5 Things you didn’t know about the all-new DHL Americas Innovation Center

A Q&A with Matthias Heutger

Matthias Heutger, Global Head of Innovation at DHL

The all new DHL Americas Innovation Center opened to the public on September 12, 2019 and has welcomed a steady stream of customers and employees since – over 1100 and counting – in fact. 

DHL’s future success depends on our ability to understand and adapt to the changing needs of our customers, and in turn help our customers adapt to the changing requirements of business. For these reasons, the DHL Innovation Centers apply customer-centric innovation methodologies to support customers and colleagues alike in confidently facing disruption head on.  

What does this really mean and what might you not know already? We tapped Matthias Heutger, Global Head of Innovation at DHL and pioneer for the Innovation Centers globally to tell us more.

1.      How did the idea for a new Americas Innovation Center come about and why Chicago? 

MH: It’s really very simple. The DHL Innovation Centers in Troisdorf and Singapore introduced this new customer-centric, collaborative open innovation approach in 2015. We observed from our customers at both Centers how much they value DHL’s innovation expertise and that it makes a massive difference in strengthening our working relationship with them on multiple levels, including raising the bar on service delivery.

 From an organizational standpoint, the DHL Innovation Centers serve as a nucleus for innovation at DHL through customer-driven trend research and collaboration to develop commercially viable industry solutions, and add value by connecting customers with the right partners. Customers and DHL colleagues engage in a range of proven innovation methodologies around the topics and priorities of their choosing and can practically apply the insights gained to advance their supply chain roadmaps.

The Americas is one of our most important regions, so it’s only natural we should provide an innovation platform central to customers and colleagues based there. Chicago itself has long been a logistics hub with a strong community of startups, including startups specializing in supply chain. The city is easily accessed by both international partners, regional customers and up-and-coming startups based in Silicon Valley and Boston, both major innovation hubs in their own right. In hindsight, it was a no-brainer.

2. How is the DHL Americas Innovation Center different than or similar to its global counterparts?

MH: All Innovation Centers share the same visionary DNA and leverage in-house experts to support customer initiatives, drive cutting edge trends research for the most important topics in logistics and support the development of proof of concepts (POCs), pilots and eventually the successful implementation of new solutions across our business operations.

However, each region has its own personality with revolving centerpieces {for example: Germany – artificial intelligence and digitization, Chicago – robotics and automation, Singapore – electrification}. Each center also owns some expertise globally. The DHL Asia Pacific Innovation Center, for example, hosts our data science team driving advanced analytics projects with our customers, and the Europe Innovation Center, based in Germany, hosts our SmartSensor and IoT team. 

The Innovation Center in Chicago has the advantage of being the newest center: it’s a state-of-the-art, 28,000-square foot smart building. Though the look and feel of each Innovation Center is united by a common brand aesthetic, each one is a little bit unique. 

3. What is the greatest advantage of engaging with the DHL Innovation Centers? 

MH: It would be difficult to list one specific benefit as the be-all reason to engage with us. Rather, the greatest advantage would be the ability to access all of the rich innovation resources we have under one roof. It only takes one authentic discussion to realize company X needs Y expertise, which we have, and begin connecting the dots to develop a solution around the customer’s particular needs, from the ground up.

Once we identify the primary pain point surfaced by our customers or DHL colleagues, often operational by nature, we can tap into our vast resources - trend research, technology expertise and ecosystem of proven partners – to start brainstorming solutions. All DHL Innovation Centers are powered by this integrated, end-to-end approach to innovation.

A great example of this is our partnership to establish a dimensioning system for PACCAR Parts, which developed out of an innovation workshop where a need to improve speed and efficiency of outbound orders was identified. DHL brought in a software startup with deep expertise in 3D computer visioning and highly accurate software algorithms to jointly produce a low-cost, automated dimensioning system proven to maximize quality and productivity in PACCAR warehousing operations, and this system is operational as we speak.  

DHL’s blockchain project with BMW is another well-known “workshop to scaled solution” success story. It started as a pilot, produced tangible results, evolved into a scalable solution and is now being extended to include other BMW partners.

Visitors to the DHL Innovation Centers can test out the augmented reality (AR) smart glasses currently used in Ricoh and DHL warehouses for vision picking to streamline picking and improve productivity, another tailored solution developed in response to a particular customer need.

These success stories could be any customer’s success story, they just need to engage with us.

4. What are DHL’s innovation priorities as of late and how do the Innovation Centers support this? 

MH: DHL recently announced our Strategy 2025, which is focused on delivering excellence in a digital world. Not only to our customers, but also our employees through increased emphasis on strengthening core infrastructure and business operations through digitization. The overarching goal is to provide a world-class digital experience from end-to-end and leverage the latest technologies to improve our operations.

The Innovation Centers are in the unique position of being close to both the business and customers on a day-to-day basis, enabling the teams to identify unique opportunities to solve customer or operational pain points and provide new value. Once a problem has been defined, the teams take a customer-centric approach to work alongside sectors and divisions to develop scalable solutions and support cross-divisional digitization agendas.

And we are continuously monitoring trends and innovation via our Trend Radar, which maps out the topics we anticipate having the greatest impact on the continued transformation of supply chains and logistics.

On an ongoing basis, our innovation teams are working with colleagues from all DHL business units every day. This gives the team unparalleled discernment of the goals each business unit is prioritizing and how colleagues can access our vast trend knowledge, partner network, creative problem-solving methodologies and the Center itself to achieve their individual targets.

5. Are the bathrooms really unisex? Why?

MH: I’m so glad you mentioned it! Yes, the upstairs office bathrooms are unisex and all bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. Innovation is found even inside our bathrooms with sinks featuring 2-in-1 faucet hand driers.

Many forward-thinking establishments are making a move towards having unisex bathrooms and it’s important we are also leaders in creating a modern workplace that accommodates the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.

This outlook extends to all areas of the smart facility, including our self-shading windows, automated operations functionality, motion-sensor rooms that “turn on” when people enter and more. It’s not one and done either: we will continue to upgrade the facility and make changes that reflect DHL’s prioritization of innovation and sustainability.

Bonus: Is there anything you’d like to add?

MH: Yes, visit our Innovation Centers to learn what we’re all about and how we go beyond potential! To fully understand how we drive innovation forward for both DHL and our customers, the in-person experience is key.

This invitation extends to customers and colleagues alike. Leveraging our innovation expertise does not cost our customers anything extra, it’s just a part of doing business with us. Why not take advantage of this benefit and make 2020 your most innovative year yet? We can help!

Images: DHL