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By Steve Walker, CTO and COO, DHL Supply Chain
Steve Walker is the Asia Pacific CIO and Global Warehouse Management System Centre of Excellence of DHL Supply Chain. As the CIO of Asia Pacific, the fastest growing region of DHL Supply Chain globally, Steve leads a team of over 380 associates across 20 countries to drive innovation, quality and value for customers and the business.
What are some of the challenges affecting the supply chain industry spectrum?
The challenges are varied, of which one of the challenges in APAC is to find the right partner to work around digitalization opportunities. Another significant challenge is finding a return on investment in developing countries where the labor rates are relatively low. The final challenge is a generic one of taking the people along in the journey while managing the change and the associated cultural aspects.
What are the best practices that the firms in the IoT space employ to mitigate challenges and progress with better efficiency and productivity?
It is imperative for an organization to ensure that its employees are part of the transformation journey. To put it simply, the employees need to have an emotional connection with the organization’s vision and understand their part and be empowered to contribute. The organization, on its part, needs to engage and involve everyone in its progressive, transformative journey. This will result in employees having a connection with the organization and resonate in their performance. The crucial part of employee engagement is recognizing success, no matter how small it is. Additionally its important to find the right partners who are culturally aligned with the business.
As a CIO, how does the future look like in the supply chain industry in terms of digital and technological implementations? Also, what transformations would you like to see in the future of the supply chain industry in terms of the solutions and platforms?
The future of the supply chain industry is based on anchoring a robust process pertaining to digital and technological implementations. The DHL process begins with trend radar, which looks at technology and supply chain trends and identifying opportunities for developing ideation and other innovations. We have close to 45,000 employees in the DHL supply chain in APAC, who are encouraged at the grassroots level to come up with ideas and opportunities for innovation. We are running a process called think tank, similar to a shark tank where ideas are pitched. Shark tank revolves around featuring companies for which the contestant has to select the right shtick and portray personality to captivate the audience. Finally, the panel made up of senior managers in the business will shortlist fine pitches for telecasting in the shark tank and ultimately to be part of DHL’s global Innovation and Incubation Lab, where if successful the product is commercialized and leveraged across the business. Similarly, we hunt for good ideas to be incorporated and leveraged across a country, region, or even globally. As we go through the innovation funnel, we ensure that we are also into quality production system engineering and pilots and then get into the endpoint of industrializing and productizing digitalization so that we can roll out and scale.
At the moment, we are vigorously working towards scaling and accelerating digitalization across our business. The great opportunity for the future comes with us scaling rapidly and SmartOps whereby operators and supervisors on the shop floor can manage operations without having to go into a warehouse. Currently, we are working intensely on robotic process automation and other interesting work related to IoT. But the real opportunity lies in leveraging all the data that comes from the IoT devices and showcase the value to our customers and our internal stakeholders. And that is proving to be very exciting.
What advice would you like to give upcoming executives within this industry on how they can achieve operational freedom with technology?
My first key advice is to experiment. A fail fast and fail cheap approach will encourage innovation but also prevent money wastage. The second piece of advice is to take employees on the transformation journey as a digitalization agenda or technology is fundamentally about people to achieve success. So, it is impossible to ignore the people, which, if done, comes at the peril of business, and the benefits cannot be achieved.
Is there any information you would like to share on your personal perspective and experience as a CIO?
I would say that being a CIO is not easy. For a CIO to lead the business, a great deal of soft skills is needed along with being influential in the boardroom. Any aspiring CIO should learn how to influence and get the buy-in of the C suite to work collaboratively in the journey and be successful in the role. It is all about the influence, achieving goals, and persuading colleagues and all employees to collaborate in the journey. Finally, even though there are many people good at developing strategies, only a few can actually deliver it. So it is important to be surrounded by people who can effectively deliver on the strategy laid out.