­sire to drive fur­ther ef­fi­ciency in the sup­ply chain and achieve a strate­gic ad­van­tage in the mar­ket­place. But the com­pany also sees in­no­va­tion as an im­por­tant tool in ad­dress­ing so­ci­ety’s in­creas­ing de­mands for sus­tain­able busi­ness prac­tices. “We rec­og­nize the rise of this new im­per­a­tive within our mar­kets,” Kueck­el­haus ex­plains.

“So­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges can be turned into op­por­tu­ni­ties by cre­at­ing fair, sus­tain­able so­lu­tions that also gen­er­ate busi­ness value.”

An ex­am­ple is a car­bon-free pack­age de­liv­ery pro­gram co-en­gi­neered by DHL to serve Ger­many’s largest cities. An elec­tric-pow­ered de­liv­ery van called the Streetscoo­ter, man­u­fac­tured by a whol­ly­owned DHL sub­sidiary, got its trial run in Bonn three years ago. The pro­gram is on track to dis­patch 141 elec­tric ve­hi­cles in Bonn by the end of 2016, which will re­duce CO2 emis­sions by an es­ti­mated 500-plus tons a year.

A DHL pub­li­ca­tion, the Lo­gis­tics Trend Radar, shines a spotlight on the new in­no­va­tions that have helped trig­ger suc­cess­ful pi­lot pro­grams both in­side and out­side of DHL and are likely to de­fine the sup­ply chains of the fu­ture of lo­gis­tics. Now in its fourth year, the pub­li­ca­tion is both a clear­ing­house of techno-so­lu­tions and a call for more en­light­ened think­ing.

A decade has gone by since Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s sem­i­nal white pa­per on cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, "Strat­egy and So­ci­ety," first ap­peared in

Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view. But tak­ing that pa­per’s sub­ti­tle, “The Link Be­tween Com­pet­i­tive Ad­van­tage and Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity,” it’s easy to see why a global or­ga­ni­za­tion like DHL—ac­tive in over 220 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries world­wide—is guided by such a lofty vi­sion.

Seven years ago in its cor­po­rate strat­egy, DHL an­nounced the goal of be­com­ing the Lo­gis­tics Com­pany for the World. Around the same time, it launched an en­ter­prisewide GoGreen ini­tia­tive, which, as Kueck­el­haus notes, be­came “oper­a­tionally in­te­grated into ev­ery­thing we do.” So while it sees it­self as a vi­tal force in in­ter­na­tional trade, the com­pany’s aim is also to be a bench­mark for re­spon­si­ble busi­ness, set­ting and ad­her­ing to a strict code of fair-and-re­spon­si­ble busi­ness.

On a day-to-day ba­sis, the av­er­age per­son ex­pe­ri­ences a com­pany like DHL in a brief, here-and-gone fash­ion. But through con­stant in­no­va­tion and rein­ven­tion, which are a pre­req­ui­site for long-term suc­cess in to­day’s highly com­pet­i­tive lo­gis­tics mar­ket­place, the com­pany is mak­ing a clear dec­la­ra­tion that it is very much here to stay.

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