05-06/2016 A measured future
The beginning of a new year usually also triggers a spate of gazing into the crystal ball, which in turn produces a plethora of predictions and hypotheses of how business will develop in 2016. Only one aspect thereof can be considered a fact so far, however: the optimists are having a harder time of it at the start of this new year. It is thus all the more remarkable that companies are tackling commerce with a lot of energy and little lamenting. I saw that this mood also dominated the Swiss Shippers’ Council’s 17th international Seafreight Conference in Interlaken recently (see page 9): people are looking forward with confidence, which is a good thing.
Beyond our every-day business we’re absorbed by the meta-trends that can and will influence the future of our industry. In Interlaken Erik Wirsing, DB Schenker‘s manager in charge of central innovation, lit a veritable fireworks display of technical innovations. He lobbed both well-known as well as new balls to his audience. For example: 3D printers that will make spare parts logistics largely superfluous, with the transportation of granulates or titanium dust for said printing-come-production processes becoming more important in its place. Digitalisation has us all in its spell – 98% of all smartphones are never switched off, thus blurring the line between leisure and work and promoting a sharing economy.
What does this mean for us? In the near future, interested parties will be able to bundle their smaller freight consignments themselves in the internet, and load groupage containers themselves, in order to improve their purchase costs. And last but not least, players as well as customers from outside the industry are muscling in on existing business models and establishing themselves as NVOCCs or airfreight operators – as Amazon has done, registering a Chinese subsidiary with the USA’s Federal Maritime Commission (FMC). Our readership doesn’t require a special introduction to some well-known developments, such as lorries that can drive autonomously, 3D glasses for deployment in warehouses and robotics in the maritime shipping industry.
Many an innovation is technically fascinating, and quite a few of them will change the transport and logistics industry’s business models. I was a bit put out by the fascinating talk’s motto, however. «You don’t have to join in. Surviving is not a duty». Many innovations are not fit for the future, others will prove unrealistic or unprofitable, despite best of efforts, and some other new ideas will be nipped in the bud or restricted by law-makers. Raising the alarm has rarely been much good as an invitation to stride forth to new shores. Rather, it cripples a person’s motivation to take a risk.
What alternative reactions do we have to foreseeable innovation? In a difficult market most logisticians can’t follow every trend for financial reasons. But everybody can speak to shippers and customers about the future trends. This will help assess new ideas together, set priorities, identify solutions, develop joint projects – and, yes, in the best case, find the funds to define measures and share costs. I’ve heard from many a shipper that he is waiting for his service provider’s suggestions.
This is where what I consider our industry‘s biggest asset kicks in: adapting rapidly. It doesn’t take us 24 months – as is the case in some other sectors – until new processes have been introduced. Let’s make the best of our strengths!
In this sense I wish you a stimulating read!