Logistics service providers must become smarter
The biggest challenge for internal and external digitization at logistics service providers is to provide the technologies and tools to be implemented with economic key figures and prioritize them accordingly. At the same time, it is important to accompany the resulting cultural change in operational business in order to ensure sustainable success in the market. A further challenge is to make selective investments in order to remain successful. Since margins in the logistics sector are relatively low, an investment without short- and medium-term success is not easy to cope with.
On the one hand, there is therefore a need for action, on the other hand many company representatives, especially in small and medium-sized businesses, lack sufficient information about where a digitisation tool can be used and whether it is even ready for use. The question also remains in the dark as to what value contribution can be expected from the use of different tools.
Latest digital tools
The digital tools currently being used or tried out in logistics can be divided into seven categories:
Big Data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive maintenance
Data evaluation, data consistency, data security, decentralized data storage
Chatbots, sensor technology, track & trace
Data collection, data processing, data transmission
Flex conveyors, machines, smart devices
Platforms, system architecture, system interfaces, telematics
Autonomous driving, platooning, shared logistics resources
While cloud-based services, analysis procedures and algorithms, e-document management, image and environmental sensor technology are already widely used, in-house autonomous driving, predictive analytics, chatbots and e-payment, for example, are usually only in pilot operation. Blockchain, autonomous driving in public spaces, wearables, dynamic pricing or anticipatory logistics are still in their infancy.
Source: various such as Uni Düsseldorf, Internet publications, i-tec research
Visions of the future force us to act
If we look at the future visions in logistics for 2030, it becomes clear that waiting is not an option. Every logistics service provider must be aware that it is his future competitiveness or survival that is at stake. I assume that in ten years' time, all transport needs and resources will be stored in a central (cloud-based) platform and freely accessible to the players within transport networks. Anyone who wants to be part of this platform will need means of transport that are equipped with technologies for recording and transmitting relevant data such as loading status, position, characteristics such as refrigeration equipment and the goods to be transported at package level. The planning and distribution of resources will be decentralized and iterative, taking into account decision-relevant and definable criteria. The holistic data basis will allow the system to recognize complex interrelationships and to coordinate and control transport activities in a (partially) automated way, so that humans can take over other, not yet automated and non-automated activities.
In addition, there will be greater networking in individual segments of transport logistics. The major players will establish support systems that relieve small companies of administration through extensive automation, resulting in significant efficiency gains.
On long-haul routes, autonomously driven trucks will become the standard. The driver takes over tasks that have nothing to do with actual driving, such as monitoring or customer service by telephone. On short distances, resource-efficient means of transport are used, for example with alternative drive systems or delivery robots. In cities, delivery will shift to the night hours. Standardised containers promote further automation in loading and unloading.
New skills, new thinking needed
Smart logistics requires the development of additional skills in addition to the existing competencies and experience, especially in IT and personal responsibility. Technologies become data-oriented, processes customer-oriented and the infrastructure organization-oriented. This means that companies must build up competencies in areas such as data evaluation and analysis, IT security, customer relationship management, online marketing, IT architectures and data protection. Above all, employees must change their mindset. Among other things, they must learn to think and act in an interdisciplinary way, master complex work content, make independent decisions, and increase their social and communication skills.
Conclusion: Companies must constantly deal with future topics and trends in order not to miss the connection in the gradual change, define fields of action and take appropriate measures. The change will certainly be faster for some, slower for others, but it must take place. It is necessary to build up competencies, open-up structures and create the conditions for new forms of (cooperation) working at different levels.
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