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Digital Movement: Logistics companies leverage technology to streamline operations
Enterprises across business verticals are leveraging information and communications technology (ICT) to achieve greater efficiencies in their day-to-day operations. A robust IT and telecom infrastructure is required to communicate not only with customers but also within the organisation. To ensure effective communication, manage operations, improve productivity and increase efficiency, logistics enterprises are stepping up their investments in their ICT infrastructure. Leading enterprises in the logistics industry discuss their IT strategies, emerging technology trends and future plans for IT infrastructure upgradation…
What is the company’s telecom and IT blueprint? Please mention the wide area network (WAN) components, last mile access technologies, and enterprise, mobility, security and software applications?
We have two critical functional areas - freight forwarding and transportation (logistics), and customs interaction and clearance. Both these activities are highly IT interactive and require high bandwidth support to carry huge volumes of data. Moreover, since our operations span various time zones, the company requires a robust IT infrastructure and round-the-clock connectivity with the least downtime.
At Pinkcity Logistics, we depend on a WAN, which helps the company achieve real-time connectivity across offices. Depending upon the location, size and volume of work, our regional offices are connected through either leased lines or broadband. The company’s network has a bandwidth of 10 Mbps, which is sourced from different service providers.
We have also deployed several applications and software solutions for streamlining business practices. In the early days, we handled customer data through stand-alone office networks, which were connected through email systems. However, with the growth in the business, we have developed an in-house enterprise resource planning (ERP) system called “Pinkcity Web”, which serves as the backbone of all corporate customer transactions. Each corporate relationship and transaction is recorded from the time of enquiry till the delivery of shipments. Pinkcity Web helps generate management information system reports for customers. It also provides an overview of various functions to help the management look at key areas and map out the future course of action.
The ERP system also supports the customs clearance process through an interactive platform, Visual Impex. In addition to Pinkcity Web, the company has a stand-alone IT system for accounting.
Being in the logistics industry, tracking cargo is a priority for us and we depend on the global positioning system (GPS) to track vehicle and cargo movement. Each vehicle is equipped with a GPS-enabled system, which sends regular data feeds to our logistics team and fleet managers. The data acts as a basis for preempting impediments on the route and identifying a safer on-road approach to the designated place. This decreases the turnaround time for deliveries and helps the company improve efficiency. Further, to ensure a high level of security, our entire network is IP protected. We have also deployed anti-virus packages and firewalls for securing the telecom infrastructure from internal as well as external security threats.
Allcargo’s IT infrastructure comprises a mix of platforms that create an additional layer of redundancy. In addition, the IT set-up includes an active Reliance data centre in Mumbai and a disaster recovery CtrlS data centre in Hyderabad. The data centres are equipped with application layer redundancy and hardware layer redundancy for business-critical applications. Some of the applications are co-hosted on the cloud as per the business requirement. All our offices across India are connected via multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) virtual private network (VPN). All the locations have a backup MPLS link in case of a failover. Apart from the centralised firewall, the offices are protected by a local firewall. We have a centralised domain controller set-up and for communication we use Microsoft Exchange technology. Meanwhile, the telecom infrastructure set-up is placed in active and standby modes across different geographies. Most of the locations have private rate interface lines with vendor-managed EPABX.
Our company has operations spread across India as well as globally. Therefore, our IT and telecom requirements are significant. For WAN connectivity, we use MPLS and point-to-point connections. We have also deployed VPN for users. As last mile access technology, we use fibre, radio frequency (RF), multichannel multipoint distribution service or microwave, depending on the site. On critical sites, we use fibre, with RF as backup. On remote sites, we have deployed only RF because laying fibre can be difficult. We have undertaken joint capex with our enterprise partners for establishing telecom connectivity as well as the WAN and local area network components in some areas. Further, we are using load balancers for WAN optimisation, and international private leased circuit lines for accessing international connectivity as we have set up our base in multiple locations globally.
As regards enterprise applications, we have SAP at the topmost level, which has been deployed by the Adani Group. Further, we have business-specific systems (BSSs), which reside with local verticals like logistics. Being a logistics company, we have different kinds of equipment and assets, which need to be integrated in order to extract data from them. Therefore, we have put in place supervisory control and data acquisition systems, which feed data into the private cloud owned and maintained by the Adani Group. While the data is saved centrally, it is used by us through BSS, which is hosted on the local cloud owned by Adani Logistics. We depend on the group’s network architecture for all compliances and licences. Therefore, all the BSSs are connected back to the group’s ERP application. Our security and mobility applications are also managed by the group.
The company’s IT set-up includes an active data centre and a disaster recovery data centre located at a different site. The data centre set-up is equipped with application layer redundancy and hardware layer redundancy for business-critical applications. These applications are also co-hosted on the cloud. A secure middle layer integrates the applications as and when required.
Meanwhile, the telecom infrastructure set-up is placed in active and standby modes across different geographies. Our entire IP-based telecom set-up is enabled with session initiation protocol (SIP) and is open for integration with any SIP-enabled system. We have an automatic call distribution application that maximises routing, helps in resource selection and improves overall productivity. Further, virtual call routing allows businesses with multiple sites to maximise resource utilisation across all locations. The telephony set-up also includes a quality monitoring system for regulatory compliance.
Harpreet Singh Malhotra
Tiger Logistics (India) Limited is getting telecom support from Ace Technology for its logistics needs. For WAN, we are using leased lines from top internet service providers such as Bharti Airtel, Tata Communications and Spectranet. For data security, we are using the UTM Firewall solution from AnexGATE. We are getting VPN technologies through UTM Firewall and Microsoft. We are also using antivirus software from Symantec and Trend Micro for better protection and hassle-free services.
We have deployed the Logi-Sys ERP application from Softlink and the Zimbra Collaboration Server and for software applications we are using Microsoft’s server client technology.
What new IT initiatives has the company taken recently? What advantages has it derived and what were the implementation challenges faced by the company?
Being a prominent global company with different business verticals, Allcargo Logistics is required to constantly maintain and manage its existing infrastructure. We keep improvising our IT infrastructure; however, in such a huge environment, any change in the existing infrastructure is unwarranted as it entails huge capex and risks. Being in the service industry, it is important that our existing infrastructure supports our business continuity planning (BCP). Also, while implementing any new technology it is important to cut short its implementation cycle and integration process. Faster implementation ensures that the technology does not become obsolete in a fast evolving backdrop. However, its adoption is constrained by various factors. We have recently implemented the global Human Resource Management System package, which helps employees to connect with their colleagues anywhere in the world. It helps them in tracking their colleagues to access information about their location, designation, department and organisation. In addition, in our container freight stations (CFS) and inland container depot (ICD) verticals, we have deployed a mobile app called Allcargo, which is available on the Google Play Store. It helps our customers track their shipments on a real-time basis.
We have recently developed interfacing with other shipping lines and Indian Railways. This interfacing has been done through internet of things applications, which are hosted on our private cloud. This has generated huge savings in terms of costs and time. In addition, we are increasing automation to make our operations hassle-free and less dependent on human interaction. For instance, we have installed load sensors at various points where our cargo is handled to do away with the traditional weighing infrastructure.
There is growing adoption of technology in logistics. We have developed a mobile application, along with a web platform, which is being used by customers to track shipments. Further, the use of computing devices like mobiles and tablets, and the introduction of 3G and 4G technologies are enabling logistics companies to track shipments and provide real-time updates to customers, thus enhancing customer service satisfaction to a greater extent.
We are using wireless technologies to establish connectivity in areas that lack wireline connectivity. Meanwhile, to overcome challenges related to lack of bandwidth, we are betting big on desktop virtualisation. Going fully digital is also a priority, and efforts are being made to give our customers a platform to avail of our different services across all channels. In addition, we have recently introduced a mobile app for tracking shipments. We are continuously focusing on the digitisation of data and various delivery platforms such as the web, mobile and tablets. We are also spearheading digital initiatives in areas related to compliance, risk management, workflow management, customer life cycles, and data security.
Working on projects with our partners and customers, one of the key challenges that we have faced is the integration of new technologies while co-developing web services or mobile infrastructure solutions. There are also issues regarding security.
Harpreet Singh Malhotra
We have recently implemented Zimbra & Linux software applications. Zimbra connects users to their personal clouds with a smarter mailbox that integrates email, tasks, address book, calendar, files and enterprise applications. The biggest challenge is to find a balance between the company’s budget and its IT needs. Maintenance and management of IT infrastructure are equally demanding. Businesses run on IT, thus IT infrastructure needs to be responsive to their needs. To drive a profitable business, IT has to shed its role of a supporting system. We have come to realise that managing the IT infrastructure on a service model is the best solution. As our organisation is rapidly expanding its footprint in the market, the responsibility of the IT team has increased. As a result, we are continuously looking to improve our IT facilities to provide better management and services.
What is the level of adoption of applications such as customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management and sales force automation in the logistics industry?
These applications are already being deployed in the industry. For instance, we are using CRM as a tool to obtain real-time visibility of our sales force. CRM is essential for our organisation, irrespective of the business vertical.
These applications have a critical role to play in logistics companies. However, it is important to ensure that business analytics is also in place.
In the logistics industry, CRM helps an enterprise to service customers by providing information on product/pricing/service offerings, managing order bookings via customer calls and the internet, and providing similar abilities to collection agents for business growth through an internet portal.
Automated driver messaging and route plan information are seamlessly integrated with the CRM application. CRM logistics management optimises the pick, pack, ship and receive processes. In the near future, our customers can take advantage of CRM self-service to order a pick-up and manage billing and account-related activities online. The CRM assignment manager also helps balance the volume of work assignments and the available resource pool and delivery personnel to meet customer expectations.
Harpreet Singh Malhotra
At present, we are using Logi-Sys, which is an end-to-end cloud ERP software for the freight forwarding and logistics industry. Logi-Sys is an enterprise-level modular ERP software, which automates all the freight forwarding and logistics processes with plug-and-play ease. We have deployed it to manage our freight broker operations, both international and domestic, from receiving the sales inquiry to the balance sheet. The adoption of such applications is driven by the need to boost business agility and address escalating maintenance and administration costs.
What are the company’s plans regarding telecom and IT network upgrades?
In the early days of our operations, we operated through stand-alone office networks, which were primarily connected through email systems. However, with an expanding footprint we realised the advantages offered by technology. Over the years, by deploying cutting-edge technology, we have been able to bring in efficiency across functions and carry out our day-to-day operations at a faster pace.
Going forward, we plan to upgrade our stand-alone accounting system and integrate it with our ERP system, Pinkcity Web, for greater visibility. In addition, we are committed to increase our IT spend significantly with the aim of meeting our current as well as future business requirements.
Further, we plan to create an IT platform, which will not only be connected to GPS-enabled vehicles for monitoring, quicker turnaround and efficiency, but also have intelligence to plan deployment at our customer factories based on intelligent monitoring. It will be rolled out in the next six months.
Allcargo’s infrastructure is being upgraded constantly. The company recently bought mobility solutions. We have launched a mobile application called Allcargo. Being in the service industry, we are also focused on exploring analytics to manage and analyse the huge amount of customer data available as this will help us enhance our services. We are going to focus on adding an extra layer of security to our multilayer security architecture. We are also going to build security architecture from the physical layer to the upper node of the IT infrastructure set-up. In addition, the company will strengthen BCP and disaster recovery by building an additional cloud environment and creating a virtual platform. Apart from moving to the cloud and desktop virtualisation, we are looking to globally deploying ERP solutions in our non-vessel operating common carrier vertical. We are currently focusing on our e-commerce business and managing the warehouse facility for them under our vertical contract logistics. In addition, new ICDs and CFSs are coming up on some other strategic locations worldwide.
Going forward, we are planning to enhance our system’s capability. This will lead to an increase in our IT requirements.
We are exploring analytics to manage and analyse the huge amount of customer data available, which would help us offer enhanced products and services.
We will be focusing on adding an extra layer of security to our multilayer security architecture. In addition, the company aims to strengthen business continuity planning and disaster recovery by building an additional cloud environment and creating a virtual platform.
Harpreet Singh Malhotra
In today’s economy, information is power and to keep ahead of competitors, Tiger Logistics has deployed solutions like a customer redressal system, mobile applications, GPS tracking and cloud computing to improve communications, logistics and inventory tracking. This helps enhance customer trust and brand loyalty. It is necessary to improve our IT infrastructure to get updated with global IT solutions. Tiger Logistics’s IT professionals are continuously working to develop new system applications and enhance existing ones. Our internal systems are built to provide efficiency and functionality to our staff and business associates. We always prefer to use genuine Windows, Microsoft and IBM products.
What are the key emerging technology trends in logistics enterprises? What are the upcoming communication technologies in this regard?
The skill-set of the workforce in logistics is undergoing a major transformation. For instance, three to four years back, a courier delivery boy carried a paper that the recipient would sign an an acknowledgement for the delivery. Now, the same delivery boy comes with a hand-held device that is signed digitally. Going forward, one may even see drones delivering these packages. While such innovations are at an early stage, it is essential that logistics companies invest in them.
The logistics space is embracing the mobile movement, especially for transportation. In fact, many logistics managers have already “cut the wires” and have become more mobile in order to improve productivity, make the transportation process more efficient, and enhance customer service. Mobile transportation applications include GPS navigation, real-time despatch management and scheduling parcel delivery, tracking, proof of delivery, telematics and customer service engagement. Mobility is also being increasingly used for functions such as fleet service and maintenance, fleet management, and port and yard management.
Harpreet Singh Malhotra
The growing complexity and dynamism of supply chains require advanced IT solutions. Client and partner master data management with integration capabilities and identity resolution tools, data cleansing, address validation, credit rating and auto-hierarchy assignment services are some of the solutions on the list. In the coming years, the key positive trends that are likely to influence the industry are the entry of global players, increase in the number of multimodal logistics service providers, and greater investments. These are predominantly driven by an increased focus on business intelligence and customer segmentation. Further, given the growing popularity of cloud computing across industries, logistics companies have started evaluating its potential and capitalising on its benefits. With regard to whether there is a case for cloud computing, logistics leaders need to take into account the rapidly evolving market scenarios driven by trade imbalances, capacity constraints, regulatory compliance, emerging integrators and new markets. Given the industry’s cautious attitude towards core processes and target areas, cloud computing would initially remain limited to horizontals such as CRM, campaigns and promotions, carrier bookings, rate enquiry, scheduling, inventory pool management and capacity procurement.Telecom and data networks are highly complex, just like the demands of their manufacturers, suppliers and operators. In logistics, transportation alone is no longer enough. It is necessary to have precise knowledge about products and processes so that the supply chain can be optimised. In addition, forward and reverse logistics need to be merged with intelligent warehousing, inventory management and technical services. Such demands can be met by working with a reliable technology partner.
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