South Africa’s logistics industry is weathering a storm, with local firms turning to innovation in all its forms to create sustainability. Bidvest Panalpina Logistics (BPL) is one example, facing down market volatility, a skills shortage and a crumbling road infrastructure by increasing its competitive edge using its business-implementation service offering.

“Our business-implementation team works with our supply-chain teams to identify where gaps are and how they can be filled,” says Willem Bekker, Supply Chain Solutions Manager for BPL.

The business-implementation process involves a basic administrative function of setting up standard operating procedures (SOPs) based on the client’s requirements, and then making sure that everyone knows what to do. And BPL has added a focus on defining what the main value drivers are for a client: what the most important aspects and the biggest risks are, and how the operation can best be set up for success.

Explaining that there’s a difference between logistics and supply-chain management – logistics is the movement, storage and flow of goods and services within the overall supply chain, while supply-chain management is the overarching concept that links all the processes together – Bekker points out that the failure in a client’s supply chain can lead to major disruption and financial losses. “Our approach ensures that what is promised in the tender and initial engagement actually comes to fruition and is formalised in the SOPs and ultimately in the execution.”

The implementation process can take between two weeks and six months, depending on clients’ needs: BPL’s business-implementation team discusses a go-live date with the client and works backward from there. Flexibility is key, allowing for the client’s concerns to be continually addressed and involving a level of creativity.

“This service offering has worked really well in industries that are typically complex, like automotive OEMs, or original equipment manufacturers,” says Bekker. “For one major vehicle-manufacturing client of ours, we were faced with very tight deadlines and a highly complex operation but we met all our obligations on time and within budget.”

For a business-implementation process to be successfully rolled out, strong project-management principles have to be applied, along with flexibility to quickly adapt to any rising needs. Constant and open communication between all stakeholders, regardless of how diverse, is required, ensuring that there’s good alignment at all stages of the process. Agility is key.

For supply-chain teams, choice of logistics service provider is often based on cost and available spend, but it can also depend on whether the service provider has the willingness, flexibility and capacity to help grow the client’s organisation.

“Clients often feel that they are in a transactional relationship with their logistics supplier,” explains Bekker. “Given that a service provider’s success or failure can have a profound effect on a client’s business, we’re finding new clients are coming to us because of our experience in consulting not only on an operational front but at a strategic level too.”