There’s no turning back for warehouse operators after the COVID-19 pandemic propelled adoption of efficiency-boosting technologies like automated picking systems and smart controls for gates and loading bays, according to a panel of experts who joined Tuesday’s MTD TV segment.
During the hour-long session, Mingtiandi founder Michael Cole spoke to executives from warehouse developers Forest Logistics Properties and ALP, as well as property services firm Cushman & Wakefield and real estate systems provider Yardi, to gain insights into how warehouses are using tech to integrate with supply chains and meet the requirements of e-commerce operators and demand from consumers across Asia.
Gene King, who leads international expansion at Taiwan-based ALP, shared his experiences developing warehouses in Southeast Asia, where the firm’s facilities concentrate on fast-moving consumer goods.
“In Vietnam, it’s still at a very early stage,” said King, who is ALP’s country head in the rapidly-developing market. “We’re helping to introduce automation, which sometimes we’ve been challenged (on): ‘This is over spec’ or something. But once you come with automation you never go back, because the service level is higher. It’s really hard to challenge, especially in Southeast Asia with growing wages, labour shortages, not even mentioning the pandemic situation.”
In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the mindset of Vietnam is changing to a more positive view of ALP offerings like warehouse automation and sensor tags that can more readily identify and track inventory. The ultimate goal is an arrangement similar to the one ALP has created in Taiwan, where the distinction between online and brick-and-mortar business is blurring.
“There’s no clear line, because most of these brands and these channels have on- and offline retail,” King said. “So they have their spaces in our facility, and we provide fulfilment services.” At the same time, ALP’s strategy features a dedicated e-commerce hub targeted at small and medium-sized businesses, as opposed to the firm’s sheds serving a mix of e-commerce and established retail clients.
The focus on efficiency and simplifying processes has a familiar ring to Hank Hsu, co-founder and CEO of Forest, which invests in, develops and operates warehouses in key markets of mainland China. The Shanghai-based firm has introduced cutting-edge technologies at its 11 sites and is researching others.
“What we have is a smart gate system to register the vehicle, calculate the time and guide these vehicles to the right area for loading and unloading, for security reasons and time-saving reasons,” Hsu told MTD TV. “It’s welcomed by our tenants.”
Automation of loading bays is another attractive option that Forest is studying before it makes the leap to retrofit its existing facilities
“We actually need to tailor-make the design, because right now our width is 4.5 metres (4.9 yards),” Hsu said. “If we want to have automation, maybe more wider. That would be another consideration because under the total leasable area we have to reach the return requirement. So it’s definitely a trend. Some of the US tech companies are doing that and raising a lot of capital from that.”
Software’s Evolving Role
At Yardi, which sponsored Tuesday’s session, the company’s core leasing and accounting platform, project management software and forecasting systems traditionally received the most attention from logistics providers.
“More recently we’ve seen a couple of additional trends,” said Bernie Devine, Yardi’s regional director for Asia Pacific. “One has been expanding and automating the P-to-P processes in their business. Two has been really getting a much better handle on their leasing pipeline and managing that more effectively, being able to do real-time deal comparisons and that sort of stuff. And then thirdly has been around the focus on services, and I think that’s one of the key things here.”
Services to tenants have grown more complex and varied, demanding systems to make sure services are delivered and billed properly. “The key in that is really just about getting a lot more things out of spreadsheets and into business processes and properly controlled and giving the transparency and then giving the data to folks to be able to better understand the performance of their portfolios,” Devine said.
Green issues remain a key area of focus after Mingtiandi’s Innovation in Asian Real Estate report found that 79 percent of developers expect technology to play a major or significant role in achieving their sustainability targets. Alton Wong, co-head of sustainability services for Greater China at Cushman & Wakefield, attributed the result in part to public policy initiatives.
“Extreme weather and climate events like heat waves, flooding, forest fires, as well as sea-level rise, are becoming more and more common, no matter in Southeast Asia or in the Greater China area,” Wong said. “I think governments around the world are taking climate issues more seriously than before.”
That heightened level of awareness, coupled with the trend among institutions of responsible investing, is encouraging logistics landlords to put more resources towards sustainability targets, he said.
MSCI Interview Next
Mingtiandi’s Property Innovation Forum 2021 concludes this Thursday with a spotlight interview session with Varun Malik, the head of real estate client coverage for Asia Pacific at market information provider MSCI.
During that wrap-up session, Malik will be sharing from his experiences working with property companies in Asia Pacific seeking to benchmark their performance against global standards, as well as providing insights on how the financialisation of real estate is spurring change in the industry.
MTD TV will return in 2022 with a fresh slate of online forums, beginning in March with the APAC Residential Investment Forum. Session topics will include multi-family investment, residential finance trends and sustainability in housing.