The real world adoption of Topic Area 3

Jun 30, 2020
John Munnelly caught up with Derek Guilfoyle, IT Director at DHL Supply Chain & DGF to understand how the use of data, AI and RPA have made an impact on operations across DHL sites in Europe. 

John Munnelly: Last time we spoke, DHL was in the middle of some exciting, interesting projects across data analytics, RPA and blockchain. How did those projects shape up and how are they affecting your operations now?

Derek Guilfoyle: DHL’s 2025 strategy is focused on digital acceleration across a number of initiatives like data analytics, robotics, and mobility, for example. We had a number of projects that are now successfully implemented and have helped transform our operations here in Europe.

DHL has always led the way with data analysis, how have the new applications and tools helped you?

It has moved beyond your spreadsheet analysis days, John! Data analysis and analytics are core tools for many supply chain operations. DHL has developed its own data analysis solutions to be able to view, control and manage operations across a global network. Also, being able to interface seamlessly in real-time with clients’ systems is something DHL developed back in the 1990s. 

However, the new data analytics tools and APIs are something that DHL embrace and we use them to empower employees, be that through self-service dashboards, or managers being able to identify anticipated demand peaks and troughs so as to deploy labour. A visualisation shared with a team and the ability to drill through it often means that a new insight comes from an operative working at the coal face.

DHL was one of the first to work with robotics in all its forms. How has DHL adopted to new artificial intelligence technology?

DHL has been using robotics in a number of formats for years now, from using sorting conveyors, robotic arms for co-pack that evolved to warehouse pallet stacking and wrapping robots that can move certain pallet types to and from any warehouse location. We very much use a human workforce, but the technology has enabled DHL to work smarter, deploying operatives to parts of the business where demand spikes, allowing us to be responsive and adaptive to customer demand. 

And what about DHL’s adoption of robotic process automation (RPA)? 

We have adopted RPA in a number of ways. We have automated stable, recurring processes. For example, we have deployed RPA routines to reconcile freight deliveries to their cargo manifests. 

One of the most interesting use cases of RPA and other AI tools was in human resources. This project centred on creating a repeatable process to automate the recruitment of staff, from the posting of a job advertisement through to hiring and setting up an employee personnel record.   

Wow, would you mind taking us through that particular project?

When we analysed the volume of work that was done by human resources to recruit a colleague, we discovered that it was largely an online repeatable process that has broadly the same inputs and outputs. So we used process and mapping tools to post the placement of a job advertisement or place a request with a labour contract provider, through to CV scanning, through to online interviews conducted with software that can interpret responses, through to the offering of a position and creation of an employment contract. 

Has DHL done much with blockchain as a technology thus far?

DHL are aware of it. Some shipping companies are using it and DHL built APIs to interface with such blockchain applications. DHL has been involved in a project or two on behalf of its clients. For example, we helped a client with serialisation on blockchain as that is an important product characteristic for them. The space is still very much in development and while it will lend itself to certain industries over others, we still have excellent applications that remove the necessity for blockchain to be every solution.