What can business learn from logistics in the Army?
As a former Army officer who has transitioned from a life in the Armed Forces to working and living among civilians, I like to keep an eye on what my previous employer is up to and to see how I can apply some of these learnings to our everyday lives.
During my time in the Army, I gained a lot of experience with logistics, working with the Royal Logistics Corps (RLC), a vital cog in the Armed Forces machine and a topic that still forms part of my career today in discussions with my employees, partners and customers.
In the Armed Forces, the RLC provides constant support to the Army, whether that’s supplying vehicle parts, tools, ammunition, food rations – or even water. A ‘Logistic Supply Specialist’ in the RLC has to support the Army whenever they’re needed - sustaining and recovering all military operations worldwide. They support all aspects of the Army, no matter what terrain or what the threat is, the RLC will be there making sure that all needs are catered for. While a business supply chain is often about getting a product from A to B, the RLC does for the Army what the combination of Shell, Sainsbury’s, EDF and say Thames Water do for civilians, only on a greater scale, with even more elements to navigate.
Following the coming down of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the Army was subject to some downsizing. Then, when the Gulf War hit, suddenly a lot of resources had to be relocated from Germany across to Kuwait as effectively and efficiently as possible - albeit with less resource. In the Army, the need of the ‘customer’ can change so quickly and significantly, for example switching from peacetime to wartime operation, the RLC has to be able to react at significant speed. It’s this precision and need for efficiency amid seemingly constant cost-cutting that means the RLC can completely understand the pressures businesses are facing today in managing their supply chains.
But here’s where businesses can learn from the RLC to help the situation. The need to use technology was, even back then, recognised. The military knew handling the cuts while getting everything in place at the right time would need a system in place to work out exactly who and what was needed where and when, with spot on precision. And deploying technology equivalent to our current data analysis systems to give them an overview of the situation put the military very far ahead of the curve – especially when you consider that it was before people were really even using the internet.
But it wasn’t just the technology that helped the Army with the situation – it was also about correctly managing the people involved and harnessing their abilities. After all, it doesn’t matter how good your technology is if you don’t have the will of individuals to get a job done. One thing that prevails in the RLC, of which we need more in business, is people having a collective sense of purpose and executing on it accordingly. That might mean a last-minute change in roles and responsibilities, but people would step up to the plate with the understanding that, as a collective, they all need to get the job done – and that in itself relates very well to the supply chain in business. Instilling a sense of a mission in employees to get everything to where it needs to be in a timely fashion is crucial.
Of course, the scale isn’t as grand and the stakes aren’t as high as in a military conflict, but when customer relationships are at stake, failing to get a delivery – whether produce for a sandwich to be made in-store or a DVD straight to a customer’s home – can make the difference between a happy customer or someone who’s going to go elsewhere in the future. Luckily there are some very sophisticated data analysis technologies out there that, when used by people who have been correctly trained and therefore empowered to use them, can do this job very effectively.
Ultimately, the supply chain needs to find a way to learn from the RLC and get a perfect mixture of empowered people who will find a solution to getting the job done, but also technology that can show them the way to do so in the most efficient manner. The Army has, since its early prowess for adopting technology ahead of the curve, started to lean more heavily on people-centric initiatives, rather than technological innovation, but for both the RLC and business supply chains, there’s definitely a perfect mixture to be had in getting all stock, staff and supplies where they need to be.
DHL Claim Multi-Sector Collaboration Key to Fighting COVID
Since January, global logistics leader DHL has distributed more than 200 million doses of the COVID vaccine to 120+ countries around the globe. While the US and UK recently rolled out immunisation plans to most citizens, countries with less developed infrastructure still desperately need more doses. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which currently has one of the highest per-capita immunisation rates, the government set up storage facilities to cover domestic and international demand. But storage, as we’ve learned, is little help if you can’t transport the goods.
This is where logistics leaders such as DHL make their impact. The company built over 50 new partnerships, bilateral and multilateral, to collaborate with pharmaceutical and private sector firms. With more than 350 DHL centres pressed into service, the group operated 9,000+ flights to ship the vaccine where it needed to go.
With new pandemic knowledge, DHL just released its “Revisiting Pandemic Resilience” white paper, which examined the role of logistics and supply chain companies in handling COVID-19. As Thomas Ellman, Head of Clinical Trials Logistics at DHL, said: “The past one year has highlighted the importance of logistics and supply chain management to manage the pandemic, ensure business continuity and protect public health. It has also shown us that together we are stronger”.
Multisector partnerships, DHL said, enabled rapid, effective vaccine distribution. While international scientists developed a vaccine in record time—five times faster than any other vaccine in history—manufacturers ramped up production and logistics teams rolled out distribution three times faster than expected. When commercial routes faced backups, logistics operators worked with military officers to transport vaccines via helicopters and boats.
In the UAE, the public-private HOPE Consortium distributed billions of COVID-19 doses to its civilians as well as other countries in need by partnering with commercial organisations such as DHL. For the first time, apropo for an unprecedented pandemic, logistics companies made strong connections with public health and government.
“While the race against the virus continues, leveraging the power of such collaborations and data analytics will be key”, said Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer DHL and Head of DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. “We need to remain prepared for high patient and vaccine volumes, maintain logistics infrastructure and capacity, while planning for seasonal fluctuations by providing a stable and well-equipped platform for the years to come”.
How Do We Sustain Immunisation?
By the end of 2021, experts estimate that we need approximately 10 billion doses of vaccines—many of which will be shipped to areas of the world, such as India, South Africa, and Brazil, that lack significant infrastructure. This is perhaps the greatest divide between countries that have rolled out successful immunisation programmes and those that have not. As Busch noted, “the UAE’s significant investments in creating robust air, sea, and land infrastructure facilitated logistics and vaccine distribution, helping us keep supply chains resilient”.
Neither is the novel coronavirus a one-time affair. If predictions hold, COVID will be similar to seasonal colds or the flu: here to stay. When fall comes around each year, governments will need to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible to ensure long-term immunisation against the virus. This time, logistics companies must be better prepared.
Yet global immunisation, year after year, is no small order. To keep reinfection rates low and slow the spread of COVID, governments will likely need 7-9 billion annual doses of the vaccine to meet that mark. And if DHL’s white paper is any judge of success, multi-sector supply chain partnerships will set the gold standard.