Imperial Logistics – Proving Grounds

At a time when the supply chain is headline news, Imperial is demonstrating the advantages of outsourcing logistics.

Imperial Logistics (Imperial), a DP World Company, is a third-party logistics service provider largely focused on Africa, although with some operations in Europe.  Its offering includes services ranging from transportation, warehousing and delivery to management of supply chains, including more extended services where Imperial can take ownership of the product, buying it from their principals and selling it into Imperial’s sales channels in consumer goods and healthcare.

“We are the most comprehensive service provider in Africa for logistics and market access services,” explains Cobus Rossouw, Executive Vice President for Digital & IT at Imperial. “Nobody else in our market does that as comprehensively in so many markets in Africa. Some competitors do parts of that in some countries, but we provide the entire end-to-end service.”

Of course, with such a broad array of services, comes a broad array of challenges in keeping clients happy. As a logistics service provider, Imperial is at the behest of its clients and principals, and Rossouw takes that responsibility very seriously.

“We have scale and expertise, but we have to meet and exceed the service requirements of our clients and principals, getting products to the right place, at the right time,” he insists.

As far as Rossouw is concerned, in every contract Imperial has to prove itself anew.

“Clients and principals will always believe it is something they could have done themselves, so you need to meet and exceed their expectations at a competitive price,” Rossouw points out. “They often don’t appreciate the complexity. That is the generic challenge of being a logistics service provider, particularly with end-to-end services.”

To meet that challenge, Imperial is utilising the latest technologies.

Some of our best solutions come through the role of digital and information technology. We are measuring performance to know how well we are doing,” Rossouw says. “If you don’t measure, you only get the call when you haven’t delivered. If you’re good at planning and measuring performance, understanding activities, and monitoring them, you have a fighting chance. You can say this is what I have done on 100 days, and if it hasn’t happened on one day that isn’t necessarily cause for alarm.”

The tools allow Imperial to leverage its scale and expertise to show how it allows the service provider to do the work better than clients and principals could do in-house. This is something the company does for clients and principals, including large multinational corporations that want to focus on building their brands or manufacturing products rather than developing in-house logistics capabilities.

“It’s about specialising in what you do and doing it well,” Rossouw says.

Attracting Talent to the Cause

Of course, to build those capabilities, first and foremost Imperial needs talented employees. Historically, logistics is a field that has been without glamour.

“The challenge with what we do is that if it works, nobody notices,” Rossouw admits.

However, for better or worse, over the last few years, logistics has been at the top of the headlines.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has meant many people recognise that supply chain and logistics make the world happen,” Rossouw tells us. “There’s a higher appreciation from our clients, principals and the societies in which we operate regarding the importance of these sciences. It’s opened up the boardroom discussion of what we bring to the table and elevated the profession.”

At the same time, as the sector is gaining more recognition, it is also changing. The roles of digitisation and informational technology are making fundamental changes to the field of logistics, and the skills required to make it work.

“I’ve always been in the supply chain but I’m now much more focused on digital technology,” Rossouw says. “It is very exciting and makes it more possible to deliver on our commitment to getting the right product to the right place at the right time and cost.”

The shift in how the industry is practised is also changing the people the industry is looking to recruit, and the skills that they need.

“I think in logistics and broader supply chain management as a recognised field, we are bringing in younger people studying to be logisticians or supply chain engineers. It’s a great field for data science and there is an increasing pipeline of talent available from universities.”

The field offers potential recruits far more than big data, however.

“We are offering solutions to get medicines to patients, products to consumers, and industrial products to factories,” Rossouw points out. “If we position ourselves as a sexy industry with problems to solve, applying machine learning, artificial intelligence and data technology, that will be exciting for people.”

But while there are a lot of exciting new tech applications in the sector, traditional skills are still needed.

“There are people who have been with us for a long time and those skills are important to retain,” Rossouw reminds us. “We have taught people who end up managing warehousing and transportation, combining that with new skill sets that drive optimisation. The best way to attract people across both spectrums is if they believe in the cause.”

A Changing Industry

As well as attracting and nurturing talent within the company, Imperial is also collaborating with other partners to achieve the best results.

“Imperial is a large organisation within the 3PL world, but there is a lot of work we don’t do ourselves and part of the magic is you need many partners,” Rossouw says. “Some of them are small companies with capacities you can use, like trucking operators with five, to ten, to 50 trucks. But we also work closely with tech service providers, working actively with big players and small players, making technology available and working with specialists.”

One such collaboration is an interesting partnership with Accenture in Africa which is contributing to developing solutions for clients outside of Imperial’s usual wheelhouse.

“Being good at logistics means you can’t provide everything yourself. You also have to be good at working with other people- sometimes even your competitors if it brings out the best results for the client,” Rossouw tells us.

With rapidly evolving technology and a new focus on the sector as a whole, it is an exciting time within the logistics sector, and the industry as a whole is transforming. It is a transformation Rossouw is excited about.

“We’re seeing a major trend of consolidation in the logistics industry between the big players. There’s more of a market in offering an end-to-end service than a fragmented industry with many small players,” Rossouw points out. “The market for more integrated players that can offer various services is growing. This consolidation is happening for classical 3PLs, and there’s so much more we can do to drive improvement.”

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