The headlines in 2019 were dominated by climate change: pupils and students took to the streets to draw attention to pressing environmental issues. In 2020, a global crisis ensued, with the coronavirus changing the lives of almost everyone around the world: forcing us all to adopt social distancing. While digital communication tools boom like never before. The pandemic has been a powerful driving force for digitisation. But the future doesn’t just need digitisation – ecological, economic and social sustainability are also more important than ever before. How can the two be combined, and what can entrepreneurs from the transport and logistics sector contribute?
DEVELOP A CLEAR CORPORATE VISION
Achieving the following is paramount for all: climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050. “Put provocatively: if you no longer want to exist, you should just carry on as before,” says Julia Miosga. “In order to continue to exist and enjoy a successful future, companies should not so much let themselves be carried by developments as they materialise, but rather hone a clear vision themselves of where their path should take them.” As a “Digital Landscape Gardener”, Julia Miosga advises companies on how they can make the most of digitisation. She considers digitisation to be a tool with which a company can achieve its vision. “You can miss targets, but a vision encompasses so much more,” she explains. “You should, therefore, outline such a picture of the future for yourself very clearly, and be sure to think big.”
“If digitisation were a visit to a restaurant, we would only be as far as the amuse-bouche.”
Ralf Kleber, Amazon Country Manager – Germany
Sustainability should be an integral part of this picture. “All strategies rooted in a clearly defined vision should cultivate the values of one’s own house,” explains Miosga. “This translates, for example, into an approach where a company offers fair, equitable and safe working conditions and where it operates in a sustainable, meaningful and profitable manner.” The expert recommends thinking about your own business from the perspective of the end customer and recognising their needs. “Then, as a freight forwarder, I can ask myself what my customers need, in order to meet the needs of their customers – and how I can support my customers in doing so.” She points to the food industry, where, just a few years ago, hardly anyone believed that consumers would place significantly more value on ingredients and production – which is something they do today: “Here, for example, a transport service provider can derive significant advantages by showing that it plans its routes efficiently, deploys modern vehicles and perhaps even tests alternative drive concepts. So you become part of a sustainable supply chain that the end customer prefers over others.”
CORE TECHNOLOGY – TELEMATICS
The core technology underpinning this is telematics. “It is the key to the digitisation of vehicles,” explains Frank Albers, Managing Director of Sales and Marketing at Fahrzeugwerk Krone. On the one hand, telematics enables the collection of vehicle-specific data, for example, to check tyre pressure and brake wear, or to monitor the temperature and the door lock on refrigerated semi-trailers. Furthermore, telematics increases the efficiency of a transport operation by ensuring greater capacity utilisation: camera systems – such as those used in Krone Smart Capacity Management – can, for example, monitor the loading space, report any free space and thus increase capacity utilisation. The sensors used in the process also record the load weight and indicate free payload.
“Digitisation offers the best opportunities when it replaces traditional structures. It is already foreseeable that the ‘New Normal’ will be much more digital in nature following the crisis. But exactly how this transformation is shaped is crucial. As a company, it is especially important to make the manufacturing phase of products more ecological, and digital solutions can help with this. This is because, until now, digitisation in corporate production processes has been a zero-sum game. For example: An iPhone 8 needs just as much energy and produces as much CO2 as an iPhone 3.”
Prof. Dr Tilman Santarius, TU Berlin, Institute for Ecological Economic Research
Safety is an additional key aspect – it also increases the reliability and efficiency of a transport operation. “Regularly checking the condition of a vehicle minimises risks and prevents breakdowns,” says Albers. If, for example, the air pressure is incorrect, the tyre can overheat and even burst in an emergency situation. Quite aside from the risk of accident, this can mean significant downtime costs, especially when involving refrigerated transport. “Telematics prevents all this from happening by helping to avoid it.” At the same time, it supports the sustainability of transport and the reduction of CO₂ emissions: If tyre pressure is within an optimal range, this saves fuel and protects the tyres; the wear rate is then lower, as is the material abrasion on the road.
INVESTING IN QUALITY FOR THE LONG-TERM
The coronavirus pandemic has necessitated economic action, especially in the short-term. “However, it is always essential for freight forwarders to invest in the long-term and in quality, for the sake of their customers,” says Frank Albers. “This is because, by doing so, they minimise downtime and ensure a higher service quality. Anyone who places a transport order wants to be sure that the goods will arrive with the recipient at the right time. In order to ensure that this happens, high-quality vehicles that incorporate sophisticated technology are needed on the one hand, as well as effective fleet management, which is optimally supported by telematics and the aforementioned tools, on the other.”
“For far too long, digital transformation has been understood as the next stage of optimisation, and not as the comprehensive upheaval of everything that it represents. Very few have developed a plan or even a target vision to this end. On the other hand: in an increasing number of places, it is becoming clear that more is needed than the digitisation of traditional processes – namely completely new processes, new ideas and new companies.”
Christoph Bornschein, Founder and CEO of Berliner TLGG GmbH, an agency for digital transformation
Freight forwarders can not afford to make mistakes these days, because recipients usually expect a quick delivery. Inefficiencies cost money – in an industry that has to battle with very low margins. “If business people sometimes only generate turnover that covers all their fixed costs – such as fuel, staff and investments – from the 25th of the month, then the tractor unit and trailer must always work reliably,” says Albers. Thus, when buying a vehicle, it is not uncommon to make absolutely sure as to whether additional tools really pay off. Krone always bears this in mind with all its products and innovative developments; the cost of a tyre-pressure monitoring system (TPMS), for example, pays for itself after just 18 months in combination with telematics. In addition to Krone’s Door-Lock system, cut-resistant tarpaulins – such as the Safe Curtain – also prevent cargo theft. Insurance companies usually issue more favourable policies when such systems are installed, which in turn reduces the running costs of the fleet.
PIONEERS DETERMINE THE FUTURE
Julia Miosga recommends – even when facing difficult economic conditions – investing in innovative, sustainable solutions or, where possible, helping to develop them yourself. “You don’t have to rush ahead when it comes to new technologies, but you should act quickly,” she explains. “When it comes to digitisation, as with sustainability, it is the pioneers who determine the future direction of things. With that in mind: Either you are intrinsically motivated and contribute with your ideas, technologies and services. Or you’ll simply remain reactive and will have to buy into what others have developed.”
“Companies have to learn to shape new territory and, in doing so, they have to win people over. After all, digitisation is much more than just technology. It concerns new business models, value creation systems and new forms of work organisation. By taking all this to its logical conclusion, it is about an entirely new corporate culture.”
Dr Kira Marrs, scientist at the ISF München research institute
Implementing digitisation in a company is, to all intents and purposes, a duty: “If you fail to digitise, you are bringing your own crisis upon yourself, because someone will offer a technology or come up with an idea that will attack your business discipline,” says Miosga. According to the expert, financial considerations should not be the main focus: “I think it is, at the very least, dangerous to expect that investments in digital technologies, products and services should immediately pay off in financial terms. This requires a longer-term perspective.” The fact that hardly any investment funds are available during the coronavirus crisis is understandable: “But those who can invest should do so urgently and carefully consider innovations, to see which of them can make their own company fit for the future.”
ATTRACTIVE FOR APPLICANTS
One additional key aspect is that digitisation can retain skilled workers: “Most people want to work in modern companies where they have a say in their development. This is how companies use digital applications to make themselves attractive to applicants and prevent employees from leaving.” Miosga is certain that German SMEs, in particular, can achieve all this with resounding results. “With his clear commitment to responsibility and his steadfast approach to preservative action, he is securing his own future and that of his workforce. Small and medium-sized enterprises are what keep society and Germany running as an economic powerhouse. That’s a major strength.”
“The coronavirus crisis has triggered profound social and economic challenges. However, as dramatic as the crisis seems at present, it also harbours an opportunity: Germany has been abruptly jolted out of its lethargy.”
Frank Thelen, European serial entrepreneur and tech investor
SMEs, for example, go to significant lengths to keep their employees in work: “Especially during the coronavirus crisis, there have been no major waves of layoffs so far.” Nevertheless, many companies are quite reserved when it comes to digitisation. According to Miosga, this goes against the courage and willingness to innovate that German SMEs actually stand for: “An engineer should not stop at digital technologies!” She also sees plenty of potential in cooperation between logistics companies, the real estate industry, trade and the manufacturing industry. “If they join forces on platforms or by way of common standards, I think this would be a great driver for digitisation, sustainability and meaningful economic success for Germany as a business hub.”
Photos: AdobeStock/denisismagilov, private, Tom Wagner, Eyecatchme Photography, ISF München; Quote sources: Edition F, Die Wirtschaftszeitung, Deutschland.de, Manager Magazin, Focus