Logistics goes digital

The trend towards digitisation in the logistics industry should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat, according to speakers at transport logistic in Munich.

The panel discussion was called ‘Logistics goes digital – what can Big data, the Cloud etc contribute?’ and featured contributions from Ivo Körner, a board member of IBM Germany, Jens Meier, chairman of the management board at the Hamburg Port Authority, Dr Hansjörg Rodi, chairman Schenker Deutschland, Andreas Geissler, Managing Director of Terradata and Bernhard Wirth, CEO of DHL Freight.

L-R Geisser, Bollig, Korner, Rodi, Wirth, Meier
L-R Geisser, Bollig, Korner, Rodi, Wirth, Meier

“Digitisation can make logistics processes more efficient, more sustainable and safer,” said Körner, who argued that logistics industry has already embraced digitisation more than some other industries but that it still needed to go further. “It is definitely not hype. Words such as internet of things, big data, they describe a lot of things”.

Körner argued that the increasing amounts of data provide an opportunity for service providers to become more involved in the decision making processes of their partners. “Data will be the big differentiator in the future,” he said.

Dr Rodi said that the increasing amounts of data being created over the next 10 years will create demand for increased computer capacity. “We as logistics service providers have to enter much more actively into the decision making processes of our partners,” said Rodi. “I believe we play a very vital role in the ecosystem,” he added.

Wirth believes that the rise of big data will blur the lines between IT companies and logistics service providers. “We become more and more an information provider and less a service provider,” he said, adding that data needs to drive the offering of successful service providers.

Jens Meier gave a practical example of how data has been used at Hamburg Port to improve its productivity. In 2010 measuring points were installed at junctions in the Port of Hamburg and inductive loops and detectors captured traffic volumes, the types of vehicles and their speeds. This data is now transmitted to the management centre, where it is used to determine the current traffic conditions on the port’s roads.

The long term aim is to coordinate traffic to improve the flow of information on the roads. Meier claims that productivity has been improved by more than 12% thank to this system. The port is also increasing its use of GPS sensors that can be used to track and locate expensive equipment.

Increasing efficiency

Using data correctly will enable service providers to improve the efficiency of what they offer. This will include experimenting with new business models. Korner saw this as an opportunity for logistics companies to emulate the start up culture of Silicon Valley: “Try fast; fail fast”.

Two possible clouds on the horizon included the shortage of skilled labour in this area, and the possible interference of government in the sensitive area of data protection. Speakers at the session were careful to distinguish between data safety and data protection and agreed that further legislation, particularly at an EU level, was not needed.