APL Logistics: the future of 3PL supply chain management...
APL Logistics, heading up its US$1.659 billion revenues for 2014, is proving that investment and tactical expansion are possible even for an asset light third party logistics (3PL) company. Focusing its core philosophy around every aspect of customer needs has provided the company with much fertile ground for innovation in the Middle East and Africa; it has become a source of well-deserved self-confidence.
It is this success that enticed Kintetsu World Express to acquire APL Logistics from its owner Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) while the 3PL will be able to retain its trusted brand, the acquisition will give the company more room for investment and expansion in the future.
General Manager Muhammad Azfar Khan explained the remit of the Middle Eastern Division through an apt example, he said: “You are at the Dubai Mall and want to buy a shirt; you look at the tag and it says ‘Made in Vietnam.’ Most of us, do not understand the complexity of the operations on getting the Shirt to that shelf in the store. We manage the movement of that product from one end to another.” He added: “Customers want to know where their products are in the supply chain at any given time and exactly how many.”
These end-to-end solutions cover APL Logistics’ four key verticals: Automotive; Retail; Consumer, and Industrials. The company provides clients from these sectors with customized and technological services, as well as supply chain engineering and associated services. As Khan put it: “Our goal is to be an established player in each sector. We want customers from each vertical to think of APL Logistics before anyone else.”
APL Logistics’ Middle East and Africa division covers a total of 14strategically important countries across the region, which has been achieved either through operating directly or through long term partnerships. The 3PL has direct operations through its company offices in United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Through its partnerships, APL Logistics extends its reach across the two continents, with offices in Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, and Ethiopia. Its Middle Eastern operations consist of seven warehouses and tens of thousands of pallet positions alone, which come to well over 65,000 pallet positions in UAE alone.
As you might expect from working with a globally effective supply chain solutions provider, APL Logistics’ customers and partners find themselves very well connected in Africa and the Middle East; prior experience in other markets has been crucial to succeeding, in Africa especially.
Khan did note that this experience was usually supplemented with fresh, innovative thinking from his team, he said: “No solution is the same, no geography is the same, no market, no customer; there often has to be a lot of tailoring before we can begin to replicate processes for different regions. This is something that we regularly achieve because we evolve with our customers.”
For APL Logistics, consistent dedication to its customers does not mean that the company simply follows the lead of its clients; it is proactively seeking technological solutions to meet current and future needs. Its recent implementation of a multi-million Logistics Super Suite (LSS) supply chain management system reflects its customer-centered focus; Khan commented: “Customers have a more detailed, user friendly interface; they can see what we see.”
APL Logistics also provides its customers with the Visual Technology Suite; a platform that builds on the company’s customer focus through offering a bespoke, transparent approach to supply chain monitoring. The Suite provides users with three levels of functionality, business intelligence, analytics, and operational tools. Khan explained: “Visual Operations allows customers to view their supply chain in real time and Visual Analytics provides them with a dynamic graphical interface to access historical data. Visual Intelligence offers an in-depth review of the entire supply chain to identify gaps that may not be readily apparent with less robust tools. For example, APL Logistics can conduct a deep dive review of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) data to unearth inefficiencies origin or destination DC processing times that would allow for greater sales.”
The company is also planning to launch a new global, supply chain, event monitoring tool that will again demonstrate its leadership in technology and innovation. For example, “A head of supply chain for a global retailer finds out that there is a development in South East Asia; before they go into the morning meeting with the CEO and they will want to know how many shipments are impacted.
“They can log into the system and see their activity in that port and see what the alternate solutions are: when the cargo is due to leave and what could impact cost: all these things are in real time and can be changed within minutes. It gives customers a big picture of their supply chains, but also allows them to drill down to the small details.”
He also noted that the company was keen to embrace mobile technology as clients begin to demand instantly accessible information: “Customers can download an app on Google Play or App Store and track the shipping progress of their products at any given time.” This feature therefore gives customers unprecedented access to supply chain information and enables managers to stay on the pulse of their operations.
Feeding back into its customer focused operations, APL Logistics’ approach to managing its talent pool seeks to instil and develop this aspect, Khan said: “We sincerely believe that if we take care of our staff, they in turn will be better placed take care of our customers.” It is this understanding of the symbiotic relationship between customers and staff that enables Khan and his management team to get the very best from its workforce.
The company has its own online ‘Global Campus’ which makes available thousands of courses which cover everything from management to technical training. Khan noted that much of the resources supported the global trend of reducing environmental impact, he said: “We train our employees to eliminate waste through lean principles, as well as 6 Sigma; it all comes back to being an environmentally friendly organisation.”
APL Logistics’ almost stubborn focus on catering for every aspect of its customers’ needs has enabled the company to construct a business plan that ensures each aspect of its operations is strongly geared to meeting this goal and maintaining the standards needed for success. Khan summed up the work of his company when he said: “We help customers in a way better than they themselves understand.”