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Surviving — and thriving — in an era of digital Darwinism

Kenny MacIver — February 2017
Digitalization has triggered a survival of the fittest in business, says Markus Voss, CIO and COO of Deutsche Post DHL’s Supply Chain division, and that means organizations must react rapidly to the unprecedented pace of change.

The digitalization of much of the physical world that will occur over the next few decades will expose companies to as many threats as opportunities. So companies that want to prosper in this new age need to act now, argues Markus Voss, CIO and COO of DHL Supply Chain.

“Digitalization is dramatically changing the landscape of logistics, one of the world’s oldest industries. We have so many physical assets that we have been organizing over the years: on the road, in the air, on ships and which pass through our warehouses. And now digital transformation brings the information technology piece to those physical environments. Now we have the opportunity to bring more logic, more intelligence into the flow of goods,” says Voss.”

“This digital transformation brings us into the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0. The speed of change is unprecedented,” he says. And the consequence will be that many companies will “be taken out completely” by new business models if they fail to innovate.
Survival of the fittest — or most innovative

The potential for dramatic improvements in business efficiency is one driver for that, but so are the new ways in which DHL’s customers want to consume its services. And in order to thrive the Supply Chain unit has to be in a perpetual state of innovation, argues Voss. “It is a real world of digital Darwinism out there. If we don’t want to lose out, we have to be constantly putting new technology-enabled services onto the market.”

“My advice to anyone who works in the digital or technology space is to be constantly screening new technologies and investigating how they can be applied to both driving a new wave of products or services through new business models and further optimizing existing processes,” he says.
Hybrid IT approach

But digital transformation inevitably comes with some baggage. “The challenge behind executing the digital strategy is that we still have traditional IT,” says Voss.

Technology teams need to take a systematic approach to managing this dual-speed IT. Voss argues that the slower side of IT needs to be standardized and industrialized. But it has to be done robustly rather than superficially. “It doesn’t help you to just put a shiny layer on top of something that has not been industrialized. So we have to address that part of the equation at the same time as we drive into the digital era.”

Voss characterizes DHL’s Supply Chain’s digitalization journey as being well underway. “We have good examples of where digitalization is already paying off and others where we’re seeing a lot of future potential (see Four digital technologies transforming the supply chain). In many cases, technologies that were almost impossible to implement 18 months ago are now a reality.”

And that flow of potentially game-changing technology is unrelenting. “The speed at which new stuff is coming at us never stops, so we can’t stand still; every day there are new technologies — so we are trialling stuff in real environments all the time. It’s just too dangerous not to.

• Markus Voss was a keynote speaker at Fujitsu Forum 2016 in Munich

• Photography: Stefan Hobmaier
First published
February 2017
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About: Markus Voss
For the past decade, Markus Voss has played a leading role in the planning and execution of DHL Supply Chain’s ambitious vision for digital technology. He became global CIO in 2015 and took on the additional role of COO role in January 2017.
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