Following the success of its first Supply Chain Lab in Berlin, supply chain and logistics leader Imperial Logistics has opened a second lab in Cape Town. These facilities will enable Imperial Logistics and its clients to leverage evolving technology and digitisation to drive competitiveness and ensure ongoing market relevance, says chief information officer, Michael Lütjann.

“Digitisation is changing the way that we do business and has the potential to transform the logistics industry. Companies that want to remain competitive must embrace and leverage disruptive new technologies and trends which are establishing new business models and changing well founded ones,” he stresses.

Lütjann outlines the rationale behind Imperial Logistics’ first Supply Chain Lab in Berlin: “This was a mind shift for the organisation. We wanted to transform a typically traditional environment and move away from limiting traditional thinking. Our Lab was a notable milestone on our digitisation roadmap and tangible proof of a more agile, open and innovative approach.”

Launched at the end of 2016, he says that the Berlin Lab has opened doors for many projects. International clients that have already worked with the Supply Chain Lab to develop customised solutions to their challenges include Schindler, Bosch and Kali & Salz.

One of the Berlin Lab’s most notable achievements is the development of ShareHouse, a digital market place for warehouse space. “By efficiently digitising the marketing of warehouse space, ShareHouse is enabling property owners to increase utilisation levels at their warehouses, prevent empty space caused by seasonal fluctuations and increase the profitability of their storage sites,” Lütjann expands. “The process of beginning with a problem, generating an idea, developing a digital marketplace and ultimately founding our first corporate startup has provided us with a truck full of valuable learnings that our new Cape Town lab is founded on.”

Lütjann notes that the locations of both labs were carefully chosen. “Berlin is one of the top five start-up hotspots in the world. The city has over 187 000 students and provides a large pool of tech and creative talent from all over the world. Cape Town is Africa’s most important start-up hotspot and is renowned as an environment that draws creative talent from around the globe.”

Digitisation workshops, digital readiness training, creathons, hackathons and MVP (minimum viable product) projects are among the services offered by Imperial Logistics’ Supply Chain Labs. “Our aim is to inspire and generate implementable ideas – from start-up journeys to inspiration workshops. We generate networks and connect the right people. Some services are focused on enabling our people to leverage the latest technology. The labs also facilitate product development and support the generation of business plans. This service portfolio will constantly evolve and include new services that can benefit Imperial Logistics and our clients.”

Creathons or hackathons are used to explore and test ideas. Lütjann elaborates: “A creathon is based on the Google design sprint methodology. It is a very intense five-day workshop format that was developed to solve big problems, develop ideas, build prototypes and collect feedback of real users or clients in a very short time frame, with incredible results. On the fifth day, you have a clear understanding of the problem, a tested idea and enough feedback to define the way forward.” He reveals that ShareHouse started with an idea and a design sprint at the Berlin Supply Chain Lab. “Afterwards we developed the first minimum viable product version of ShareHouse and later the full marketplace functionality.”

Another successful MVP recently developed by the Lab and set to enhance Imperial Logistics’ operations is a business intelligence tool to analyse contract profitability. “This once again illustrates how the MVP format is such an effective way to get to the first version of a product out as quickly as possible – and to start learning from the users or clients. After just six weeks, we presented our product to the Imperial Logistics board and collected valuable feedback on what needed to be adjusted. We are now rolling out this valuable tool to all Imperial Logistics operating companies.”

Lütjann stresses that the Imperial Logistics Supply Chain Labs are not just the domain of IT but of the entire organisation. “We will drive digitisation and innovation from the Labs, but these two areas are not solely IT domains. They are relevant for every single business unit and service department. IT is just one of the stakeholders and, in some specific spheres, an enabler. The Lab is a platform to work jointly on the challenges faced by Imperial Logistics and our clients,” he concludes.