Digitalization As a Key Topic in Logistics

On March 14 and 15, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management hosted the 15th Campus for Supply Chain Management. Under the theme of “Real-time Visibility and Accessibility,” this year, the conference explored the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution for the logistics sector.

During the two-day conference, which was held for the first time in the new town hall of Vallendar, students, researchers and logistics experts had an opportunity to interact around future changes in supply chain management. A particular focus for the conference was the influence of digitalization on supply chains and the opportunities presented by new technologies. As practical examples drawn from the day-to-day work day of renowned speakers clearly demonstrated, today’s digital technologies can already be used to make transport routes and trading chains more visible while reducing complexity at the same time, in spite of increasing networking.

Insights in modern logistics companies were provided by speakers including Paul Marks and Thomas Zeller of UPS as well as Dr. Joachim Grunewald and Dr. Marc Hitschfeld of DHL Parcel Germany. Marks and Zeller took participants along on the journey of a package delivered by UPS in Germany. During their lecture, it became clear that optimizing the individual customer experience through digital innovation, with features such as live tracking, is already at the heart of the efforts by the logistics giant. From the moment the order is placed through to delivery to the front door, the course of a delivery can be tracked in real time and can be adjusted at any time. A contributing element of this is ORION, an internally developed computing system that adapts delivery routes in seconds, saving fuel and reducing CO2 emissions in the process.

In addition to current trends in the field of customer experience, Marks and Zeller also offered participants an exclusive insight into the first test runs of drone delivery. This innovation is also expected to optimize delivery times and reduce harm to the environment - because climate change is a concern for the logistics sector. UPS and DHL intend to use electric vehicles to drastically cut CO2 emissions in package delivery in the future. UPS is also testing deliveries by bike courier in densely populated major cities.

The importance of visibility and the customer experience was also the focus of the keynote speech by Dr. Hansjörg Rodi, Chief Executive Officer for Germany and the Region of Central and Eastern Europe at Kühne + Nagel. In the past, most of the business of the logistics sector revolved around classic B2B trading, but the fast-moving business world of today is determined primarily by the consumer. “To be in logistics felt like heaven on earth during the past 20 years, because we were part of a self-growing market. These times are over,” Rodi recapitulated as he emphasized the indispensability of digitalization projects in the context of global competition.

But not only logistics companies themselves view the digitalization process as the central theme of our time. Dr. Stefan Wolff, CEO of 4flow, one of the leading providers of logistics consulting, logistics software and logistics management, reported on opportunities and challenges. In addition to revolutionary technology including self-driving delivery vehicles, drones, robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence, he sees potential problems in volatility and complexity as well as a lack of data availability, but not in the supposed substitutability of the human worker: “Digital innovation is increasingly replacing manual labor, but we are creating lots of new jobs at the same time.”

In addition to these different points of view of modern supply chain management, the student-organized conference offered an opportunity for interaction among academics, students and practitioners in the field. Students who participated in the conference also had an opportunity to network with conference partners at the Career Fair.