DHL Supply Chain Discusses the Impact of Digitalization and Automation in the Supply Chain Industry

Kalyan Sakthivelayutham - Central Ohio Tech Power Players

Kalyan Sakthivelayutham

VP of IT

DHL Supply Chain



Bryan Kaiser

Founder and President



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VP of IT for DHL Supply Chain, Kalyan Sakthivelayutham, discusses the impact of digitalization and automation in the supply chain industry. 


BK: We are here today with Kalyan Sakthivelayutham, who is the VP of IT at DHL Supply Chain. DHL Supply Chain is an organization based in Westerville, Ohio and specializes in logistics. My name is Bryan Kaiser and I'm the President and Founder of Vernovis. Also part of the executive host committee for comSpark, and I will be your moderator today. So, let's get started. Thanks for your time today, Kalyan.


KS: Thank you. It's my pleasure.


BK: I appreciate you coming in. So, what is the best part of working in Central Ohio?


KS: Oh, that’s amazing, I would say. Um, there are a lot of different characteristics that are in Central Ohio. As you might have seen about the digitalization 50 million funding that we god –  that is just in an example of, you know, where we're going with it. So, it is extremely diversified. That's what I like about it. You, if you want to talk about industries, we have banking, we have manufacturing, we have automobiles, and of course we have logistics and retail and insurance and energy. Any, all kinds of insurance. Definitely, all kinds of industries are up here, so this is what it…it makes Central Ohio one of the most fascinating places for the industries and also for the people living up here.


BK: What do you think the biggest challenges are in working in Central Ohio?


KS: I would, I would say the same thing. Like, we have so diversified, so I can pick a few things. There’s a lot of, the technical talent is always a human resource and talent is always a scarcity. So, when we are talking about putting a strategy for your company and talking down the road for five years and 10 years, you have to be really very agile and cognizant of having your own plan if you want to really have a good orientation of who is going to stay with you and take your organization to the next level. That is very important. So, the diversification brings quite a bit of challenge to us, mainly to retain the knowledge and retain the talents and things, and that is why, uh, that's what I would say is the most predominant challenge up here.


BK: So, you mentioned talent – it seems like there's a ton of a jobs in the technology space, but there's not enough people for those jobs.


KS: Absolutely.


BK: What do you, what do you think the gap is from?


KS: It's…the gap varies. Again, there are two folds. Typically, historically how we do it and I will look for expertise – who knows the technology side, who knows the business and who knows the in and out? And I have been in the industry for, you know, personally I've been in industry for 23 years, and if somebody is coming in and saying “I know what is happening in this industry” and you can pick anything – banking or insurance or logistics, that adds a lot of value. Right? Nowadays, the whole industry, not only in logistics, every bit of the industry is getting disrupted. So, that's where the challenge is coming up here, and more and more we are depending on the startups, to some level, to bring new technology, to do a new way of things and, and all those things are coming into play. So, that's where it is making it, you know, very challenging. It is not only, you just focus on one area, you have to be, you know, address the expertise and training expertise and you have to work with the millennials and now we have to work with the Gen Z, and all those things. And that's what is making it very challenging when it comes to talent.


BK: I would agree. And you know, when you were growing up in your career, did you have a mentor?


KS: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I would say, you know, uh, mentorship, you know, I feel, if you allow me to touch a little bit personally on that, starts from our birth, right? And a Mom is the best mentor, and that is a the best mentor anyone can have. And also the teachers and, and professors and every hand we have held, and some hands have been extended to us to bring us up. So, when you talk about professionalism, like, it's all about leadership. And, you know, leadership starts with first giving up, you know, you have to, you have to give out, you know, leadership is all about people.

It's all about them, I would say, it is not about you. So, mentorship is always in, uh, you learn and then you apply and you give it back. That's what I would say that I call as a mentorship. And I do have it, fortunately, you know from the beginning, from birth to now, and uh, I would like to have it forever. You know? And of course I give back to them.


BK: Sure. So, not only do you have mentors, but you are mentoring other people.


KS: Absolutely.


BK: At the same time.


KS: Yes. I, I take that as my responsibility. And always, when you receive something, you have to give it back. It may be the same form, it may be a different form, it may be an improved way, you know, whatever it is, but we have to give it back.


BK: That's a really good concept. I like that. When did you realize you created a big break for yourself?


KS: I would say it's about, um, about 10 years back, uh, when I joined Honda. And I joined there as a consultant and business partner about in 1999 and um…down the way, I was there about nine, 10 years, and that's where, historically, you know, my whole career is about automobiles and in OEM and in sending supply chain logistics. And that's what my career is. When I realized supply chain is, always used to be, uh, you know, it's not the headline in innovation when you talk about it. You know, if you, if you want to talk about supply chain innovation, that's like, the shippers and containers and what happened in 1950. And that’s what you're talking about, right?

So, here I am and, uh,  supply chain is kind of like a stepchild and always like, no one cares about it. And we developed a strategy to completely break them through and we made, via technology and automation, my leadership, we made a difference, and have, we contributed to the company's net growth and customer service and the whole nine yards to, how can we, how can we support the operations and day-to-day, you know? And Honda, if you talk about it, there are like, you know, 15,000 people around and, including in two plants and uh, you know, supply chain, if there is any disruption, that's made the impact. So, that's where we realized, okay, we put together a strategy, and then we started executing it. That's what I realized, okay, you know, you know what? Really, we can make a difference. And I was, uh, I was very proud and fortunate to have an opportunity to lead that.


BK: So, in your opinion, what do you see as one of the most exciting disruptive technologies that is beginning to impact our work or personal life?


KS: Undoubtedly I would say, personally, AI, artificial intelligence, right? The world – how it is going now, I don't think anyone has a good grasp of what is going to happen. Because what all can you imagine is even possible? So, we are, we are living in, in such a world, and it is no more Star Wars, and the things that started know, who could have imagined when we had the Terminator come out in the movies, you know? It can move by itself, and it can come to you. All those things, starting from there, you know, things can lead your mind, what you're thinking. And the impact of that technology in any industry, especially in medicines and life science, the people who really need help, you know, and, and uh, who, who could not mobilize, get mobilized by themselves. This kind of technology.

And starting from there, you go to robotics, you go to the operations and, and, and you go to automation innovation in everything. Every single bit of evolving. You know, we've, it's, it's to some level, it is a little scary too, because there is nothing secret up here in this world. I mean, everyone knows about everything. So, at some point we may reach up to a point and of, “I'm ready to go to the office.” Then it'll tell you, “Okay, this is what you are going to do today and this kind of people you are going to meet, and this is their profile, and this is what they like they don't like, and you have to wear this kind of dress for them.” You know, it might go up to that personal level, and my little bit of fear, I would say, is we might be getting into that follower kind of thing.

So, that's where we always need to be cognizant about how to utilize the technology and not to get addicted to the technology and ruled by the technology. But that is amazing, you know? Always, anything you take that will be plus or minus, it is, as humans, like, it is our responsibility to utilize where we want to do. Right? What technologies needs to be, do, you know, what needs to be done. And that's where we have to focus on it.


BK: So how are you using some of the disruptive technology for change at DHL Supply Chain?


KS: Quite a bit. Quite a bit. Like, uh, digitalization for example, is, it's almost a top-down. If, if we talk with our CEO they'll be talking, you know, Frank Appel is our CEO, of Deutsche Post DHL that's, uh, headquartered in Bonn, Germany. That's our parent company. And, and uh, you know, they talk about digitalization. And, and in fact even our, our CEOs, they were talking about in technology – APIs, you know, what it can do and that's um, uh, application protocol interface and uh, he's talking about it.

And um, how we are utilizing is, it is mostly on the automation. When you talk specifically about DHL Supply Chain, we talk about talent, but there is a lot of…we are sometimes, our customers are, it's all about customer focus. You know, that's what we do in DHL. And that there are a lot of industries like retail and consumer – seasonal based. And when, when a workshop, when we have, in-warehouse, 500 people for eight months or nine months in a year, and then three months we have to bump it to 5x and 6x, that is not easy. That's where we are bringing in automation, how we can leverage that to help, help the shortage of talent and shortage of workforce so that we can maintain the good salaries and committed to service to our customers. So, the automation is a big piece, you know, how it is going to really disrupt our, our industry, you know, specifically talking about housing and supply chain.


BK: So, how do you fuel the innovation efforts on your team at DHL?


KS: Let me, let me give, you know, maybe a different perspective. We don't view innovation as a different task to do. That is something we do always. And when we look at innovation, we look at it in three folds: one is the core innovation. That means, you know, I'm doing a job and how can I do it better? We call that, in Japanese terms, continuous improvement, right? That's what we do. So, that is embedded in every associate. Whatever they do, it is their responsibility to bring some improvements, how they can do the job better and that is core.

The next one would be enabler. And that is not just continuous improvement and how can I do it little bit better, you know, like that's what we are talking about. The second level of innovation, we focus on it, there'll be a, you know, team working on that, and there'll be enough funding going there. That's what it is.

The third level is truly disruptive, and that's where, we have innovation centers, two places globally, one in Germany and one in Singapore, and we are going to get the third one right up here in Chicago. And the whole group, the team, all the focus is in how, what is happening in the industry. They have, we call it trend radar. This is the industry for the next 15 years, and they actually categorize, “Okay, this is what happening in the next one year, next three years, next five years, next 10 years.” And this is disruptive, this is coming up, this is proven. So, we have our own life cycle, and that's how we manage it. So, innovation is all we do, and make sure our customer is successful and, and how those are excellent and succeeding simply.


BK: Thank you for your time. My name is Bryan Kaiser with Vernovis. This is Kalyan Sakthivelayutham, with DHL Supply Chain. To learn more about us, please visit, and we'll talk to you next time. Thank you, Kalyan.


KS: Thank you so much.  


To learn more about sponsorship opportunities for 2019, contact Michelle Ziegler at