by Zafar Anjum

Inside APL Logistics’s digital-transformation journey

Oct 13, 2021
Agile DevelopmentData ManagementDigital Transformation

The Singapore-based global logistics company has modernised its legacy infrastructure and become a data-driven organisation, even as it navigated the pandemic.

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Credit: Thinkstock

APL Logistics CIO Hakan Yaren had big challenges cut out for him when he joined the global supply-chain logistics provider in 2019. The Singapore-headquartered company had previously introduced one of the industry’s first web-based ordering and shipment-tracking systems, but wanted to continue its technology innovation across its automotive, consumer, industrial, and retail markets.

Yaren’s challenge was—and remains—to modernise the technology platforms while also simplifying them, despite the complex problems they address.

hakan yaren apl logistics APL Logistics

Hakan Yaren, CIO, APL Logistics

Take order management as an example. At its most basic level, order management is the organisation of purchase orders to identify cost and efficiency gains. However, with the cascade of data available through modern technology, order management has evolved into one of the most complex aspects of the global supply chain.

Internally, one of the biggest handicaps APL Logistics faced was that the mix of modern systems and legacy platforms was hugely problematic. To fix this, the company needed an architectural approach steeped in business capability. Yaren’s team also had to assess its own technical capabilities and bring in expertise from technology partners where needed.

“What we did not want to do was for the IT department to go undercover, do our tech thing then come back and declare success,” he told CIO ASEAN. “Instead, we focused on adding value throughout the modernisation, so it’s not seen as a ‘technology initiative’. One of the best ways to do this was to engage the business partners from the beginning and tie the technology initiatives to the organisation’s strategic objectives.”

Yaren expects his company to continue focussing on digital transformation initiatives to eliminate friction in the customer experience journey, provide better employee experiences within the hybrid working environment, modernise their legacy platforms, and strengthen their security posture. “We have a great partnership with our business stakeholders, and leveraging technology to help solve these complex problems collaboratively is what makes our jobs exciting and fulfilling,” he said.

Although that journey is ongoing, Yaren’s IT team has already delivered several key initiatives for digital transformation around being data-driven, adopting virtual collaboration, and adopting agile methodology.

Making APL Logistics data-driven

The supply-chain industry is constantly evolving how it sees and interacts with data. To stay competitive, the ability to capture and use the data to help their customers is imperative. That’s why the APL Logistics IT team focused on five key areas:

  • cybersecurity resilience
  • cloud transformation
  • innovative logistics technology
  • digital customer experience
  • data and integration capabilities

“As a logistics service provider, our key value-add is our ability to work and integrate well with other supply chain partners, including other 3PLs [third-party logistics providers], carriers, suppliers, and customers,” Yaren said. “Using next-generation tech platforms offers us the ability to achieve this in a much more effective manner.” So APL Logistics moved more of their resources to build new capabilities that would be helpful for their customers.

Data management is one of the areas where APL Logistics has heavily invested in. Customers want and need visibility into their supply chain at any given point of time, and they need the data to be timely, of high quality, and high accuracy. In view of this, APL Logistics started a data lake initiative to bring these capabilities at a scale, using Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI). The data lake “helps us get that reach across the globe and consolidate all these complex data points into one source of truth where we can analyse and dive deep into the insights while also honing in on micro-issues that could be causing downstream effects in the ecosystem,” Yaren said.

Going virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic

Yaren had joined APL Logistics at the end of 2019 and within six months of his joining, COVID-19 had gripped the world. “Adjusting to those challenges, working remotely, and the ability to support our operations and customers in this tumultuous environment have been quite challenging,” he said.

Yaren’s team had just kicked off their digital agenda and didn’t want to pause because of the pandemic. “At that time, we had also started our transition to Office 365, which turned out to be very timely for us,” he said. “Leveraging collaboration capabilities with Microsoft Teams was instrumental for us to be able to execute projects effectively. As our teams were already used to working across time zones and regions, and our architecture and engineering resources are primarily based in Singapore and the United States, adapting to the virtual environment has not been a significant challenge.”

Adopting agile methods

Yaren’s team also changed how they approached projects. “We took this opportunity to lean into adopting agile methodology across the organisation heavily,” he said. “In the traditional sense, these initiatives would have taken us 12 to 18 months to deliver, which was not feasible anymore. Hence, we broke these into minimum-viable-product deliverables and provided valuable outcomes to our stakeholders within three to six months.”

They used various technologies and service providers to achieve their goals with the agile methodology. The fruits of these initiatives are reaching the customers now. “As many people have realised over the last 18 months, the supply chain and logistics processes make the world go around. We are very proud to be a partner in this complex ecosystem,” Yaren said.