Using IT to up efficiency levels

This story contributed by ITAsia.The philosophy of integrated logistics solutions provider Keppel Logistics is "to give maximum value to our customers, meeting their schedule and budget".

This story contributed by ITAsia. The philosophy of integrated logistics solutions provider Keppel Logistics is "to give maximum value to our customers, meeting their schedule and budget". And one of the best ways to uphold its promise is through IT. Seng Li Peng finds out more about the company's IT strategies and future IT plans.

April 2000 - "In the 1980s and early 1990s, most logistics companies did not see IT as a major component within their business strategy. But in the last five years or so, it has become an important element used to enhance business performance and improve productivity," says Phoi Kwok Eng, divisional manager of Corporate Services at Keppel Logistics Pte. Ltd.

Part of the Keppel Group and a wholly owned subsidiary of Keppel Telecommunications and Transportation Ltd., Keppel Logistics had set aside in early 1999 more than US$1 million for its e-commerce activities, to be implemented over a two-year period.

Even before IT became a popular business tool in the 1990s, the company had already developed in-house a software called Doc Storage running on a HP 3000 server to better manage its document storage business.

Its other business areas include warehousing, transportation and container management, each deploying specific IT applications in their business activities. The company is currently running an NT-based LAN, with about 200 nodes linked to two HP 9000, two HP 3000 and seven NT servers that host the various business applications.

Managing operations
The warehousing operation uses a WMS (Warehouse Management System) from Pulse Logistics Systems that runs on a HP 9000 server; it was implemented in 1998 to manage customer inventory. The application is designed around a powerful integration of computer software, hardware, bar coding and data transmission via RF (Radio Frequency) technologies.
"WMS allows us to track products based on production and expiry dates or batch numbers- particularly useful for perishable goods," Mr. Phoi says.

The company is also using an ASRS (Auto Storage and Retrieval System), which contains a racking system, a crane and conveyor system, and a CMS (Control Monitoring System).

"In a typical process, information on cargo arriving at our Keppel Districentre are entered via RF devices and processed by our WMS. The WMS will then communicate with the CMS to put away the pallet within specific slots in the ASRS," Mr. Phoi explains.

"There is a program and an interface database, which facilitate data exchange between the WMS and CMS systems to enable our operational staff to efficiently perform the whole host of picking, putaway, replenishment and other functions."

For its transportation business, Keppel Logistics deploys SunRay 5, an application supplied by Clarity Systems, to manage a massive fleet of 350 trailers and 60 prime movers. A special function of the NT-based application is its ability to track the availability of the company's fleet of vehicles, enabling it to maneuver vehicle movement and allocation for the next assignment.

Over at its container services department (CSD), the IT team of Keppel Logistics once again put together a software running on a HP 3000 to manage the company's 3,500 TEUs of shipping containers. The software tracks container movement once the container arrives at the depot. "Our customers can access our system to check inventory movement for the day, status of containers, and approve container repair for those within preset limits, amongst others. Daily reports can be downloaded at our clients' end to allow them to monitor information in a timely manner and make prompt business decisions," Mr. Phoi says.

Zero in to elognet
Currently, each of the key applications in the document storage, warehousing, transportation and container management divisions runs independently. All requests and information transmitted between customers and Keppel Logistics are channeled into a centralised Web-based information management hub.

Called elognet, the information management hub serves as the gateway to seamlessly integrate Keppel Logistics' systems with those of its clients. Implemented last year, elognet is aimed at Web enabling its operation to allow customers to transact, enquire and extract reports via the Internet. Customers, depending on their lines of business, can place orders, obtain transaction summaries of their orders, and track and trace inventory summaries online. Customers only need a browser; they need not worry about their data and IT systems operating on different platforms.

"Elognet allows us to develop customised programs and reports to meet the specific requirements of our customers without changing the core application system," he adds.