As Executive Product Manager at KNAPP, Bernd Stöger drives strategic innovations in the areas Software and Value Chain Solutions. In the following interview, he illuminates on the opportunities and challenges of companies in our extremely fast, digitalized and constantly changing world. Mr Stöger is convinced that the bottom-up integration of a logistics strategy tailored to the company is the key to success. What does he mean by that? Find out here!
Mr Stöger, the world is changing and with it, the way we do business. How can companies achieve success nowadays?
Bernd Stöger: Successful companies create an organizational environment in which ideas can be nurtured. To do this, they must be able to adapt quickly, to rapidly get their offer on the market and to exploit changes in the market. The COVID-19 pandemic separated the wheat from the chaff: Companies who were able to immediately respond to the surprise massive upturn in online growth survived. Within a couple of years, these companies experienced massive growth, with turnovers in the billions.
What is the difference between those who prospered in the COVID-19 pandemic and those who didn’t?
Bernd Stöger: They have changed the way they see logistics, and no longer view it as just a support process in their organization. The success of a company has nothing to do with its form, whether as solely online retailer, a startup or a company evolving from brick and mortar retail. How long the company has been in business also turns out to be unimportant. Successful companies promoted logistics to the level of core process and enabler of new business models and now view logistics as an opportunity to stand out by offering a better service level to their customers, such as same-day delivery.
So the benefits of attaching more importance to the logistics strategy and investing in new structures, processes and technologies are obvious. Which companies have taken this approach?
Bernd Stöger: The Australian retailer Woolworths, for example, dominated Australian online trade in the sector food and personal care with a volume of about two billion US dollars and a market share between 15 and 20 percent within just a few years of entering the online market. English retailer John Lewis, famous for its department stores, today generates more than 60 percent of its turnover online. They now operate one of the largest online stores in the UK fashion sector followed by Next, Sainsbury’s, ASOS and Marks & Spencer. The situation is very similar for Germany’s largest fashion online store Zalando. With a turnover of more than 2.7 billion US dollars and a growth of 20 percent per year over the past years, it easily outpaces its competitors. Last but not least, the largest retailer in the world is Walmart. In 2021, the company achieved a turnover of 43 billion US dollars in the US with its online business, which grew by over 70 percent.
Be it Walmart, Woolworths or Zalando – they all run very successful logistics networks. They rely on comprehensive and intelligent software tools and manage their growth by implementing a clearly defined automation strategy.
What makes a logistics strategy a real competitive advantage?
Bernd Stöger: The three most important factors that need to be considered for developing the perfect strategy include:
N°1 Correct positioning of the logistics strategy
The logistics strategy is closely connected to the company strategy. Accordingly, it should be anchored within the company and prominently positioned in the organigram. The responsibilities for sales and operations are, for example, merged for the different channels. Recently, Walmart US adapted its organization: President and CEO John Furner explains that the new COO role combines store operations and supply chain. The focus is on the transformation of the end-to-end workflow and on offering a smooth shopping experience.
N°2 Creating a suitable logistics network design
Emphasis should be put on structuring or adapting a logistics network, since it will continue to evolve and predictions are difficult to make. Companies have an advantage when they define a clear value proposition that they can use to position themselves on the market. This provides the basis for choosing the right approach to designing their logistics network. What should the distribution network look like, which activities should be combined and what does the service level look like? Woolworths, for instance, focuses on convenience for all customers regardless of whether they live in a metropolis such as Melbourne or in the outback. Amanda Bardwell, Managing Director of WooliesX, which is part of the Woolworths group, explains: “Even as we invest in new fulfilment centres, local stores remain the heart of our online operation. We can offer our customers faster same-day and on-demand delivery options, as well as convenient pick-up solutions.”
N°3 Automating processes
Nowadays, an online strategy rarely leads to success if a company has not reached a minimum level of digitization and learned to think this way. Digitalized business processes and smooth integration are crucial for success in an omnichannel world. The same applies to integrating brick and mortar retail with the online store as well as to distribution and fulfilment centres. Seamless integration promotes fast and flexible growth. Here, it doesn’t really matter if it starts with automating a manual e-commerce warehouse, converting a store warehouse to an automated omnichannel warehouse, or with rolling out location concepts across a logistics network.
How should companies integrate a logistics strategy?
Bernd Stöger: There are two basic approaches companies can take: either the popular top-down approach or the more modern bottom-up solution.
What is the top-down approach and what should companies consider?
Bernd Stöger: The system design progresses into greater levels of detail. Depending on the business requirements, a connection is made from the highest system in the hierarchy to the subsystems. Trusted tools for planning and control of the supply chain and individual locations are used – for the point of sale, the warehouse and for transport. In the past few years, however, automation in warehouses has become even more relevant. To properly leverage the potential that automation brings, getting the supply chain and the WMS perfectly integrated with the WES/WCS functions and warehouse technology (MHE) is critical. Many times this kind of top-down approach does not meet the demands in a highly dynamic environment. Simply connecting the MHE as a black box leaves a lot of potential unused. In this environment, it becomes difficult to provide same-day or on-demand deliveries and, in a widespread network, to decide on the best location from which to make the delivery. The consequences are expensive for several possible reasons:
- Holding on to reserve capacities
- Delivery promises cannot be kept as desired
- The organization is bogged down in workarounds
A development has been observed in the past year where a few established software producers are working with the top-down approach, nudging the ERP and WMS in the direction of WES/WCS, however, they still have a huge disadvantage. They are connecting the MHE but without fully integrating them. They lack the know-how in technical integration as well as in the domain of automation.
If the top-down approach has its pitfalls, would you recommend integrating the logistics strategy according to the bottom-up principle?
Bernd Stöger: Yes, I would definitely recommend system integration according to the bottom-up principle. That is also the philosophy that we live by at KNAPP. It involves integrating intelligent machine control systems across the WCS and WMS and up to the supply chain, with interfaces to the ERP and online store as offered by the KiSoft, for instance. The advances in technology of the past ten years has created enormous potential. One example is combining the IoT with cloud technologies. Using artificial intelligence, these technologies offer new possibilities for responding to situations and learning from them. To leverage the technological potential in system integration, the information generated must always be available for inclusion in decision-making.
System architectures that support bottom-up integration offer improvements in the following aspects:
- Dynamics that allow complete operational responses specific for the situation at any time
- Transparency for making the right decisions, both tactical and strategic
- Networking of person and machine
- Use of machines such as robots, AMRs, shuttle systems etc.
- Speed and quality when implementing new business requirements
Oliver Kraftsik, Vice President International Logistics at ASOS.com, just recently successfully completed the modernization of a warehouse using intelligent logistics software by KNAPP. He is also convinced of the bottom-up approach: “If you’re serious about running your e-commerce business, you need data. With a smart foundation of data, we can handle the demands on Black Friday and any other challenges that e-commerce will bring in the future.”
What factors should companies consider when choosing a logistics provider for bottom-up integration?
Bernd Stöger: If you want this type of integration to actually work for the design of your entire network, examine your options closely before choosing a logistics provider. Like KNAPP, the partner must have MHE domain knowledge but also work equally well without automation. Such a partner should also be independent enough to be able to integrate different manufacturers. A logistics strategy can only be successful – making the company successful – if it has the necessary open architecture.
Thank you for your insights, Bernd Stöger.
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About Bernd Stöger
Bernd Stöger, Executive Product Manager at KNAPP, is responsible for Software and Value Chain Solutions. During his 17 years at KNAPP, Bernd has worked in different roles both at the headquarters in Austria and at the Brazilian subsidiary. Earlier in his career, he gained valuable experience in the automotive industry at BMW. He holds a university degree in industrial management from the University of Applied Sciences FH Joanneum in Austria and from the OAMK in Finland. He is a European Certified Logistician working in senior management.
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