Supply chains have become a key issue for businesses over the past three years as the global economy emerged from Covid-19 lockdowns and then faced disruptive events such as the grounding of the EverGiven in the Suez Canal and the war in Ukraine.
More recently, Houthi attacks on shipping passing through the Red Sea have forced many vessels to travel around Africa rather than through the Suez Canal. This has delayed deliveries and driven up costs.
These disruptions, together with technological advances such as AI and a growing emphasis on sustainability, are forcing logistics providers and their customers to rethink how their supply chains are managed.
Locally in Saudi Arabia, the supply chain challenge is of particular importance as the kingdom seeks to overhaul its economy with large-scale capital expenditure projects as part of Vision 2030.
Two of the world’s largest players in their respective fields, Saudi Aramco and DHL Supply Chain, are responding to these challenges and aim to revolutionise logistics for the energy, chemical and industrial sectors by joining forces to incorporate a new joint venture company known as Asmo.
Salem Al Huraish, chairman of Asmo, described the new company in a speech at its launch in Khobar on 5 February as “a national champion that will reform the supply chain industry for the energy, chemical and industrial sector in the region.”
The company involves two industry heavyweights combining their expertise. “Aramco is a massive procurement beast, and is very successful. DHL is a logistics company. Everybody does their respective pieces separately,” said Craig Roberts, CEO of Asmo.
“Bringing the two together in a separate entity is something that hasn’t been done before. We believe there are massive efficiencies for the industry from doing this.”
The company, which has been planned for three years, comes at an opportune time for Aramco and DHL, but also for Saudi Arabia and the global logistics sector.
“We are launching a company with an ambitious vision to become a market leader in the Mena region,” said Wail Al Jaafari, Aramco executive vice-president of technical services.
“Asmo can offer world-class end-to-end supply chain solutions, creating value for customers while enhancing the resilience of their supply chain.”
As well as changes in Saudi Arabia, the nature of the logistics industry is being transformed by new technologies, notably artificial intelligence (AI).
“We stand at a defining junction of the logistics industry where global trends are dramatically reshaping the landscape,” said Oscar de Bok, CEO of DHL Supply Chain. “The world is grappling with supply chain disruption, rising costs and the urgent goal for sustainability.”
Asmo intends to take a smart approach to revolutionising supply chain logistics. “It’s a lot about being smart,” said De Bok. “We talk a lot about deploying technology, digital marketplaces and warehouse technology … there is a lot of cool stuff being deployed, but it is not always rocket science. Some of it is pretty basic stuff you need to do,” he said.
The journey for Asmo is just beginning. It is a long-term venture that aims to develop a significant presence in the kingdom over the coming years.
“We are in partnership together and at the start of that journey right now,” Roberts added. “We are looking at our supply chains, gaining insights and asking how we get smarter. When we build in new warehouses, the question is, where do you put them? What technology do we deploy? We are in that discovery phase right now.”
One of the critical aspects of Asmo’s strategy involves assessing physical infrastructure needs. “For physical infrastructure, Asmo is assessing its options. We are looking at that right now. Aramco has a number of facilities for itself and its affiliates. We are looking at the best places to put the warehouses,” Roberts said.
As well as Asmo’s dedicated infrastructure, the Saudi government is also building infrastructure to support the kingdom’s logistics industry. “They’re putting infrastructure in place. They’re making it quite easy for us to do this. I think the support of the government is vital,” he said.
Once established in the kingdom, Asmo aims to take its operations overseas. This is likely to involve expanding into other GCC markets first and then further afield. Both Aramco and DHL can support this strategy as both companies have significant operations outside Saudi Arabia. DHL is a global logistics player, and Aramco, while primarily being a Saudi company, has operations in many other markets worldwide, including the US.
If Asmo gets it right, the rewards are significant. “The supply chain and logistics market in the Mena region is worth around $100bn. Our goal is to have a major share of this. It is truly a new giant in the making,” said Al Jaafari.
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