The growing flow of parcels at PostNL means that the operation is becoming increasingly more complex. This requires intelligent control. A smart logistics platform constantly monitors the entire chain. It uses a wide range of data from the logistics process so that it can make adjustments in real time. Laura van Driel and Jochem Roth work together on the cutting edge of logistics and technology.

Laura: We have a growing network, in terms of the numbers of parcels, but also the number of operational locations. Due to the complexity, when there are variations or disruptions, it is difficult to determine all scenarios and the accompanying impact. Intelligent use of data provides support to the relevant people.

When the customer orders something from an online store, our systems start running to predict the logistics and delivery as much as possible. The process is focused on timely and reliable deliveries of all our parcels, and continuously informing the sender and recipient about the location of their shipment.

When we know where parcels are located, then we know exactly what will be arriving at a sorting centre and when this will all need to be processed. After the initial sort, everything needs to be transported to the distribution depot, so this means we have to organise sufficient transport capacity. So, we avoid congestion and shortages.

Real-time data platform

Jochem: As the Platform Owner, I focus on the development of a real-time data platform that enables us to centrally control our logistics chain. We get data from various system silos and capture these in a generic PostNL data model. We can develop new services on this central data backend using apps and algorithms.

The digital network has a modular structure, and it is based on a modern cloud-native and microservices architecture so that we can quickly respond to future developments.

Data platforms or data hubs will be a hot topic in many organisations over the coming years, but for the time being it is mainly the real tech players who are working on these. Thanks to the cloud transformation that PostNL completed two years ago, we can make a start already. For a company with a history such as PostNL, this is unique and progressive.

Control Tower Chain

Laura: We currently manage the logistics process using various systems. This can be smarter. We are using IoT data and smart algorithms to build a digital twin that visualises the entire chain in real-time and can calculate scenarios. This enables us to make data-driven decisions.

As the Product Owner, I am responsible for the Control Tower that will be built. This enables us to control the flow of parcels digitally and give users an insight into the process, which enables them to make the right decisions in the event of a deviation or disruption. We have built the first dashboard for this use case, with the data platform as a basis. We are building everything in BizDevOps with UX developers, process designers, data scientists, data engineers and people from the various control rooms in a multidisciplinary team. We are all working towards a single goal.

Building capacity

Jochem: By making accurate predictions we are able to respond to the expectations of senders and recipients. Simulations and machine learning may help to control this automatically. Digital assistants may be able to support people in making decisions.

At PostNL, we are driven by change. We want to change things and use the latest technologies, and we are not afraid to push a new technology where others are still reluctant. We look for the same qualities in new people – we look for people who do not stick to the way they have done things for the last ten years but actively come up with new ideas.

Therefore, our challenge is dealing with real-time streaming data. This knowledge now comes partly from our partners, but we want to be able to build our own capability in this area. That starts, as I mentioned, with the data platform, but data engineers should be able to grow over time into the functional requirements of the business.

Opportunities for everyone

Laura: A lot of things are possible in PostNL’s growing environment. We are directly building towards the future digital backbone of the company. That offers opportunities for our partners, our customers, our employees and the 17 million people who we serve.

Jochem: We are directly working here on the core of the mission-critical process: real-time decisions in the logistics chain. It has to work, and you have to be able to rely on it. It’s a challenge, but also super cool! We are more than open to engineers who would like to work on this with us.

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