Technology Led Transformation Towards A 'Less-Contact' Society
The pandemic induced a temporary paralysis to the logistics industry, pushing transportation professionals to the edge. They are forced to test their limits by swiftly adapting to the drastically transformed logistics landscape. For an industry known for its physical, field-force attributes, the lockdowns, remote work culture and hindrance in free-movement was too much to take, and hence the disruptions to supply chains. But the logistics companies who have been able to transform themselves to this new world of logistics have been able to weather the storm. The technology interventions and the effective strategies adopted by CIOs have been a crucial aspect of this fight back. According to ResearchAndMarkets.com, the Global Digital Logistics Market size is expected to reach USD 30.95 billion in 2021, and projected to grow at a CAGR of 13.66 percent to reach $58.90 billion by 2026. Manoj Madhavan, CIO, Blue Dart, who engages in an exclusive interview with CIO Insider, believes that the underlying theme of this ‘Technology led Transformation’ will revolve around creating business models that will survive in a ‘less-contact’ society.
Manoj joined Blue Dart in 2017 with an envious professional background spanning more than two decades in the technology and automation domain across industry verticals such as FMCG, Healthcare, and Consulting. His wisdom and expertise in Digitalization and its Impact on Customer Experience is unparalleled. Below is an excerpt from the interview.
In conversation with Manoj Madhavan, CIO, Blue Dart
The pandemic has almost not spared any business sector without forcing a paradigm shift. What does the post-COVID-19 era mean for the logistics industry from a technology standpoint? What are the challenges that the logistics companies are facing right now and are looking forward to?
When the lockdowns were imposed, it dislocated the supply chain and the people, systems & services had to be acclimatized to the new normal. Today, our challenges manifest in a different manner. While logistics companies are learning their way around a rather volatile supply chain, due to the multiple lockdowns, fuel price and subsequently logistics cost seems to be a crucial challenge in the near future. The initiatives by the Government such as the National Logistics Policy, the Dedicated Freight Corridors as well as the National Air Cargo Policy, aim to neutralize this and I firmly believe the quick adoption of technology based solutions will significantly reduce logistics cost as well as increase efficiency.
A post – COVID world needs a sustainable solution that ensures that in the event of another pandemic, organizations can ensure ‘business-as-usual’ with minimal disruptions and zero losses. I believe technologies enabling near-autonomous facilities, robotics, drone-delivery systems, which Blue Dart has already initiated, and 3D/additive manufacturing are going to be adopted very quickly. The underlying theme of a ‘Technology led Transformation’ would revolve around creating business models that will survive in a ‘less-contact’ society. Features of this new normal would include Micro-services based design driving agility and revamping existing systems to be AI / ML enabled, enhanced Cyber security, elastic and high speed bandwidth, Cloud Infrastructure, Gig based technology talent.
The idea is to design systems which do not tear down the fabric of the business overnight; and should be able to embed themselves into the existing processes and drive the change in user behavior through inbuilt smart suggestions and guidance.
At Blue Dart, we align ourselves with the DPDHL Group’s ‘Strategy 2025 – Delivering Excellence in a Digital World’ and we know that this would be the overarching theme of the future. Staying one step ahead of the curve has always been a part of our DNA since our inception and we continue to keep this at the forefront of our business. Our future-ready solutions aim to use technology in order to increase efficiency, reach and reliability. To this effect, we have pioneered the Contact Less Delivery service, launched our very own mobile application and we have adopted drone technology which will help us reach the remotest parts of the nation; these amongst several other initiatives have been put into play at Blue Dart to ensure that we are future-ready and able to tackle any odd balls that come our way.
How would you describe the new trends of innovation and technology intervention in the logistics industry? How would these developments impact the stakeholders?
As I mentioned earlier, the trends that are currently being witnessed are to put in place a fool-proof system that ensures business continuity with the highest level of efficiency, should there be another unprecedented event that interrupts the supply chain.
I believe technologies enabling near-autonomous facilities, robotics, drone-delivery systems, which Blue Dart has already initiated, and 3D/additive manufacturing are going to be adopted very quickly
The logistics industry would benefit significantly from the adoption of technological solutions. The convergence of Artificial Intelligence, Analytics & Digitalization will revolutionize the supply chains, leading to transformations in the logistics industry. These trends will help reduce logistics cost, increase efficiency, increase reach and in some cases, even help us be more sustainable. The power and productivity gains these technologies can deliver is immeasurable and it is good to see the industry familiarizing itself with it.
The idea is to build a digital ecosystem that will change the way different players interact with each other in terms of scheduling and execution of work and the workforce, forecasting and budgeting, etc.. These trends have the ability to deliver exponential value across the chain.
Every stakeholder benefits from the adoption of these trends. The idea is to make the modern supply chain future-ready by including lean operators who are able to ramp up and achieve high service levels at short notice. I believe, a big advantage for India is the resources we possess as well as the sheer talent of skilled manpower. This makes it a great landscape to find a balance between Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Intelligence. Leveraging these trends will help us use manpower for more complex and rewarding tasks thereby increasing efficiency and effectiveness of the entire manpower and tech combination. Customers will be at the benefiting end of a myriad of individualized solutions, delivered with the highest efficiency, to address any of their logistics requirements. Moreover, these trends also ensure that our impact on the environment is reduced by increasing our digital footprint and decreasing our carbon footprint. It is a win-win situation for all.
How would you sum up Blue Dart’s recent endeavors towards unlocking the advantage of technologies? What’s new?
Logistics express industry is extremely customer centric and customer experience is what sets Blue Dart apart in a very competitive environment. Ensuring a smooth and hassle free experience for our customers is always a priority. We therefore went over every touch point and reconfigured anything that could pose a potential challenge for us in the future.
Application programming interface (API) based solutions for our customers have been enhanced for exchanging manifest at detailed levels to ensure an automated and seamless supply chain, from pre-pick up till post-delivery (inclusive of collections).
To provide a superior experience, we use technology enabled mobility solutions for administering specialized pickups of product returns, which also include quality control checks, product image verification and close coordination for timely pickups.
For real time tracking of shipments, options are made available using the Application Programming Interface, the Web-site, Customer Dashboards and Mobile Solutions.
The Control Tower and Network Modules work in tandem to form the Digital Twin of the supply chain providing real time visibility of the operations. This helps in ensuring minimal exceptions and smoother operations.
Our core values include a ‘Right First Time’ principal wherein we strive to remain error-free and bring great value to our service quality offerings. We therefore strengthened our offerings such as customized solutions built for our top customers to manage Tamper-proof Packaging checking and secure delivery to the specific recipient with OTP confirmation.
A 360° view of the customer helps the sales teams focus on the needs of the customer and also work with them to develop solutions to support them grow their business and solve their logistics challenges.
A personalized tracking tool for recipient shipments has been enabled on a unique URL link, which allows tracking, plotting delivery landmarks, visual display of the courier on the map as well as the option to provide NPA feedback on the service.
We pioneered the Contact Less Delivery service in the industry by allowing access to 16 digital wallets, Net Banking, Credit & Debit cards, UPI and BHIM. This allowed our customers to send and receive their shipments with us, without the fear of contagion and the concept of contact during delivery was eliminated entirely.
We launched the ‘My Blue Dart’ mobile application to allow our customers to book a shipment, track a shipment, find price estimates, etc. on the go.
Our drone delivery in its trial phase leverages the use of future-ready technology to ensure that our reach extends into the remotest parts of the Indian Heartland and provides every individual with the robust healthcare infrastructure that they deserve.
Blue Dart is a socially and environmentally responsible corporation and we take our role in ‘Connecting People, Improving Lives’, very seriously. Therefore, apart from enhancing customer experience, we also keep our Group’s ‘Mission 2050: Zero Carbon Emissions’ at the forefront. In line with this, we have introduced a green approach in the field by using the eNSG App for Operations. With the implementation of the application, printing of NSG copies has stopped, saving printing and dispatch costs whilst reducing our carbon emission. The information on the eNSG App is updated to display real time information therefore, updates if any, can be flashed early.
How is Blue Dart bracing itself for the post covid logistics industry? What are the changes that will reflect on your business strategy?
Blue Dart’s strategy over the last 37 years is a tried and tested success story that emphasizes on – Customer Centricity. Under the umbrella of customer-centricity, our focus remains on our three pillars - Reliability, Resilience and Responsiveness. Our core competency lies in providing express delivery services whilst maintaining reliability levels of 99.96% along with offering secure, reliable and time-definite distribution across 35,000+ locations in India and 220 countries & territories worldwide.
If the pandemic has emphasized the value of something, it has to be the value of technology and digitalization. Blue Dart has always stayed one step ahead of the curve by embracing future ready technology and digitalization. Our future-ready solutions help us remain a market leader with speed, dependability and innovation. A focus on increasing tech and automated solutions has always been a part of our business strategy and continues to be so, going ahead.
Apart from this, our support in the form of our focused team, as well as the first-mover advantage we have with our air and ground express network helps us remain the trade facilitator for the nation. Our market leadership in technology and digitization has only enhanced our service quality to have it become a benchmark for the industry.
Going forward too, our strategy is to continue to practice what has worked well for us in the past. However, we are also an organization that values agility and adaptability to continue to stay resilient and be a Provider of Choice, an Employer of Choice and an Investment of Choice.
Along with the tremendous transformation of business landscapes, the role of CXOs has also changed in multifarious ways over the last decade. The pandemic has added another dimension to this role as well. How do you respond to this change?
The pandemic did cause a paradigm shift across verticals and roles. The role of CXOs did differ in terms of their leadership qualities. The guidance required to get their colleagues and the organization towards the light at the end of the tunnel; but it also required an alteration in balancing traditional as well as modern mediums of moving forward in a post-pandemic world.
Modern mediums include leveraging analytics to help businesses by providing insights to help manage or create new products and services. AI, Block Chain, Machine Learning etc. are now being deployed to optimize operations and extract maximum value defining new highs in service quality and speed of response. For the new age CXO, it is imperative to understand the impact of these technologies and make sure that they are being optimally used to both sustain and increase the business. Driving awareness through change management both horizontally and vertically at all levels of the organization, is an absolute necessity for survival in the new world. CXOs are the new campaigners for this change.
Continuously updating your knowledge and being open as well as adaptive to learning about these new modern systems to sharpen business strategy at regular intervals is another critical dimension for the new age CXOs. It will help us respond quickly to any unprecedented events, which in the long-run will guarantee success in an ever changing business landscape.
Going forward, digital transformation is going to be an inevitable aspect of business for logistics companies too. What are the challenges and opportunities that you foresee in the industry?
I firmly believe that when it comes to adopting ‘technology led transformation’, the opportunities far outweigh the challenges. The opportunities lie in creating a supply chain that enhances speed, reduces manual error, uses manpower for more complex and rewarding tasks while also being a better choice for the environment. At Blue Dart, our goal is to be profitable to all our stakeholders and therefore we firmly believe in the strength of technological solutions.
We can leverage the replacement of diverse and monolithic legacy applications as we compete against green field digital competitors. We can create digital ecosystems which will aid our operations and help us deliver exceptional quality to all our stakeholders. We would be able to focus on embedding AI based solutions, mathematically optimized operating network models and use data driven decision-making supported by analytics and machine learning. We will be able to provide resilient, scalable, agile and secure solutions which will boost the supply chain and benefit all stakeholders with exceptional solutions.
Having said that, challenges do prop-up in terms of all processes being digitized. At Blue Dart, we consistently conduct routine checks of our systems and processes to ensure that we are only providing the best services to our stakeholders. Given our eye for detail, we prefer staying two steps ahead by recognizing the challenge early and nipping it at the bud, to ensure that a potential problem in the future is avoided.
The challenges include having the courage to compete with the digital platform business models. This could include smaller players that cannibalize the businesses by taking away chunks of business from long term players piece by piece impacting revenue. This could also mean a break-down of the existing cost structure and margins. Speed of response, keeping in mind both long term relationships with existing customers and doing business profitably, will define the agility of the business and this could considerably impact the customer experience. Ability to integrate seamlessly with customers, suppliers and partners would also be a key ingredient to the real-time visibility of the whole supply chain.