DHL Supply Chain tech innovation delivering results

Interview: DHL Supply Chain CIO Hugo Patten...

DHL Supply Chain CIO Hugo Patten is focusing on standardisation and innovation

DHL Supply Chain CIO Hugo Patten is focusing on standardisation and innovation as he tries to align business objectives with ITPhoto: DHL Supply Chain

You might think a long career in IT is a prerequisite for heading up a corporate IT department but for DHL Supply Chain CIO Hugo Patten the route to CIO was far more varied.

Patten started out working in electronics manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s with Mitsubishi Electric, a traditional Japanese keiretsu, or conglomerate, that Patten describes as "very diverse but very traditional at its heart".

He ended up working in the European strategic planning side of the business, where he helped the organisation move away from its traditional approach to become a "more modern, forward-looking company".

Patten left Mitsubishi Electric in 1996 to set up a web publishing business specialising in allowing medical and scientific professionals to view journals online, an entrepreneurial venture Patten describes as "a bit of fun".

Patten then invested in Tesco Direct ecommerce platform developer Unipower, before moving to contract logistics business Exel in 2004. Exel was acquired by DHL the following year and Patten became CIO of DHL Supply Chain in 2009.

Patten believes his background in business, rather than the more traditional IT-based route, has helped him as CIO.

"For a CIO these days, you're not just sitting on the board and speaking when spoken to. You're on that board because you are involved in every single aspect of the operations that you're running. You've got to think like the business to really add value, I think," Patten said.

Here, Patten discusses the DHL Supply Chain technology strategy in detail as well as the need to develop IT skills and the importance of using technology to innovate.

The CIO skills for a complex business

DHL Supply Chain is a €3bn business employing 50,000 people and is part of the diverse Deutsche Post group. The German company bought DHL Supply Chain in 2002 to operate alongside DHL Express and DHL Global Forwarding and Freight. Patten heads up IT in the UK and Ireland.

DHL Supply Chain is divided into several divisions, namely retail - consisting of food, non-food and fashion - industrial and automotive, trade team distribution, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and Ireland.

Customers include large UK supermarkets Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Tesco, major clothes retailers and FMCG businesses Proctor & Gamble and Unilever.

The nature of DHL Supply Chain's supply-chain operations and the largely contract-based nature of its business mean customers have varied requirements, presenting significant challenges to IT.

For example, fashion and grain businesses would have very different requirements from a DHL warehouse in terms of how their product is stored and the systems needed to manage them. "So they need very different IT systems and services," Patten said.

Bearing all of this in mind,...