Trends, Technology and Sustainability in Focus at LogiSYM MENA 2021

The latest edition of the LogiSYM conference catering to the Middle East/North Africa region, LogiSYM MENA, took place online on August 24. Supported by partners Heriot-Watt University, Pedersen & Partners and RV Consultancy, the full-day agenda featured a stellar line-up of speakers presenting and discussing key issues facing logistics and supply chain management practitioners.

In her keynote address, Nadia Abdul Aziz, President, National Association of Air Freight & Logistics (NAFL), who is based in Dubai, spoke about megatrends transforming the MENA region, particularly the impact of COVID-19. While the region itself has been less directly affected in terms of infections and deaths than many other parts of the world, its heavily reliance on imports from China and elsewhere has meant that the border delays, transport price hikes, air travel restrictions, and labour shortages consequent to the pandemic have impacted previously smooth running logistics systems.

But as she pointed out, there has been a strong move to counter COVID-19’s effects and  restrictions by using technology. Some examples: increasing the level of warehouse automation to overcome social distancing mandates; greater use of telematics and fleet management to mitigate border delays and truck driver scarcity; and the increasing use of drones, delivery robots and autonomous vehicles to overcome last mile delivery issues such as high costs and worker shortages.

For those engaged on digital transformation, Sulaiman Abdulla of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority provided some useful and timely advice, emphasising that it is a journey from Paper to Automation to Digitalisation and to Artificial Intelligence. It is also critical to focus on reducing the “time to value” from your efforts by adopting an Agile Mindset approach.

Continuing the technology theme, Shirell James, Vice President, EMEA at OneNetwork Enterprises, discussed the use of intelligent control towers in helping to master supply chains. But just what is an intelligent control tower? Well, according to Ms James, it is AI-driven, provides end-to-end network visibility, and can anticipate disruptions and generate actionable responses in real time. Particularly useful for delegates to take away were her recommendations for successful control tower implementation, which include: Starting with Visibility – because you can’t act on what you can’t see; Insights are Nothing Without Action – you need systems that can take action in order to make visibility valuable; and Without Value it is Not a Success – so set targets for cost, cash, revenue and reward achievements along the way.

In the first conference segment in the afternoon, the theme shifted to Sustainability – a subject that was hardly discussed at LogiSYM just a few years ago. Of course, that has all changed as this once fringe topic is now firmly centre stage in line with rapidly increasing concerns over climate change and even the viability of our warming planet.

Prof Philip Greening of Heriot-Watt University outlined the stark reality that logistics activities already account for almost 20% of emissions, and given that logistics demand is only set to increase, it is a matter of urgency to tackle wasteful inefficiencies like the 30% of empty trucks on the road and so-called “full” trucks actually only being 60-70% full. Very soon carbon accounting will be just as important as financial accounting, said Prof Greening, and while almost all would agree that a new energy landscape is desirable, we should not underestimate the huge investment this will entail. Funding the transition is also going to be a major challenge in the years ahead.

Based in Dubai, Emma Barber is Managing Director at DGrade, a company that recycles PET plastic bottles to produce Greenspun, an eco-fabric that is supplied to brands and businesses. Responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gases, the fashion industry is a major polluter, especially with the onslaught of “fast fashion”, where people will buy clothes for an Instagram photo and then never wear them again. And she reminded delegates that plastic – normally considered an environmental evil – is actually the greenest packaging option as long as it is recycled, producing far less CO2 than either aluminium or glass. In terms of metrics, compared to traditional polyester yarn manufacturing, Greenspun requires 20% less water, uses 50% less energy, and produces 55% fewer carbon emissions.

Aside from the five presentations, LogiSYM MENA offered up four engaging panel sessions, encompassing Digital Supply Chains, Sustainability, Smart Cities, and the session-closing ”The Imperfect Balance? Global Assets in a Constantly Shifting Supply Chain
& Changing Landscape”.

Let me take this opportunity to thank all our presenters, moderators, and panel members for contributing their thoughts, ideas, and experiences to LogiSYM MENA 2021. And to the event partners for their role in ensuring another successful LogiSYM event for the Middle East and North Africa region. And a special appreciation to LogiSYM Editor-in-Chief Joe Lombardo for astutely helming the event as chairman throughout the day, and his co-chair, Dr Shereen Nassar, Global Director of Logistics Studies at Heriot-Watt University (Dubai), for her work in helping to put together this year’s agenda.

Bob Gill
General Manager, Southeast Asia Arc Advisory Group

Bob Gill is responsible for managing ARC Advisory Group’s business operations and market research activities in Southeast Asia. ARC provides technology research, advisory and consulting services to many of the world’s leading industrial automation and software suppliers as well as to prominent end-user companies in the manufacturing and energy industries. For the supply chain sector, in addition to multiple market studies, ARC publishes the long-running Logistics Viewpoints blog.