The third annual Logistics meets Innovation conference took place in Brussels on November 15th, 2017. The conference was organized by Transmetrics, in partnership with Ahlers and Vlerick Business School. This year’s overall theme of the event was “Collaboration in Logistics – from the Physical Internet to Data Analytics and Sharing to Blockchain“.
The conference gathered 60+ senior supply chain executives from both shippers and logistics service providers including companies like P&G, Duracell, Amazon, ACCO Brands, Puratos, Ahlers, Brussels Airlines, C.H. Robinson, DHL, H. Essers, KLG Europe, Mainfreight, Nxtport, TIP Trailer Services, as well as Transport & Logistics specialists from A.T. Kearney, Accenture, PwC Belgium, Gartner and from academia – KU Leuven, Vlerick Business School, Kühne Logistics University and University of Duisburg-Essen. The main goals of the conference were to gather senior executives from all the parts of the Supply Chain, to share different perspectives on Collaboration in Logistics and to discuss the best practices in the field.
The conference was moderated by Robert Boute, Professor Operations Management at Vlerick Business School, and featured 4 speakers:
– “The Physical Internet – just what is this idea” – Rod Franklin, Adjunct Professor of Logistics at Kühne Logistics University and a Vice Chair of the Physical Internet initiative under ALICE
– “Machine Learning & AI in transport and logistics” – Frank Salliau, founder of Mentat-IT & Sven Verstrepen, Head of Supply Network Innovation & Analytics at Ahlers
– “Leveraging transport data to forecast key economic indicators” – João Monteiro, Managing Director and Founder of LogIndex
– “Blockchain in the Supply Chain” – Paulo Jacinto Rodrigues, CEO of IntellectEU’s Lisbon Office
Prof. Rod Franklin
During the first presentation, Prof. Rod Franklin explained what Physical Internet is and how it could work by connecting the networks of logistics companies into one global network for transporting goods across the globe. He compared it to the regular Internet, which is based on two fundamental concepts: standardized packets and a set of connections between various internets, which are handled by routers and hubs that operate the standard protocols. To make the Physical Internet a reality, one fundamental element companies have to do is figure out how to build a standardized box or a series of standardized boxes. That could transform the land-based transport the way containers transformed the maritime industry. Then it would be possible to develop the material-handling equipment and the processes to rapidly handle the switch between various carriers or modes. At the end of his presentation, Prof. Franklin also added that we are still missing the visionaries, which need to come from the logistics industry and not from academia.
Mr. Frank Salliau
The next presentation was separated into two parts. First, Mr. Frank Salliau briefly explained the concept of machine learning, which is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. He showed the real-life examples how machine learning is used in the cases which seemed to be science-fiction just ten years ago, including such technologies as autonomous killer drones, or plane engines. Mr. Salliau also explained that machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are becoming more and more popular due to the rise of Big Data, scalable computer processing power, and the availability of programming languages to handle machine learning algorithms.
Mr. Sven Verstrepen
During the second part of the presentation, Mr. Sven Verstrepen demonstrated several concrete examples of how machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are currently being used in logistics and supply chain industries. He described three use cases by IBM Watson Supply Chain, ASNIA (Ahlers Supply Network Innovation & Analytics) which is dealing with horizontal collaboration and sharing capacity between different players in the logistics market, and a Transmetrics case about logistics data cleansing, forecasting of future shipping volumes and predictive network optimization. Mr. Verstrepen pointed out that one of the key challenges for machine learning in logistics is handling dirty data of low quality, and that Transmetrics has been able to solve data cleansing and enrichment for logistics companies with very impressive results.
Mr. João Monteiro
In the third keynote presentation, Mr. João Monteiro described the LogIndex initiative – a service by Kuehne+Nagel, which predicts economic indicators based on flows of logistics to show how the economy is developing. The service is targeted primarily at financial institutions and is distributed via an online platform. Its customers can see macro-sector estimates up to 60 days in advance updated in real-time. Mr. Monteiro demonstrated the live version of the service and explained that the Global K+N Indicators (gKNi) contain massive amounts of Kuehne+Nagel data as well as the information from 50 different logistics- or trade-driven sources. He explained that K+N is trying to find the most advanced uses of data and how to take advantage of Big Data in the unique position of Logistics, so the Logindex business unit was set up almost like a playground to develop new skills and technologies, which will later be able to contribute to K+N operations of tomorrow.
Mr. Paulo Rodrigues
The last presentation focused on the blockchain technology and how it can be used in the supply chain. Mr. Paulo Rodrigues briefly explained how the blockchain developed in the last few years, how it eliminates the need for the 3rd trusted party and mentioned some of the other differentiating factors that blockchain brings to the market, such as privacy, consensus mechanism, programmable rules (smart contracts), increased resiliency – no single point of failure, and others. However, Mr. Rodrigues stressed on the fact that the blockchain technology is still in its very beginning. We can see news around various PoC projects, but the platforms are not yet robust. People are just starting to build applications that can address real issues, including the issues in the supply chain. Among examples, Mr. Rodrigues mentioned the cooperation between IBM and Maersk, as well as a use case for invoice discounting, where blockchain technology helped to eliminate challenges such as reconciliation issues, data synchronization, lack of visibility, fraud, and others.
The keynotes were followed by an interactive panel discussion which provided both speakers and the audience with an opportunity to discuss additional aspects of Collaboration in Logistics. The audience was very engaged, asking great questions that helped to go even deeper into the topics conferred. During the panel discussion, the attendees learned that if we can get the critical mass interested in the Physical Internet concept, it can become a reality in Europe by as early as 2030. The panelists further deliberated about the topic of blockchain in Supply Chain and that it’s not a theory anymore. They provided additional examples of several running projects, such as Walmart using blockchain to track Chinese Pork and trace Mexican mangoes, Port of Antwerp releasing containers with blockchain technologies instead of using PIN codes, and Kuehne+Nagel sharing a shipment’s Bill of Lading via blockchain. One of the last questions raised during the panel focused on the data quality and if the machine learning techniques can help to improve it. The CEO of Transmetrics Asparuh Koev shared with the audience that this is exactly one of the aspects solved by Transmetrics, where the company manages to significantly improve poor and inconsistent logistics data by using advanced AI algorithms to cleanse and enrich the data.
The conference concluded with a dinner reception, during which the participants had a chance to network with other supply chain executives as well as to discuss the topic in an informal atmosphere of Vlerick Business School.
Here is what some of the attendees thought about the event:
Denis van de Voorde, Principal at A.T.Kearney: “I think this was a fantastic and a condensed event, really bringing experts on the topic providing different angles both from a university perspective, but also from a company perspective and really practitioners perspective. Which technology will possibly be the most interesting in the upcoming years comparing Big Data, Blockchain or the Physical Internet? I think the one that’s closest to maturity is predictive analytics because the data is already there and by adding smart ways to leverage it, operations can become that much more efficient.”
Rod Franklin, Adjunct Professor of Logistics and Academic Director at Kuehne Logistics University: “I loved the event tonight. I think that anytime you get some very creative people on stage and they talk about what they are doing and express their ideas, it’s very exciting. And I learned quite a bit, which I can’t say I always do. I would recommend people to think about and definitely come to the event next year if they want to learn about the cutting-edge in some aspect of logistics and supply chain. This is a wonderful event for doing that and it’s also a great event for networking with like-minded people.”
Yvan Giroud, Product Manager at TIP Trailer Services: “The speakers were very insightful and willing to share their experience. And the audience was as interesting as the speakers themselves. It was very engaged and it was a really very interesting crowd to meet and which is actually hard to meet in other venues. I definitely recommend not only to my colleagues or my friends, but anyone from the industry to attend the conference. The speakers, the content, the location and the audience make it fairly unique and the fact that it happens every year at such a level is quite an accomplishment.”
Joeri Kuik, Vice President, Global Head of Lead Logistics Partner (LLP) and Innovation Officer at DHL Global Forwarding: “Would I recommend the conference to other logistics executives? Yes! I liked the format – it was quick, in the evening, you get short presentations, great networking, I think that was a lot of value.”