DALLAS: Global logistics firm DHL has said that using big data tools has helped it reduce the time and cost of running its worldwide distribution network of some 60,000 vehicles and 250 daily cargo flights.
Speaking to V3 at the Teradata Partners conference in Texas, vice-president of business controlling for the Express division of DHL, Graeme Aitken, said just three years ago, the global costing systems - which work out how much each individual package costs to ship - relied on a variety of legacy databases that were posted to different countries on CDs or run in "skunkworks" under employees' desks.
"The legacy application was built in Excel and Access. It was being done quite well in some countries, and not at all in other countries," he explained. "The whole thing was just utterly fragmented and nobody really trusted it. And the less they trusted it, the worse it got."
Following a "pretty long and painful" development period, DHL Express switched to an entirely new system, allowing for a single point of collection for all costing data for every single package delivered.
Overall, DHL employs more than 300,000 people worldwide with a fleet of 60,000 vehicles and 250 daily cargo flights, so maximising efficiency was key. For DHL Express, it meant it could operate a more complex pricing model - such as discounting shipments to fill up planes which would have otherwise flown half-empty.
Running on Teradata hardware with data flowing through the firm's Value Analyser, Aitken estimates he was able to save 7,000 man days per year on unnecessary costing exercises.
Furthermore, with the data now centralised, less of the company looks at costing, with one department now keeping an eye on the fluctuating price of shipments. While many big data projects democratise access to data, making it available to everybody in a company who could make use of it, DHL Express chose to keep it on a need-to-use basis.
"We do not allow local countries to do analytics on this data, even their own data," said Aitken. "Your job is to sell and make sure everything runs smoothly. If we've got a concern, we'll tell you."
The firm is now looking at using the vast amount of data it has now collected to increase yield following its success in managing costs.
Earlier this week, V3 heard from eBay, which detailed how it makes use of big data analytics in order to drive up the price of listings.
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