DHL is a perfect example of a firm that has adopted the 'as-a-service' model that is becoming more prevalent in businesses the world over.

With natural disasters, terrorist attacks and unpredictable weather getting in the way of supply chain networks, the logistics firm always understood the importance of data to predict, monitor and avoid delays. But now it has packaged this insight into a SaaS tool to a new revenue stream.

The software platform – named Resilience360 - allows firms to upload supply chain network data to provide a real-time view of risk. Information about what products they are shipping from suppliers, the route for manufacturing sites and shipment systems are pooled into one central system.

“Much of supply chain data is held in legacy IT systems, so we have been uploading and showing customers their network in a cloud-based system, while adding in risk data from other sources,” said Tobias Larsson, DHL’s supply chain resilience lead.

A DHL employee pores over the various data streams to assess potential delays ©DHL

Using Salesforce as a platform

Created using the develop platform, DHL’s developers integrated applications like GeoServer to visualise data on a map and a middleware system to connect to risk intelligence feeds that alert users to disruptive events such as "floods and earthquakes". 

Information is fed “24/7” from news reports and social media too. The tool integrates with user’s EDI and XML connectors to “push and pull” data into the system.

From the front-end, a customer simply logs into Salesforce and creates a user profile for specific alerts. These alerts will be sent by email, so drivers with smartphones can pick up on potential problems on the move, Larsson explains.

From DHL's perspective, its internal team focuses on choosing the right external data feeds, and programming the tool using the modules available through Salesforce - as well as helping customers implement it.

“We don’t have to manage a server so there is no dedicated server application to look after,” Larsson adds.

Complicated supply chain networks are costing firms dearly ©DHL

DHL’s in-house risk management expertise

The Saas platform draws on the firm’s own experiences of managing risk across a highly complex supply chain. An example is the recent terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.

“We used data very intensively during this time. There was the first attack and the culprits escaped in a vehicle, travelling North,” says Larsson. “They went to a gas station to get food, took several hostages and ended up in an industrial park. All the while the police were chasing them and areas in the city were restricted. 

“We had to monitor flights through Paris, an important European gateway for us, and monitor whether drivers were stuck in restricted areas and flight crews staying in nearby hotels. By loading data into our tool as well as geospatial analysis we could predict how it would impact deliveries to customers.”

Adopting ‘as a service’ model

DHL always strive?s to maintain its service levels to customers, predicting area restrictions, road and even air blocks. While it has used data to advise customers of possible delays for its own logistics arm in the past, the Resilience360 tool was borne of customer demand. 

Larsson says: “Creating a new revenue stream was not the most important aspect of creating the solution; we simply looked at our customers’ problems were. By solving those we add more value to what we do.

“In 2011, exposure to risk across the globe was a huge preoccupation with supply chain customers. Firms were suffering from overly complex networks that they could not manage anymore, so we thought we could help them with a solution and hopefully add more value and [now] we are a more appreciated service provider to our customers.”

DHL proves that while firms should be considering products and services they could provide through cloud platforms to their customers, that it shouldn't change your business values. 

Recently speaking to ComputerworldUK, Accenture's global mobility lead Jim Bailey said: “The as-a-service path is the right one to be exploring.

“But is a car manufacturer in the business of making cars of providing a transportation service?”