Apr 13, 2022

Accelerating Logistics Performance Through Warehouse Management System with Andrei Jansen of Gebrüder Weiss

“What we learned very quickly was that not all of the technical knowledge that we had gained in all these different parts of the world were immediately transferable into the market.

We talk about being a startup business here in the U.S. The reality is that we have a storied reputation with our customers in Europe, and we need to make sure that the level of service that we provide pays homage to that.

To do that, we’ve had to look at different solutions within the framework that the global team provided to manage our parcels and parcel deliveries. We’ve had to look at integrating software to produce compliance labels for label requirements within the U.S., working to establish API connections with key marketplaces, such as Shopify and WooCommerce.

We’re putting together an easy, simple, and cheap EDI option portfolio for smaller clients, so they’re able to reduce some of the manual work involved in order processing.” –Andrei Jansen, Director of Contract Logistics USA, Gebrüder Weiss

Full Transcript

Francis Adanza:

Welcome to the Down to Freight podcast, where we sit down with transportation, logistics, and supply chain subject matter experts to discuss digital transformation projects. I’m the host of the show Francis Adanza, and it’s a pleasure to welcome Andrei Jansen, director of contract logistics USA at Gebrüder Weiss. Andrei, it’s great to have you. Can you please tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, your company, and what you’re responsible for at GW?

Andrei Jansen:

Sure, Francis. Thanks very much for having me on the podcast. Looking forward to this, but I’m a novice, so please take it easy on me as we get through this. As maybe some of your listeners might have guessed from my accent, I am not a native of the US. I’m originally from Australia. Currently residing in Southern California. My background in logistics is really the tale of two cities. I spent about 12 years working in the air and sea part of the business, and recently, about five years ago, transitioned over to a contract logistics role. For the listeners, I guess, that are more in tune with the inner workings of these disciplines, they would know they’re very much different beasts, have their own challenges. I’ve held the operational and management positions in both disciplines. My role at the moment is to manage the contract logistics division for Gebrüder Weiss in the USA, and my main responsibilities are really threefold. They’re based around product development, marketing and sales, and operational oversight of 3PLs as well. So yeah, that’s my role in a nutshell.

Francis Adanza:

Got it. Well, it sounds like you’re wearing multiple hats.

Andrei Jansen:

Yeah, that’s true. It’s an interesting role as part of an interesting setup we have.

Francis Adanza:

Cool. Speaking of setup, for those that are not as familiar with GW, can you provide an overview of your logistics environment or setup?

Andrei Jansen:

Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to. So GW is one of, if not the oldest logistics company in the world tracing their history back to 1474, which is quite staggering, and in the world of mergers and acquisitions that we all live in, surprisingly, still a family owned business, which is, again, a remarkable feat. Currently our business spreads across 170 company-owned locations globally. We have about 7,400 employees and in 2020 we had a turnover just shy of two billion Euro,. Our business across the globe offers international transport, domestic transport solutions, warehousing, fulfillment, and also supply chain management consultation.

2017 is probably a banner year for me personally within the business. That was the year that the joint venture that Gebrüder Weiss had been part of in the US, and also China and Southeast Asia for 20 odd years prior to that, divested, and we began operating under our own orange banner, I guess you could say. And the reason I referred to it being an interesting setup is because I sometimes refer to us as the world’s oldest startup. We’ve been in business for 500 years, but really operating under our own banner in the US for just since 2017. So it’s an exciting place to be. So wealth of resources and experience, just a startup mentality to doing business.

Francis Adanza:

Thank you for that overview, it’s super helpful. As you know, we’re here to talk about technology initiatives. Can you provide an overview of a project you’ve recently completed or are currently working on?

Andrei Jansen:

Yeah, absolutely. Being in the phase of our business lifecycle that we are, we’ve really had two major projects that we’ve worked on in the US as part of our product development here. The first one was the rollout of our global WMS platform within our business framework here in the US, and then the second, which is ongoing, is really to roll out supplementary software to make that WMS more functional in the US market, to be able to cater to all the different requirements of businesses here in the US. So we’ve had some great support from our head of contract logistics in Austria, Mr. [inaudible 00:03:50], and the WMS deployment was pretty painless.

But what we learned very quickly was that not all of the technical knowledge that we had gained in all these different parts of the world were immediately transferable into the market. So we talk about being a startup business here in the US, but the reality is that we have a storied reputation with our customers in Europe, and we really need to make sure that the level of service that we provide really pays homage to that. So to do that, we’ve had to look at different solutions within the framework that were provided by the global team to manage our parcels and parcel deliveries. We’ve had to look at integrating software to be able to produce compliance label for label requirements that are required within the US. Working to establish API connections with key marketplaces such as Shopify and WooCommerce. And really putting together easy, simple, and cheap EDI option portfolio for smaller clients so they’re able to reduce some of the manual work involved in order processing.

Francis Adanza:

Got it. That makes a lot of sense. So as you’ve gone through both of these technology projects, were there any challenges that you experienced or any lessons learned that you could share?

Andrei Jansen:

Absolutely, Francis. I think it’s important to remember we start from a baseline where our systems and processes are really buttoned up, particularly within our European business, where we see ourselves as a market leader. The challenge and the problem we needed to address how we would develop the knowledge base for the US market requirements, understanding the challenges that each of the customers has and how we could apply technology solutions to be able to solve those without increasing overall administration cost and spend. The challenge was not so much the adaptation of the WMS, because a WMS is designed to run the internals of a warehouse. Put a pallet here, move a pallet there, consolidate this pallet.

The key was understanding what supplementary programs we would need to add to our WMS to support that functionality, and further to that, really trying to understand how we could develop, train, and recruit the human capital required to support that. Our job was to take the system and the support costs that we had, the IT deck that was presented to us by the global contract logistics team, and make it workable for US market conditions. We know our WMS is not one that we predominantly see in our space, and it’s been slightly modified as well. So requiring people to just simply parachute in was simply not going to be an option for this particular project.

Francis Adanza:

I see. Could you expand a little bit on some of these knowledge gaps that you mentioned?

Andrei Jansen:

Yeah, as you know, all good systems at the end of the day are run by people. People program them, people design them, people focus on the processes around them to make any systems work. And one of the key challenges we found was really finding someone within our network that truly understood US requirements as it relates to the types of file formats we need to send during EDIs, how ASNs work for some of the larger retailers. We’re a European business. We have a lot of know-how and expertise that is transferable, but that was something that we definitely needed to learn whilst we were setting up the business. The use of API connections in recent years has expanded significantly. And the US is a market leader in those connections. Again, something we needed to develop the knowledge on within our overall product team. And really just specific requirements that we don’t necessarily see in Europe, such as understanding how compliance labels for retailers are produced, how they tie into the UCC barcodes, how we send the ASNs, and how we use our current infrastructure to make that process as efficient as possible.

Francis Adanza:

Wow, so this sounded like a pretty big and complex implementation with a lot of moving parts. Are you starting to experience any of the benefits, and if so, what are they?

Andrei Jansen:

Yes, you hit the nail on the head. There were a lot of moving parts and it is coming together. We think we’re about 75% of the way through our implementation now of the supplementary systems that are really starting to drive some efficiencies within our own business. The key thing that we were able to ascertain during the process is that we really needed to focus on a couple of key disciplines within our business. And that’s the implementation of customers, how we make it easy, smooth, and as painless as possible. And then how do we figure out the best way to train the resources we need as we expand? What I’m happy to report is that we’ve been able to slash our implementation time significantly. We were able to implement customers within our own WMS very quickly, but also within the supplementary systems required to manage e-commerce or retail compliance.

We’ve seen some significant improvements in delivery accuracy, as we’re no longer manually entering in the addresses. Online visibility for our customers has improved significantly. They’re able to get better track and trace visibility from the point of when we start processing an order and not wait till the end of the day when people are finished updating a system. So the ability for us to deliver a better service and better visibility has increased significantly. We spent some time training resources that understand our business processes, and we’ve taken that learning curve and really trying to apply it now with the university graduates that we’re offering internships to, helping them fast-track their career, but also helping us to develop the future leaders of our business that have a very clear understanding of how our processes and systems work and know where we’re going with our next projects.

Francis Adanza:

Well I’m glad to hear that you’re starting to realize some of those benefits and I like what you’re doing with the universities to help a future workforce and get them in early and help them develop their career paths. So for others that are thinking about ripping and replacing a WMS or launching a new one, are there any words of wisdom that you can share to help them have a smoother implementation?

Andrei Jansen:

Yeah, look, there’s certainly some things we’ve taken out of the process. It’s certainly been a difficult two and a half years at times, trying to have so many moving parts all come together. But a couple of key things that we will take into future rollouts is don’t underestimate how much time you need for planning. If your system provider can somehow link you up with a similar business where you can experience how the WMS works within that environment, the more time you spend on the floor and with the administration people and the customer service people and the people that use the WMS on a day-to-day basis is really invaluable. Everybody can tell you what a WMS will do at a high level, but at the end of the day, it’s the people on the floor that run the processes that you really need to spend as much time as possible with.

If you’re looking for a supplementary system or even a WMS, talk to systems providers and ask questions. And then when they’re finished answering your questions, ask more questions. I can’t stress the importance of being able to dig beneath that first level of information. I think sometimes we get caught up in PowerPoints and fancy charts, and we just forget that at the end of the day, someone will be using the system. Ask questions and have people that will be using the system ask questions if that’s at all possible. Us in high management sometimes are a little bit more withdrawn from the day-to-day challenges, and if we don’t take the time to understand those, we can make mistakes when picking systems. Talk to multiple providers, talk to your peers, but don’t overcrowd yourself with too many choices. Be very clear on what you expect your system to do. Have a high-level understanding. Get people from different business units involved. But then keep your search concise.

I think there’s a plethora of options out there, especially in the logistics space. There seems to be a new solution out every week to solve every problem. Don’t overcrowd yourself. Make it a concise search. Make sure you definitely speak to all the different business units and really try to understand complex use cases and how they will interact with the system or the supplementary systems that you’re entering in. The implementation plan that you have must be realistic. I think sometimes we get a little bit excited and we want to see things happen. I know I personally do, and I’ve been guilty of this in the past is I haven’t been realistic with how long something is actually going to take.

And last and most importantly, expect problems. I can’t count how many meetings I’ve been in, where everybody talks about zero defect start-up and how things are going to work smoothly, but that’s just never reality. And I think you need to make sure that you have a support network around you that really understands what you’re trying to achieve and have been there through part of, if not all the journey. So they understand what you’re actually trying to achieve. Making sure that those resources are available to you during the startup is something that I would highly recommend.

Francis Adanza:

Thank you. That’s sound, pragmatic, real talk advice. I think folks will definitely appreciate that. So as you look down the road, what’s next for this project or any other technology initiatives on the horizon?

Andrei Jansen:

Great question. We’re coming to the end of what we see as phase one in our development here in the US, and as I mentioned before, we’re gaining momentum and we’re 75% of the way through our projects and really expect to be done by the end of the first quarter. The key thing for us next is really to integrate a rate shopping option within our distribution channels, and there was a previous podcast, I believe, that you held on this topic which I found quite interesting, so I’ll certainly be referring back to that. I think offering our customers some greater flexibility in the distribution really sees us close out this phase one.

And then once we’ve done that, as we expand our footprint, the general goal will be to start specializing the warehouses between essentially retail compliance, customers that deal mostly with retail and e-com. We really need to create some centers of excellence, and to do that we need to focus our attention. And I guess as we start doing that, we’ll look at automation and how we can better improve our efficiency. So the game never ends. Once you’re done with one implementation, you really need to be thinking about what’s next and how you can continue to move the business forward to make sure that we’re in a position that we can offer the kind of service that our customers in Europe have come to expect, and that we’d like to deliver here for them, if we’re so lucky enough to work with them here.

Francis Adanza:

That’s awesome. I definitely appreciate your time today, Andrei. I learned quite a bit about launching a global WMS in a new market. It was great hearing your story.

Andrei Jansen:

Yeah, thank you very much. I appreciate the time to have a chat with you today and look forward to future episodes that you put out, Francis. I found them quite enjoyable, so thanks for taking the time to have a chat with me. I appreciate it.

Francis Adanza:

Thank you.

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