INTEGRATED logistics can provide a competitive edge in an environment where companies are not only judged on the quality of their goods and services but also on the speed with which they deliver them to market. Schenker International (HK), a leading international provider of integrated logistics services, works with companies to provide them with comprehensive supply chain solutions from a single source. 'Inventory costs, order cycle times and levels of global competition are among the factors that global clients now realise they can significantly reduce by working with specialists that can provide more efficient logistics operations,' said Andreas Becker, Schenker International (HK) managing director. Key Schenker offices are linked by a global network. In each region, data centres are established to provide standardised core information systems to branch offices. The core systems support back-office functions such as freight documents, e-mail and intranet/internet services. An open-platform concept is operated to integrate with customers' logistics systems, enabling them to make purchase orders and access bills of lading and dispatch advice. Customers can also monitor the status of shipments via the internet. Mr Becker said as relationships developed between partners in a supply network, logistics providers were taking on greater responsibility for clients' supply and demand activities, either by extending the services they provide or by increasing the geographical coverage. 'The challenge is to develop visibility tools that allow all interested parties to be better prepared and become stronger, more effective business partners,' he said. As companies grow, their transport and distribution needs become larger and more complex, and they require the services of experts to administer and operate their logistics activities. Companies considering outsourcing their supply chain often need to change their internal processes to adapt and benefit from a third-party service. 'To get the best out of third- party supply chain arrangements, logistics providers, client management and key personnel must be involved in the planning, and develop the right mindset to reap the benefits,' Mr Becker said. As part of its global operations, Schenker provides support to industry and trade on the mainland and around the Asia-Pacific region with land, air and sea freight operations, and associated logistics services. Schenker has set up strategic logistics centres on the mainland in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin, and maintains offices and distribution and warehouse facilities in Hong Kong. The company works with major clients involved in manufacturing high-tech equipment, semi-conductors, textiles and vehicle parts. These include several Fortune 500 companies, but the bulk of Schenker's clients are medium-sized enterprises which form the backbone of the mainland's industrial output. Services include warehouse management, inventory management, web-based ordering and local, regional and global distribution. 'Each client is looking for its own unique solutions and service. Our strength is the ability to create higher efficacy and cost savings through experience in handling distribution and management compared to the customer's stand-alone system,' he said. While each clients' needs are different, various processes that Schenker offer are similar, which creates a critical mass and greater efficiency. For example, several clients such as department stores, garment companies and furniture retailers set up their quality control centres at Schenker's Shenzhen and Shanghai logistics hubs to inspect the quality of shipments from hundreds of suppliers on the mainland. Customers in the electronics industry also use Schenker's logistics hubs to store manufactured products. In addition to speed and efficiency, logistics and supply chain management focuses on visibility by bringing new technologies - such as real-time monitoring and performance analytics - to the table. These areas call for specialist management and operating capabilities. 'Not only are there more supply chain components than ever before in terms of the parts, quantity and transactions that need to be managed, but continuity and connectivity throughout the supply chain are really what's important,' Mr Becker said. Schenker's Tuen Mun distribution centre is equipped with a state-of-the-art warehouse management system that operates as a hub for domestic and southern China distribution. Warehouse operations are supported by bar-coding during the creation of stock units on article or batch numbers. Scanning processes provide immediate data flows and data exchange that help clients achieve high levels of efficiency. The Hong Kong operation also carries out the distribution of vehicle spare parts for one of Germany's leading car manufacturers, covering Hong Kong, Macau, and south and southwest China. The logistics centre manages the inventory of more than 14,000 major spare parts and distributes more than 1,500 parts a day. Services include receiving and sorting spare parts from overseas, warehousing and inventory management, pick and pack, customer service and order administration, invoicing and distribution to all importers in the region.