AI-Fueled Startup Turns Disrupted Supply Chains into Last-Mile Opportunity

When Shamir Rahim, founder and CEO of VersaFleet, transformed his bio-medical startup into a transportation management system powered by artificial intelligence (AI), he never imagined being at the epicenter — in a good way — of a supply chain revolution during a worldwide pandemic.

As anyone desperately searching for toilet paper discovered earlier this year, the last mile is the crucial link in every supply chain.

“We wanted to provide our customers with a command center view of last-mile product delivery with cost and time savings,” Rahim said. “As our customers slowly open up again, VersaFleet is providing greater agility so they can quickly adjust logistics for maximum efficiency, whether people are out sick or returning to work, quarantines are lifted or imposed again, or operational hours shift at any time.”

Huge Time Savings Improve Customer Experience 

Planners using VersaFleet’s software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based cloud platform can dynamically schedule, dispatch, and track deliveries. In the meantime, drivers send updates on completed deliveries in real time using a mobile app. The algorithm also factors in data from orders connected through an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system like SAP S/4HANA.

“In a few clicks, planners can see which drivers are available, including their working hours and location preferences,” Rahim explained. “They can select the most efficient route plan that uses the fewest vehicles traveling the least amount of distance for the highest number of items delivered. This reduces planning time from hours to minutes, saving valuable resources.”

Based in Singapore, VersaFleet serves customers primarily in Southeast Asia across many industries, including consumer packaged goods, food manufacturing, white goods, casinos, and environmental services. One customer’s recent go-live actually coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Malaysia. It proved fortuitous for the global health and beauty retailer.

“Their implementation of VersaFleet couldn’t have come at a better time,” Rahim said. “Despite working remotely from their respective homes, the planners were able to work collaboratively in real time. They were able to restock high-demand items like toilet paper and sanitizing wipes up to five times a day – something they had never been able to do before.”

The company has slashed daily planning time by 90 percent, from up to four hours down to under 10 minutes. In addition, by digitalizing proof-of-delivery, the retailer sped up billing processes four-fold. Instead of waiting for drivers to return from their routes with paper-based records, finance immediately receives delivery confirmation for same-day invoice processing. This kind of business agility cascades down to boost the customer’s experience.

“Companies can reduce stock-outs, which is so important in meeting people’s heightened demands, especially with fast-moving consumer goods,” Rahim said. “Several of our other customers have improved customer service levels by 50 percent.”

Strong Roots in Logistics and Transportation

In hindsight, VersaFleet is a pitch-perfect reflection of Rahim’s career journey. As a teenager, he worked in his family’s logistics business and became a self-taught Web developer. Initially encouraged by his parents to pursue medicine, he studied bio-medical science at university and spent seven years in that field before launching a bio-medical company of his own. After seeing the logistics challenges his family faced, Rahim transformed his startup into a last-mile transportation management system. Above all, he is a fearless self-starter.

“My parents, friends, and their neighbors were having problems with logistics and asked me for help,” Rahim explained. “When I fixed it, the word spread quickly, and VersaFleet was born.”

Hands-On Tutelage from SAP.iO Foundries Pays Off

VersaFleet participated in the recent Industry 4.0 accelerator program at SAP.iO Foundry Singapore. Rahim found the mentoring experience he had with SAP experts in solution development, co-innovation, and go-to-market and sales strategies incredibly eye-opening.

“Seeing SAP’s customer account strategies, hearing directly from people experienced in enterprise software co-innovation, customer procurement, and buying behaviors validated our approach and gave us new ideas,” he said.

Rahim added that VersaFleet is integrated with SAP S/4HANA.

Supply Chain’s Future Lies in AI and People

Rahim was most excited about the future of AI plus human ingenuity in building more resilient supply chains. Instead of looking at logistics automation algorithms with suspicion or fear, he urged people company-wide, including logistics planners and even drivers, to make the most of technology innovations.

“Supply chain management will be a major proving ground for AI,” he said. “If supply chain professionals can combine human empathy, judgment, and intuition with AI’s ability to quickly solve problems by analyzing millions of data points at once, the opportunities for improved operations and customer experience are unlimited.”


Follow me: @smgaler
This story originally appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.