Digitization expert Christoph Krause

Putting ideas into action – An interview with Christoph Krause

Mr Krause, from real-time tracking through to a completely digitalised supply chain. We are only just starting to see the application opportunities for cloud services, rapid data connections, positioning services and smart solutions. Where is this journey taking us?

In my view, there are three key issues which are set to have a major impact on the logistics of large and small companies. These are artificial intelligence solutions, the business models lying dormant in the Internet of Things and the first true successes in the field of additive manufacturing. We shouldn’t, however, only consider digital transformation. The ever-growing pressure to rethink our complete mobility solutions due to climate change and finite resources represents a major opportunity for the field of logistics. The focus here is on new drive systems, autonomous mobility, the use of mobile robot systems and, last but not least, the question of which transport routes will develop with the future in mind. Water offers an unbelievable amount of untapped potential.

What roles does AI play in logistics?

Artificial intelligence or, more precisely, digital assistance systems based on machine learning are already very important in logistics in particular. Just like the term Industry 4.0, the buzzword “artificial intelligence” also belies the specific benefits of the entire value-added process. Industry 4.0 can only be deemed successful if this results in Service 4.0. At the same time, digital assistance systems have to offer genuine added value. And, indeed, they come into their own in the logistics sector. Intelligent data analysis requires a lot of data. A huge amount of structured and unstructured data is accrued over the entire logistical chain. Artificial intelligence is virtually predestined to make this wealth of information usable. The days of speculations and rough estimates are gone. Specific and reliable predictions can be made proactively with digital assistants. There are already numerous intelligent systems in use today to support warehouse logistics. Whether this be a small warehouse or a complex port, the goal can be improved simulation, optimisation of automated processes, the intelligent shortening of pathways in the warehouse or the launch of driverless transport systems.

Will the prospect of autonomous shipping accelerate this process?

Autonomous shipping cannot function without digital assistance systems. It can only succeed on the basis of recorded and evaluable data from previous practices. Flexibly employed inland vessels of various sizes which coordinate among each other, plan and calculate the necessary jobs and routes themselves and load and unload independently. That is one of the visions to exploit the unused potential offered by water. But it is only possible if we do our homework. Starting with a comprehensive and cross-border e-freight bill, implementation of an open interface between the port, forwarder and administration, creation of a digital platform for determining charges and fees from the authorities through to development of a platform solution to enable Barge2Barge communication. This is where some of the great potential of new business models lies and, with the help of artificial intelligence, can be tapped.

Which prerequisites need to be satisfied to turn Logistics 4.0 into reality – with no ifs or buts?

We need to focus our energies into putting ideas into action. We need to get out of the comfort zone of the thriving logistics market. We are great at thinking and developing, but far too slow at actually turning ideas into viable digital business models. New disruptive solutions emerge very rarely from the established sectors, rather they are driven forward externally by unconventional thinkers. Companies need to rethink their approach. We should set up “playgrounds” for digital experiences in companies. Hands-on workshops would allow our staff to become intrapreneurs. After all, staff know the real processes best of all. Boosted by digital mentors and our customers, we could establish successful teams for the digital revolution. And don’t forget: the transformation of logistics can only be successful if we are all on board. This means we finally have to take digital training seriously. Jobs in logistics are not going to disappear, but the job descriptions will change greatly. Exceptions? None! From machine operators to managers; we will all need to learn to operate across processes, to use digital tools efficiently and to integrate digital knowledge support whilst working. The following prerequisites must be met in companies: 1. Every company should develop a 5-year strategy as to how it will handle changes caused by AI and the IOT. 2. Specific plans must also be in place to raise employee awareness. 3. A functioning network made up of digital experts and implementers has to be developed and maintained. 4. A cross-departmental team for implementing digital projects should also be created in-house. An IT department alone is not sufficient. Solving this issue requires a holistic approach. 5. We will be unable to develop innovations and impress our customers without laboratory-like test runs. A development environment is therefore vital for successfully turning ideas into reality. 6. The more digital solutions we use, the more open to attack our infrastructure becomes. Penetration testing at a technical and human level must be conducted at regular intervals, and we need clear answers in terms of IT security.

Do we still have a long way to go on the road to complete digitalisation of the transport chain?

Digital transformation is a never-ending process and anything but a switch which can be simply turned on. The road is long, yet one which we need to travel along together at great pace. Otherwise, players such as Amazon will do this for us. The platform already successfully operates its own airfield. Thus, the sooner we are able to exchange information from all those involved in the process quickly and efficiently, the better our chance of actually establishing new digital Services 4.0 on the market. Our processes are tomorrow’s gold. We need to move away from competitive thinking and towards open platforms, interfaces and platform-based tools. If we fail to think and develop as an open Europe, I don’t think we stand a chance against the new players who are expertly establishing their silk roads across all continents. We all need to act! As I often say, doing stuff is like wanting stuff, only cooler. What are we waiting for?