Manufacturing & Logistics IT spoke with Arnaud Giuliani, IT director for Norbert Dentressangle's UK Transport business, and Grant Robertson, IT director for the company's UK Logistics business, about the transport and logistics giant's recent landmark acquisitions, the benefits of a lean management structure, and how a sound IT infrastructure is critical in order to provide the best possible service to the end customer.
For over 30 years, Norbert Dentressangle has experienced continuous and controlled growth. From its origins in 1979, with the development of international transport on the Europe/UK axis, until recent years, in which it has acquired a truly international dimension, the company's growth has been based on the objectives of satisfying customer requirements, optimising its IT solutions, improving overall company performance and winning new markets. The company currently employs over 33,000 people globally.
Between 1979 and 1989: Norbert Dentressangle created an international road transport company in London, and business soon flourished in the UK, France, Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries. The years 1997 and 1998 saw the company acquire several leading French companies in the logistics market. However, it was in 2007, following the acquisition and integration of the Christian Salvesen company, that Norbert Dentressangle became an undisputed major European player within the Transport and Logistics marketplace.
More recently, this status has been further reinforced with the integration of Schneider's Freight Forwarding activities in the USA and China during 2010, and the integration of TDG during 2011, which has further strengthened Norbert Dentressangle's three areas of expertise: Transport, Logistics and Freight Forwarding. Following on from the TDG integration has been the recent completion of the acquisition of APC Beijing International, the China-based freight forwarding company. This transaction strengthens Norbert Dentressangle's network in China, a major hub for international trade, and enhances its service offering in airfreight forwarding.
In the first nine months of 2011, Norbert Dentressangle's consolidated revenue totalled 2,640 million, up 24.9 per cent on a published basis versus the same period last year. Organic growth contributed to the increase, with revenue advancing 6.1 per cent on a like-for-like basis, excluding the impact of TDG, consolidated as of 1 April 2011. Transport revenue for the nine-month period was up 19.9 per cent including TDG, and up a strong 7.8 per cent on a like-for-like basis. Norbert Dentressangle gained Transport market share during the period with growth of some 5 per cent, without passing on the diesel fuel impact. Logistics revenue grew 25.8 per cent on a published basis due to the integration of TDG, which continued to increase its contribution to Norbert Dentressangle's revenue stream. On a like-for-like basis, Logistics revenue rose 4.1 per cent in the first nine months of 2011, with a continued uptrend reported, notably in the UK, Norbert Dentressangle's leading Logistics market.
In terms of governance, Arnaud Giuliani, Norbert Dentressangle's IT director for Transport Services, explained that since 1998 the company has relied on a lean management structure, which facilitates quicker decision making and faster reaction times to both in-house and customer needs. The Supervisory Board is headed by chairman and founder Norbert Dentressangle. Reporting directly to the Supervisory Board is the Executive Board, headed by CEO Francois Bertreau. This two-tier management structure jointly controls the activities of the company's three main divisions; Transport, Logistics and Freight Forwarding. "Keeping close to customers is what we're good at, and our flat management structure certainly helps in this respect," said Grant Robertson, IT director for Norbert Dentressangle's UK logistics business. "Without layers of management in place, effective decisions can be made faster and more effectively."
Norbert Dentressangle's clients cover a wide range of vertical sectors; primarily automotive, aviation, cardboard/paper, domestic electrical, food industry, food packaging, high-tech, hygiene & cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, retail, textile and industrial and chemical/petrochemical. Quality and safety are key drivers for the company. Norbert Dentressangle's quality management system monitors customer satisfaction at all levels, while its training policy develops employees' skills in order for the company to provide the best possible service to customers. Norbert Dentressangle is also fully compliant with all current regulations; including ISO, SQAS, COMAH and HACCP standards. By anticipating and managing risks, Norbert Dentressangle teams' objective is to avoid all types of accident linked to the transport and storage of dangerous substances (explosions, fire, water pollution, inhalation of toxic gases). Its teams are trained to anticipate and react to any risks and the company's buildings are equipped to ensure optimum safety standards (sprinklers, holding tanks, etc.). In terms of Transport, Norbert Dentressangle's distribution networks are ADR certified (European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road).
IT infrastructure Transport division
Because of the different business and operational nature of the company's Logistics and Transport businesses these separate divisions have their own specific IT infrastructure requirements. "Within Transport, we have a strong multi-country footprint and need to keep very close to our customers in each of the 15 separate countries we serve," explained Arnaud Giuliani, head of IT for Norbert Dentressangle's UK Transport business. The division relies on two data centres located in France and the UK in order to ensure 24/7 availability of the division's IT systems. Within these data centres Norbert Dentressangle relies on VMs, mostly comprising Intel-based servers, while the core of the company's systems is IBM iSeries based. "We completed this virtualisation exercise three years ago and it has worked very well for us in terms of greater flexibility and cost savings," said Giuliani.
The Transport division provides a number of different services to customers under a wide range of service-level agreements (SLAs). Giuliani points out that the division provides flexible and tailored solutions from single pallet to full load, through to managing transactional business processes and 4PL activity. "Because we operate in different markets and in different geographies we can switch transportation tasks to a number of partner businesses or our own fleets, depending on availability and suitability. We always look to use the best means of transportation and the best transportation provider to ensure each service-level agreement (SLA) is best served."
In terms of back-office IT, the Transport division uses SAP across Europe. SAP is also partly rolled-out within the UK, although this remains work in progress. The SAP system first went live in 2004, and as other companies have been acquired by Norbert Dentressangle the reach of the system has been further extended. SAP is used within all 15 countries the Transport division currently operates within.
The Transport division also utilises the Cloud for non-core data storage and access. Guiliani points out that typical Cloud-based applications tend to be related to such disciplines as payroll and email. Core systems such as SAP are kept on premise because, as Giuliani explains, the information stored on them largely defines Norbert Dentressangle as a business. He added that core systems such as SAP also ensure that acquired companies are quickly and seamlessly integrated within the organisation as a whole. They also ensure close links with customers on a day-to-day basis.
Telematics asset tracking and traceability
From a vehicle monitoring perspective, the Transport division of Norbert Dentressangle made a substantial investment in Telematics during 2010, sourcing its system of choice from a major UK-based provider. "This Telematics system is important for us for two main reasons; fuel efficiency and safety," said Giuliani. "The system helps us to monitor how vehicles are being used and what can be improved in order to ensure greater levels of driver safety. In fact, we have already seen a considerable drop in accidents since implementing the system." The Transport division has invested in a large volume of Motorola handheld RF scanning devices for the drivers of its fleets. Additionally, Giuliani comments that because the Transport division not only relies on its own internal drivers but also sub-contracted partners, it is critical that full traceability is never jeopardised, regardless of who is delivering goods to the customer. Giuliani explains that the division has therefore invested in around 1200 Smartphones for its partners in France and Portugal and intends to roll out similar handhelds within the UK in the near future. The Smartphones are sourced from a number of the leading suppliers, and are installed with Norbert Dentressangle's preferred uniform application software.
Another area where the Transport business of Norbert Dentressangle has made a sizeable investment recently is in Business Intelligence with Qlikview. This, explained Giuliani, is in order to benefit from greater analytics related to customer buying trends and customer service requirements. He added that the company also needs to think about its own people and the way they work together. "This is ultimately how we are able to provide the best possible service to our customers," said Giuliani. "Therefore, IT focus is based around internal productivity and collaboration." As an example, Giuliani pointed out that the Transport division went Gmail in order to benefit from web-based chat and video chat and other collaborative tools Gmail being accessible anywhere and via a wide range of mobile devices. "We set out to ensure that the level of collaboration across the network is as effective as it can be," he said. "When you've got thousands of people within an organisation you have to ensure they have the best means to work efficiently and flexibly as a team, and be able to quickly adapt to changing requirements on the go."
IT infrastructure Logistics division
With regard to the Logistics division of Norbert Dentressangle, Grant Robertson explained that one of the key differences between Transport and Logistics is that the latter revolves around a per-country strategy. "Within Logistics there are no uniform systems across the division or across different geographies," he said. "It's very much a per-country solution, and the reason for that is that our IT strategy follows our business strategy in terms of being close to customers and providing solutions in a localised fashion."
In terms of the IT estate used by the Logistics division in the UK, Robertson explained that Norbert Dentressangle runs its infrastructure from two UK-based data centres. The company has a number of in-house IT departments that are focused on bespoke solutions design for the customer. Robertson pointed out that Norbert Dentressangle also has in-house teams focused on system implementation and the continuous support of these implementations. The in-house teams also undertake integration work, ensuring the best links between Norbert Dentressangle's own systems and those used by customers. "Everything from solution design, implementation, integration and ongoing support are key functions for our in-house teams," said Robertson. "And regardless of the applications we use we always look to follow the same flexible strategy because it's this that keeps us close to our customers."
Because the IT systems used are largely developed around the needs of individual customers, Robertson explained that the Logistics division doesn't deploy a 'one size fits all' IT strategy. "We have a mix of warehouse management and transport management applications," he explained. "Some of those are applications completely developed by our own staff and some are package solutions where the core system is provided by a third party. We will then manage the integration, algorithms, reporting and the data extraction ourselves."
Robertson pointed out that RedPrairie is one good example of a package solution the Logistics division uses for warehouse management. "In this instance, we manage the integration in and out of RedPrairie," he said. "We also implement it and support it ourselves. This keeps us close to the solutions and close to our operations as well. Whether we use in-house solutions or package solutions we believe it is important that we largely manage these systems in-house. However, although we do the ongoing support ourselves we naturally have maintenance contracts with package solutions suppliers such as RedPrairie.
Within the Logistics division, all back-office IT systems are hosted on-premise, with the exception of payroll, which is a Cloud application (as is also the case in the Transport division). Robertson explained that the Logistics division is also planning to roll out the use of the Cloud-based Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS)in the UK shortly. In conclusion, Arnaud Giuliani and Grant Robertson stressed that their divisions' respective IT infrastructures are primarily geared around the company's focus on delivering the best possible service to the customer. "This is the main driver for all of us," said Robertson.