Logistics is like a complex jigsaw puzzle.
Every piece links companies and people across continents. One missing link can lead to hefty fines, noncompliance risks, and shipment delays.
The complexity will only get worse. Trade wars, different customs requirements, and new regulations are making global trade complex. For APL Logistics, it needed to become fast and adaptable.
The company had other worries too. Payment for unused capacity, no disaster recovery, and slow internal app development were some.
“APL Logistics’ IT infrastructure was used to support transportation management on multiple platforms. However, these systems were not performing to modern standards and were deployed all over the world to support regional languages, multiple currencies, and regulations," said May Chew, the company’s chief information officer.
"We needed to upgrade our transportation management system to be more flexible and configurable. The upgrade will help optimize deployment and maintenance, and enhance our customers’ experiences,” she added.
So, the company chose to embrace the cloud.
Convincing for the Cloud
It is not an easy feat for an established global supply chain services provider to become a cloud player. But APL Logistics, which separated from Neptune Orient Lines in May 2015, had no choice.
"As customers' and vendors' demands continue to evolve, we foresaw that demands would become increasingly complex. As a player in the logistics industry, we need to be agile and have thus decided to invest in the cloud to ensure we have the scalability and velocity in the process automation,” Chew said.
But Chew first had to convince her board. She had to prove that the cloud was ready for mission-critical workloads.
The changing business landscape helped. “The shipping industry across APAC has witnessed a decline, with a third of shipping losses occurring in South China, Indochina, Indonesia, and the Philippines maritime region over the last decade. Despite this trend, the APAC region still accounts for the largest market share in global logistics,” Chew said.
To protect the company's APAC leadership, Chew argued that IT had to adapt and scale faster. “This presented an opportunity for us to leverage technology, and get the buy-in to propel forward,” she added.
So the company chose Oracle. “We chose Oracle because of the choices they offer in terms of solution,” Chew said.
She also added that Oracle’s approach to be a cloud partner was valuable for APL Logistics. It gave them the confidence to take the right steps forward and seek advice when needed.
“They were with us throughout our digital transformation journey – whether advising about the cloud or on data security.”
Changing on the Cloud
Chew observed that part of her motivation to embrace cloud was the ability to change. It was what her customers were asking from their logistics partners.
“In the logistics industry today, we need to be quick to respond. Customers have differing expectations; they want things to be fast, and this is why investment in the cloud is critical when it comes to scalability and a need for velocity in process automation," she said.
Being adaptable also allowed APL Logistics to be part of their customers' vision. Every customer was facing new challenges. So, each wanted their logistics partner to be part of their solution to the end customer.
“As a result, we needed to invest and capitalize on new technological breakthroughs and adapt to not only survive but lead against the high tides of tomorrow with flexible solutions that will improve our business operations and place global shipments in the fast lane,” Chew said.
So, APL Logistics migrated the “domestic aspect” of their Oracle Transportation Management (OTM) app to the Oracle Cloud Platform.
“We are able to automate our processes for more efficient logistics operations. APL Logistics is thus able to focus on providing quality services and give our customers greater confidence in doing business with us,” Chew said.
The cloud migration also helped APL Logistics get closer to their customers.
“By utilizing and leveraging on the cloud, APL Logistics aims to collaborate even more closely with customers and vendors in the supply chain to ensure that exceptions in any shipment requests are managed with ease,” Chew said.
New Cloud Possibilities
Once live on the cloud, APL Logistics saw new benefits.
For example, the company managed exception checking better. This capability minimized disputes and documentation discrepancies. It allowed the company to process invoices fast and with high accuracy.
“The cloud has also played a pivotal role in providing us with a platform and applications to securely manage 'exception checking' where we are able to trace duplicate billing, verify shipped containers and compare invoice amounts with past repeated shipments," Chew said.
Another benefit was building sustainable supply chain solutions. For example, APL Logistics deployed fuel efficient and exhaust technologies for its vehicles in China. It cut down their carbon footprint.
“This has come to fruition as we were awarded the Green Freight Asia (GFA) certifications earlier this year. We believe that this is a testament to our role as a sustainable supply chain provider, and at the same time, assuring our customers that goods are shipped efficiently with less impact on the environment,” Chew said.
Future Proof with Cloud
Cloud is offering APL Logistics an extra benefit. The company is now able to try, experiment and adopt emerging technologies.
One such technology is blockchain. “We joined Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BITA)last year to build our blockchain technology capabilities. We are collaborating with CargoSmart and Oracle on a blockchain prototype to improve the process of complex shipping documentation,” Chew said.
Blockchain enabled APL Logistics to manage invoices better. It uses Bill of Lading information from its shipping blockchain network to process invoices using CargoSmart’s Carrier Invoice Financing.
Chew does not see the cloud as a solution for every logistics problem. "I'm an advocate of the cloud. However, there are certain aspects of our business, which are mission-critical. At this point, I would like to have full control of these areas and the cloud may not be the right platform.”
Overall, Chew advised companies to understand the benefits and limitations of any technology when building the future logistics platform.
"It is important to go in with your eyes open, and while the cloud is great for streamlining and automating operations, it is also important to evaluate how new transformational technologies support your overall business objectives and innovation.”
It is sound advice when your logistics jigsaw puzzle pieces are always changing.