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  • Writer's pictureTharindu Ameresekere

Leading the New Lanes of Logistics

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

Today on BusinessLoungeLK's journey to bring you the voices of Sri Lankan Business professionals we are honored to have Mr. Danushka Jayasinghe on our Supply Chain Interchange segment. Mr. Danushka is the head of third party logistics at D P Logistics.

1.) How did you begin your career in logistics?

I started my career 19 years ago, and got into the industry by chance. Right after my A levels, I got the opportunity to join a well-established logistics company as a trainee. It was largely an operational all-round job where I was required to attend to work which spanned across the entire company.

After spending some time as a trainee, I started to really get interested in the field and the work that went into logistics. I came to realise that the industry was extremely broad and that there was a lot of interesting work to be found in the field. During my trainee period I got the opportunity to learn about managing international partnerships for container leasing companies, project logistics and bulk liquid logistics.

As I learned more and more about the industry, it sparked a flare of interest in me and since I understood that there was a lot of opportunities available in the field, I decided to continue my career in logistics.

One thing that I’m extremely grateful for is my time as a beginner and how it helped me to understand the industry from the ground up. It really helped me get a firm grasp of how the industry operated and that helped me as I progressed my career into different sectors of the industry.

After my training period I went into operational logistics and from there to third party logistics management. I was also granted the chance to work closely with the technological side of logistics and that helped me understand logistics internationally as I got the opportunity to work with different companies globally. I was also able to grow my experience in international partnership management and business growth.

Today, I head the third-party logistics (3PL) business unit at DP logistics.

Logistics and the Pandemic

2.) How badly did the Coronavirus affect the logistics sector internationally, and what was the ground situation like for Sri Lankan supply chains when the pandemic first hit?

Global supply chains were affected drastically due to the sudden impact of the pandemic, and it became a huge obstacle for the industry. The pandemic initially impacted China, and China is a key strategic location for supply chains worldwide and it is an important supplier for many global markets, so when their borders shut it affected supply chains all over the world as it created a scarcity for supplies.

This scarcity created an overwhelming demand and put even more pressure on supply chains to cater to the demand, but it was difficult to cater to it when one of the most powerful manufacturing nations in the world was under lockdown.

This was just the beginning, as the months kept passing the whole world had to resort to lockdowns and quarantines to mitigate the spread of the virus. So, when this happened, we started to face major problems like people not coming into work, port congestions and airports shutting down.

In reality our supply chains were not ready to handle such a dramatic shift in terms of consumer behaviour and demand. Handling the pandemic was a real struggle, especially because even though we “academically” knew the risks and problems a pandemic could cause to global supply chains, no one actually had any practical experience on handling a pandemic situation. Even though there were back-up plans for natural disasters and strikes etc., there was nothing in place to handle a pandemic as it was a new challenge for everyone.

Global trade has come up to a level where it is almost impossible for economies to run without the world supply chain running smoothly, so the impact of the millions of delayed and cancelled flights and containers was catastrophic for the world economy and we are still recovering from the backlog that we faced back in 2020.

However, if all goes well we could normalise the situation by the end of this year.

3.) What were some of the day-to-day challenges you had to face when the pandemic hit and how did you overcome them?

Sri Lankan companies were completely caught off guard by the pandemic, and I think that our companies were not ready at all to handle the pandemic. Many companies tend to keep logistics backup plans just for the sake of documentation, and not actually to be proactive and prepared for such emergencies. Most of the Sri Lankan companies were not ready to handle new business models, not even some of the biggest players were prepared for it.

Logistics companies in particular faced major issues when operating as well. Firstly, we had issues when getting the permits to use the roads in the lockdown periods as we were not considered as an “essential service”. So logistics companies didn’t just have to fight the pandemic, they also had to deal with the cumbersome process of getting passes to use the roads.

Secondly, retail companies were not ready to handle the rapid influx of online orders as their websites were not equipped properly to handle such a level of traffic. Additionally, some retail companies didn’t even have the proper link with banks to accept credit/debit card transactions. So, what happened in the end is that all these small operational problems built up and hit the supply chains. Ultimately, we hold the responsibility to deliver the goods but that becomes extremely difficult when the infrastructure around us is crumbling.

We really had to use our connections to make the most of this extremely difficult situation. What ended up happening was that the entire industry collaborated to overcome our common problems, and a lot of different logistics companies got together and helped each other to get through the prevailing situation, to do our best to meet the demand.

Technology was also a key part of making it through the pandemic. Some companies even adopted technology overnight to make sure that the demand could be fulfilled as best as possible, to meet people’s expectations.

So, the logistics companies became the backbone for other struggling industries such as retail to find a footing to recover. Somehow, despite the vast number of operational and technical problems that we had to face, we persevered and found a way to meet the demands of the people in those difficult times. I like to think that logistics companies were a silent hero, working behind the scenes to make sure that hospitals stayed equipped to handle patients and that shelves on supermarkets were filled with products for people to buy.

4.) What is the new normal in logistics? How did the Coronavirus pandemic re-shape international and local logistics?

The pandemic was really an eye-opener for the logistics industry not just in Sri Lanka, but all over the world. The concept of supply chain resilience came to light due to the pandemic and a lot of companies understood that they needed to make their supply chains and processes more agile. Integrating more flexible processes and really deconstructing the solid and rigid model of the past in which the industry traditionally operated, allowed it to become more agile. Introducing technology to automate repetitive processes and practicing the work from home model are great examples of how the industry became more agile and adapted to handle difficult situations.

There are companies, even in Sri Lanka that ran their entire import and export operations by implementing these emerging technologies such as RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and work from home schedules, without a single person working in the office. This is the new normal, and the logistics industry was able to move from a very traditional and rigid industry to one which is very agile, and technology oriented.

A Growing Industry

5.) The international logistics market is worth trillions of dollars, and it keeps growing year on year. Why is the industry growing this exponentially and what does the rise in demand for logistics services reveal about modern consumers?

When we look at modern consumers and compare their buying patterns and trends to that of consumers from the past, we can see is a clear rise in the volume of purchases made by consumers today, and this is the result of modern consumers also having a larger buying power. However, this rise in volume of purchases really facilitated the growth of economies of scale and large-scale manufacturing, allowing modern businesses to take advantage of large-scale manufacturing companies and their abilities for manufacturing their own products.

Today the brands are located in one country, but the manufacturing of its components are taking place in another country. For example, Apple’s iPhone consists of thousands of different parts, but these parts are manufactured in 35 different countries and so logistics plays a crucial role in the assembly process of the final product.

To cater to this process, supply chains started to expand from just being “one big supply chain” and instead broke into 10 or 15 different supply chains. This is now referred to as the “supply network”, and these different supply chains work efficiently in different places to bring the final product to life. So, there are hundreds of thousands of supply chains like this all over the world and the need for strong logistics services is in demand and constantly growing.

6.) What are some of the biggest challenges that you see the industry facing both internationally and in Sri Lanka?

In Sri Lanka the biggest crisis we are facing right now is the dollar shortage, because when manufacturers & importers try to bring things in from abroad, they are unable to do. Logistics companies all around Sri Lanka are indirectly struggling with this issue and that leads to a domino effect onto other industries as well. When the materials and products get stuck, manufacturing gets stuck, then logistics companies get stuck, then transport agencies get held up and with that retail orders get delayed as well, having a domino effect on the entire Sri Lankan supply chain.

We are also struggling with fuel & energy shortages in the country, this not just a domestic problem but an international one as many countries struggle to secure their energy sectors. One of the biggest consumers of fuel is the logistics industry and it is extremely difficult to continue our operations when there is a shortage.

Another challenge which is emerging throughout the logistics industry worldwide is attracting the younger generation to the industry. In comparison to the IT industry and technology industry, the number of people entering the logistics industry is lower, and this is forcing companies to promote these positions to attract the younger generation to enter the field. Even when we consider Sri Lanka, only a handful of universities and institutes offer courses in logistics. However, the pandemic has helped with this issue, as the world struggled with the pandemic, the younger generation had a good opportunity to understand how important logistics is in today’s modern world, and it is becoming an industry they are also considering to build a potential career in. So, things are slowly looking better.

7.) Moving forward, how will international supply chains be affected by global warming and what is the industry doing to counteract it?

There is no doubt that the logistics industry contributes to global carbon emissions, and it has been well understood by the industry as companies are actively trying to minimise their carbon footprints.

Some of the newest innovations are the environmentally friendly container vessels which we call triple Es, hybrid vehicles for transport, different fuel-efficient methods for delivery services and energy efficient warehouses. However, most of these technologies are still at their early stages, therefore, another way in which the industry is trying to cut back on emissions is by maximising the transport capacity so it can carry a larger number of containers, making them more efficient.

The industry is also actively trying to embrace renewable energy by making warehouses and DCs self-energy sufficient through harnessing solar energy.

Additionally, whilst investing in green technology to reduce carbon emissions, logistics companies are also trying to offset their carbon emissions and work towards carbon neutrality.

Disruptive Technology

8.) From IOT to AI, and drone deliveries to smart management information systems, what are some of the newest and most promising new technologies that are emerging in the industry and what sort of impact will they have internationally?

One of the most important technologies that has been introduced to the logistics industry is the use of cloud technology and software products. Cloud technology provides full visibility platforms and allows different parties from around the world to get real time information on all aspects of the supply chain from procurement to shipping. This helps in the development of collaborative supply chains, and it helps sustain the international supply network.

Technology has also played a crucial role in helping this paper-based industry move to digital platforms to store information. Through the adoption of various software platforms, we were able to move our data to a safe digital space.

Another crucial technology that has been integrated heavily into the logistics industry is sensors & telematics. There have been sensors placed into everything from large ships to small delivery vehicles and the developments in IoT (Internet of things) allows us to monitor the data given by these sensors to further enhance our services. With the use of sensors, we can get key insights into how our services are carried out as we have the ability to check things such as the temperature, speed, humidity and even a fuel sensor to check whether the delivery vehicles are burning fuel correctly. This is classified as “big data” and through the collection of this data we can conduct thorough data analytics programs to really get a detailed image of the true ground situation when making deliveries.

9.) What is your advice for enthusiastic young business professionals who aspire to enter the logistics management world?

This is truly an industry where you can learn a lot and have a fantastic career. I think that the demand for logistics in the world is growing just like it is for technology and there is even the chance that in the future these two professions will work hand in hand.

It’s also an industry which will never fade into irrelevancy as even today there is a rapid growth in the industry, and the emerging opportunities in the field are vast.

Finally, I would like to advise the younger generation to firmly grasp the basics when entering the logistics field. Some youngsters are under the impression that the logistics industry just consists of courier companies and ecommerce platforms, but in reality, there is a lot of other things happening at the back end which is important to understand.

In modern day businesses, supply chain management has become one of the key positions to hold within any company, so utilise the opportunity to learn about the logistics sector and grasp these exciting new job opportunities that are emerging in the industry.

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