SAUDI ARABIA - Transport
President, Saudi Post and Logistics (SPL)
Anef Abanomi was appointed President of the Saudi Post Corporation in 2019. Prior to that, he was the vice president of Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) for the operations sector. Abanmi acquired a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, both in electrical engineering, from the University of Colorado. He has completed executive courses including a financial affairs program from INSEAD and a digital business leadership from Columbia University. His previous positions at STC include director of the technical sales department from 2004 to 2008, director of planning, performance, and business development from 2008 to 2010, and member of the executive committee and member of the audit committee of the STC Channels from 2017 to 2018.
When I first joined SPL, His Excellency Abdullah Alswaha, the Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology, and I spoke extensively about the importance of aligning our Vision 2030 aspirations with the deep organizational changes needed to make these goals a reality. We considered the unique case of SPL – a traditional organization with a legacy mandate – and questioned its relevance to contemporary market needs. At its core, Vision 2030 is about opening the Kingdom up to the world, and logistics are central to this concept. SPL is an aspiring national champion in the Saudi economy, working to match and support the Kingdom’s drive for change and ambition. With this in mind, we studied the company’s capabilities and unearthed vast latent potential. We looked at the market gaps and the opportunities available for the and, subsequently, developed a new strategy for SPL. A key aspect of our transformation has been the realization that postal services as a form of communication are no longer relevant, especially in a country like Saudi Arabia where digital adoption is widespread. We decided that we should not aspire to be a better postal company, but instead position ourselves as a modern logistics operation. In our research, we saw opportunities for growth across several different industries. This wasn’t limited to perfecting logistics solutions, but looked at how innovation can enable broader market disruption. For example, e-commerce is already a prominent domestic and international trade avenue. However, within this segment there are market gaps we can step into that leverage our scale and eagerness to change. Doing this requires using SPL’s assets, operational strengths, infrastructure, and well-tested capabilities to help us pivot from being a traditional postal business to being a digital communications platform and logistics operation. For example, consumers’ shift toward e-commerce is being supported by our strong network of over 500 brick-and-mortar branches; we blend the physical and the digital. Alongside these strategic changes, my mandate was to also turn SPL into a commercially viable private business. When I joined the company in 2018, our income was around SAR 550 million a year while our costs stood at around SAR 3.2 billion. Over the last few years, our team has been driven by efficiency gains which have been successful in turning the business toward profitability. Our revenues have now doubled, and our productivity has seen consistent quarterly increases.
Our strategy has three pillars. The first revolves around being a customer-centric, outward-oriented business. This simply means that we need to work in favor of our customers—we must know who they are, what they want, and what they need. We must position ourselves to create value for them through the services we offer. Our second pillar focuses on our organizational culture, understanding that how we behave inside the company will impact how we serve our customers. We must be efficient and keep the real-world impact front-of-mind, and there is already evidence of this approach creating tangible value for our users. For example, our digital track-and-trace system now allows customers to follow their packages from their devices. Similarly, we’ve decreased average waiting time in branches by 92% in the last 3 years. Our Maha chatbot, meanwhile, has served over 2.9 million unique users in under a year. Committing to the concept of a company culture is crucial to exceeding the expectations of customers. Likewise, motivating existing staff and attracting more demands that we provide a dynamic workplace where people can thrive. SPL recently trained 5,250 employees, resulting in a 25% increase in knowledge and expertise. I believe that having an enabling organizational culture and attracting the right people are the two crucial elements that can achieve transformation at scale. The third pillar of our strategy is partnerships. Vision 2030 places collaboration and knowledge exchange at the heart of our digital-first economy. At SPL, we’re essentially in the business of connecting things, people, and organizations, and so partnerships are in our blood. Central to our new partner-push is exploring collaborations with companies that help us take large leaps forward instead of trying to recreate every function internally. With a range of diverse private and public sector partnerships already in play, our approach to collaboration is one of mutual gain and transparency—as long as the creation of shared value is evident. It all comes back to my earlier point of creating a commercially viable logistics business, one that is built on the skills of a motivated team that prioritizes customer experience. We want partners that share this mission.
We are in an era where emerging technological solutions can respond to many legacy issues in transport, but this also creates a paradox of choice where we must decide which paths to follow and what to deploy. Our decision-making process for technology adoption is quite simple: What do the facts say, where is the data leading us, and what partnerships are open to us? While exploring and deploying technology, we must address and iterate how it can boost our competitiveness and affect our unique operational challenges. We ask ourselves: How will it impact our business operations and create the efficiencies we need to be both commercially competitive and to respond to customer needs? Some examples of technological adoptions we’ve pursued include our adoption of autonomous electric vehicles, enabled by partnerships with companies like Clevon and CALLUM. Likewise, we’re also involved in innovative projects for drone-based blood delivery, robot sorting in Riyadh, and using Amazon’s Alexa for parcel tracking. We also work alongside government agencies to fight cybercrime, protect data and boost cyber privacy.
We are still in the middle of our transformation and are guided by our three core strategic pillars discussed above. This means that we are building new processes, delivering new efficiencies, and onboarding the capabilities needed to successfully execute our ambitions against Vision 2030. Operationally speaking, we’re heavily focused on automation, operational streamlining, digital transformation, skills development, and quality control. Crucially for 2024, we are on the lookout for key investment and partnership opportunities. These must match our vision and boost our market competitiveness, while complementing our own company culture and values. Observers may also see SPL expand our market share in Saudi Arabia and the region in the short term as we upscale our infrastructure. In 2022 and 2023, we built four mid-tier sorting centers in Riyadh, Jeddah, Amaala, and Medina. We also constructed a first-of-its-kind sorting facility in an air dome. Using innovative building methods, this center was built in just six months, with a 30% cost reduction. We are also constructing a new sorting center, which, once completed, will be the biggest in the Middle East. If we maintain our current growth and innovation trajectory, SPL is set to be a global name in logistics.
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