"Uncertainty is the norm"
The "Delphi Dialog 2020" continues: last year, Deutsche Post DHL published its global study of the future "Delivering Tomorrow", indicating how the world will change by the year 2020 and beyond and how new social expectations and consumer demands will arise in the process. The city of Hamburg was recently the site of the second event in the discussion series, which Deutsche Post DHL and its CEO Frank Appel are using to carry on the broad debate initiated by the study in 2010 together with leading experts in the field.
Christof Ehrhart, Head of Corporate Communications, welcomed guests to the second Delphi Dialog.
"When it comes to security, the questions we don't ask are much more dangerous than potentially incorrect answers that we still have time to rectify." This was the fascinating thesis proposed by foreign policy and China expert Professor Dr. Eberhard Sandschneider, director of the research institute German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), in his opening statement at the second Delphi Dialog in Hamburg.
Set in the Kaispeicher, a converted warehouse in the Altona district of Hamburg, the dialog focused on pirates and electronic fingerprints, on disturbances in global supply chains and asymmetric threats, in brief: on the security challenges faced by the economy in the 21st century and in particular by the modern, global logistics industry. In a discussion moderated by Stefan Aust, the former Editor-in-Chief of the German news magazine Spiegel, Professor Eberhard Sandschneider and the CEO of Deutsche Post DHL, Dr. Frank Appel, debated how companies can best meet these challenges.
A diffuse concept of security
According to Professor Eberhard Sandschneider, an expert on China: "The questions we don't ask are more dangerous than potentially incorrect answers."
"Security has become a more diffuse concept, uncertainty is the norm," said Sandschneider. In today's global village, people are confronted with more paradoxes than ever before. "We win wars, but achieve no peace," said Sandschneider. Technical advances are thwarted by Medieval tactics: drones and position tracking via cell phone are useless anti-terrorism tools against messengers who carry handwritten notes from valley to valley.
The potential for uncertainty has increased by leaps and bounds, in particular for global corporations. In order to operate successfully worldwide, companies must have a comprehensive overview of the security situation in their markets. "In essence, global corporations need policy departments on a par with the one in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs to remain continually up to date on developments of relevance to security around the world," said the Director of the German Council on Foreign Relations. That holds especially true for logistics companies which transport countless goods thousands of miles around the globe each day.
According to the expert, the key to sustainable business success for companies in a globalized world is the ability to react to unforeseen events and unexpected changes in conditions in a fast and flexible manner at all times - in other words to be resilient. Another important requirement for success: central management paired with the ability to act locally.
Expecting the unexpected
Stefan Aust (left) moderated the discussion between Sandschneider and DP CEO Frank Appel.
Frank Appel was in full agreement. "Our employees are flexible by nature. They are in their element when an unforeseen event demands innovative solutions," said the CEO of Deutsche Post DHL in praise of his team, adding the unforeseen events are matter of course in the logistics industry.
Appel has a clear idea of how a global corporation should be managed under these conditions: "The ability to forecast situations has dramatically decreased," he noted. As a result, management teams can no longer plan everything in detail. "Most of the time, events unfold differently than one expects anyhow," says Appel from experience. Instead, one of management's key tasks is enabling as many employees and executives as possible to make the right decisions on their own.
Small pebbles - big ripples
Invisible clouds of ash, unforeseen blizzards, earthquakes, traffic jams, pirate attacks: all of these events raise questions about the susceptibility to disruption of regional and international supply chains. Has the system itself perhaps become too complex, harboring uncontrollable, immanent threats to security? Eberhard Sandschneider sees greater danger in the media's presentation of negative events with the potential to interrupt supply chains: even small pebbles create big ripples via high-impact images in the mass media.
The CEO of Deutsche Post DHL confirmed: "The impact of many events is overestimated. The global logistics industry is not as susceptible to disruption as media coverage of events such as pirate attacks often make it appear. Despite the drama of individual cases, the incidents themselves are usually too small and our flexibility in responding to them too great to allow major problems to develop."