Optimisation à la française
The French market isn’t virgin terrain for 4flow, an international software firm and consultancy that also offers 4PL services. In an interview conducted digitally Julian Schulcz and Antoine Clogne told Christian Doepgen about the firm’s strategy and tactics.
Mr Schulcz, you’ve been with 4flow since 2004; from 2010 you built up the firm’s 4PL activities; and in May last year you joined the board. What have been the most significant changes in this time?
Julian Schulcz (JS): The years 2008 to 2009 represented an important turning point; that was when we decided to change our original business model – which was ‘consulting with software’. In the context of the financial crisis, customers were looking to make their networks more efficient and to reduce costs. Since then, 4flow hasn’t only been a consultant and software provider, but a 4PL service provider too – permanently optimising the supply chain.
What difference did this extension make?
JS: Introducing this third pillar of 4flow’s business model represented a big, fortuitous expansion. We became more international; we set our sights on Europe, opening our first office in Belgium, amongst others; and we ventured into China in 2011.
Operational issues close to management control gained priority with customers; and new employees enriched our team. After moving into Asia, where our entire range of services is in demand, we also entered North and South America in 2015. This was a conscious strategy. Our clients operate globally and want a uniform level of quality worldwide.
Mr Clogne, please tell us about your career and how you became 4flow’s director?
Antoine Clogne (AC): I’m a trained engineer. Having helped to set up a production facility in India for three years, I then joined 4flow in Berlin in 2014, initially working as a supply chain engineer in charge of optimisation processes. In the automotive sector I was in charge of transport optimisation in Europe, amongst other things; I then moved to the consumer goods sector in 2019, to support an initial project for a new customer.
Can you give us some key data about your company?
JS: 4flow is a private company with more than 80 partners amongst its executives, so we’re reluctant to give numbers. We’ve been growing by double digits every year so far, and want to continue that in the coming years – through profitable growth. To give you an idea of our size, we complete about 200 projects a year.
Your company already has 700 employees and 16 offices in Europe, North and South America and China. Why are you moving into France now?
JS: Our original focus was on Germany, Switzerland and Austria; now we’re targeting more European expansion. We already have many business relationships in France that we can build on. The need for cultural understanding is important for French companies whose geographical business footprint extends into North Africa and Arab countries. We’re looking at this potential.
AC: You can operate differently from Paris in this large market. The pandemic is furthering companies’ desire to digitalise and gain greater control over their supply chains, amongst other things.
Which sectors and services does 4flow focus on?
JS: In consulting, the focus is on retail and e-commerce, especially in the distribution field. The fast-moving consumer goods industry is currently facing new challenges, as is the automotive industry, with the shift towards electric mobility. We can bring our entire spectrum into play here – from supply chain design, cross-border transports and control tower operations through to intralogistics optimisation, improved SAP planning processes, tools, equipment and cost optimisation to network design.
Data is the new gold, as a global cooperation deal between Shippeo and 4flow shows. What are your goals there?
JS: Real-time data is one of the key resources. Our conversations with our customers have shown us that cost optimisation may be one of the important elements, but operational performance is even more crucial. Many operational costs and outlays arise from a lack of information. With reputable IoT companies as well as our technology on board, we can feed the data into our systems and actively use it to manage and control processes. Learning systems that deal with error prognostics help to prevent negative occurrences. The more data there is in an algorithm, the easier it is to avoid problems – even before they arise.
The local team is a key factor for success. What kind of employees are you looking for in the French market?
AC: As a Frenchman I can say that the team at 4flow is something rather special. Our colleagues there are fit for business, motivated – and cool. They’re very different people with whom it’s fun to openly discuss different opinions.
Our concept continues to work very well, by the way – we’ve hired 60 new people since the beginning of the pandemic. Personally I call it ‘expertise meets coolness’.