As the biggest logistics conglomerate in the world, DHL knows a thing or two about the importance of networks, locations and accessibility when it comes to moving people, things and ideas around.
That is why Singapore, with its excellent infrastructure, central location and highly educated workforce, has become a key node in its network.
Setting up its regional headquarters for two logistics business units – DHL Global Forwarding and Supply Chain on the island in 2007, the group raised its presence in Singapore by another notch in April 2016, opening its $160 million Advanced Regional Centre (ARC) at the Tampines LogisPark.
The new ARC also houses the nerve centre for its research efforts in the region – the Asia Pacific Innovation Center which is only the second outside of Germany and plays a critical role in equipping the company with the tools and knowledge to confront the most serious challenge to its business: Disruption.
"In today's environment, I don't think any company can afford to just rest on the products and solutions and the kind of market leader position it may have," said Ms. Tamana Dahiya, DHL’s director of the Asia Pacific Innovation Center.
"Unless you keep up with the changing technologies and innovate, you could lose those positions very quickly."
DHL sees collaborations with its partners and customers as a big part of anticipating what is to come.
In this regard, Singapore offers the company the ideal platform for collaboration because it is the regional home to some of DHL’s biggest customers in Asia Pacific, and the base of some of Asia’s premier research institutions.
360 degree vision
"Innovation has always been a big part of DHL's culture. We have to innovate in order to keep our operations running smoothly, or what we call continuous improvement," said Ms. Dahiya.
This tends to be driven by people on the ground. If they see something, a process or a tool that can be improved, it gets done. Continuous improvement ensures that the company continues to work as a finely-tuned machine, delivering excellent service and improving processes so the company can move faster and more efficiently.
But it is not enough. The company also has to continuously scan the environment for potential disruptions in order to survive.
"Innovation is crucial to our industry and our customers. Our customers drive innovation themselves and they are looking for areas for continuous improvement and value creation. We need to be thinking about that and are always asking ourselves what is next," she said.
In other words, the company is constantly on the look-out for innovation in areas that could have an impact on the industry. And because the logistics industry cuts across nearly every other industry in the global economy, it needs to have a 360 degree field of vision.
The DHL Asia Pacific Innovation Center in Singapore plays an important role in creating that field of vision for the company. The centre, which has hosted some 4,000 people since inception, is aimed at spearheading the development of future logistics and supply chain solutions, such as self-driving vehicles and robots, as well as the Internet of Things and augmented reality.
It does this in three ways.
One is trends research. The objective behind this is to continuously scan and sense emerging trends that could have an impact on the industry. The company does this via the Logistics Trend Radar by DHL, in which it looks out into the horizon and picks up on key areas related to logistics.
Some of the key topics explored in recent years include 3D Printing, Big Data and Self Driving Vehicles, among others.