‘Industry should focus on new-age technologies like AI’

Published - May 16, 2020 10:37 pm IST - MUMBAI

DB Schenker India Pvt. Ltd., a part of €40.4 Billion Deutsche Bahn Group and an integrated logistics services provider, ran a complex operation during the lockdown period to maintain its services for its clients. This includes pressing into service of charter freighters as well as deploying security escort services. In an interview with The Hindu, Vishal Sharma, CEO – Cluster India and Indian Sub-Continent, DB Schenker, elaborates the complexities and learning from this phase. Edited excerpts:

How difficult it was to maintain the supply chain and what you did during the lockdown?

We were able to schedule around 25 charters of which some of them were imports from China during the In dia pre-COVID-19 scenario due to supply chain disruptions in China. In the month of April, we started operating both Import & Export charters to support our customers into healthcare, continuous manufacturing & mission-critical applications. With passenger capacity reduced to zero and schedule cancellations of many cargo freighters, we had to deploy charters for supporting customers who are into vaccine manufacturing, personal protective equipment manufacturing & health care equipment.

What type of freighters were deployed and what were the routes served?

We have operated a combination of 20T, 30T, 60T & 100 T freighters between Shanghai to India, Hongkong to India, Singapore to India, India to Europe, India to US, India to Thailand, India to Indonesia, Europe to India & US to India. These are B737F, A330F & B747F freighters.

You had deployed security escort services....What were the challenges faced during the lockdown period?

We had to deploy security escorts not only for cargo protection but to navigate the check post and barricades. Our drivers were not able to articulate the need to transport goods during lockdown, hence we aligned with the security escort agency on the essential needs, relevant permits and approvals in place. This in turn was explained by them to the law enforcement personnel and local administration officers enforcing the lockdown. The agency’s job was to navigate the check post barriers and explain to officers on duty the need to transport such goods. The interpretation of rules from zone-to-zone and district-to-district was so different that it did not allow us to adapt to only one process. We had to customize our transport flows and transit time depending on the zones or districts we were crossing.

What is the learning from this phase and how is the industry heading for change?

With the current lockdown situation due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, the logistics sector is severely hit. While the government is taking all necessary steps to ease the movement of goods, it’s important for the industry to focus on new-age technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) which will be critical to next-generation supply chains due to higher turnaround times to respond to emergencies. Along with this, productivity and efficiency will be an important topic when the economy revives, hence we plan to enhance our ability to run our business in a digital environment.

This crisis has enabled us to achieve our digital landscape needs. Our preparedness to Business Continuity Plan (BCP) allowed us to scale up our mobility ratio to over 90%.

We are managing our customer needs for imports and exports without being onsite and in a paperless manner. Our sales force is connecting with customers more often now via various digital communication platforms.

As the economy opens, we would like to continue working on paperless environment, reporting automation, deployment of bots for monotonous activities & most importantly move towards digital invoicing with partners and customers.

This would push us hard to become a digital forwarder with the strongest network across the globe.

What are your priorities and new initiatives?

The fundamental priority for us remains the safety of our drivers, loaders and unloaders. In terms of taking effective measures for road transportation, we are embarking on various initiatives to keep the supply chain moving including arranging pick up/drop off driver fraternity, lodging & refreshments as needed to ensure we minimize exposure of our trucks & drivers to the public environment. We cover all stages of the supply chain – from supplier to customer delivery, from reverse logistics to aftermarket support, in different industries such as automotive, pharma, infrastructure, and others.

In the current situation, DB Schenker in India ensures that the movement of essential commodities especially the health care supply chain remains stable at this critical time. The company ensures that all necessary permissions from the authorities are obtained to secure the timely movement of the goods, workforce, trucks & staff.

We have offered our customers a lot of unique solutions such as air-ocean model for US deliveries, charter solutions to give them guaranteed uplift and capacity, and Land bridge for Bangladesh. In one of the cases, we were able to deliver mission-critical applications in less than 40 hours from Hong Kong into the data center locations.

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