Using and sharing data is an interesting topic, and offers multiple opportunities for the logistics sector. We’re aware that data, and especially its use, reliability and timeliness, is crucial for our customers, suppliers and the market in general in order to devise better solutions throughout the challenging supply chain. At the same time, it’s something that we in the logistics sector struggle with. Aren't we being short-sighted by keeping all that data to ourselves? Shouldn't we take a more transparent approach? The fact is that if we acted better in this respect as a sector, together with our customers, we could achieve all our objectives.
Utilising data to make better decisions
Logistics involves making decisions about hundreds of challenges and problems every single day. These range from strategic, such as the location of a warehouse, to operational, such as whether rail or road transport is the better option. A lot of data is already available in these areas, and you can utilise it to make better decisions. The process must be reliable and timely, and this is where the opportunities are and plenty of potential benefits.
Is the logistics industry ready to share data?
In the logistics sector, our focus is still heavily on our internal situation. People need data to set up their own processes. In your ERP system, you probably have a file you use to monitor and track your processes and use to generate invoices. However, a transition is underway, as the focus is shifting towards an increasing tendency to share data in the chain. This is very important for supply chain collaboration. Fortunately, more and more initiatives are emerging, such as Portbase. As a kind of intermediary for the logistics community, it is secure and reliable to launch these data-sharing initiatives, and doing so helps build trust with different parties.
At the end of the day, we share data for two reasons; for ourselves and our internal process, and to benefit the sector as a whole. After all, it can be a vital tool to improve the way the supply chain deals with peaks and disruptions. This emphasise the importance of sharing data mutually, so that we can also improve the chain’s reliability and ability to cope with challenges. But, is this all at the expense of our competitive advantage? Perhaps, but we’re all facing the same challenges. In our opinion, sharing data is the solution, and there’s still a long way to go.
Converting data into useful information
Let’s take a step back in time. The first container arrived in Rotterdam in 1966. It represented scaling up and globalisation, since it marked the start of a growing trend in this type of transport. There used to be rooms full of typists who had to process all the documentation. When the computer arrived on the scene, all this information was automatically processed from then on. If you look at the traditional systems now, they’re still configured in the same way: an order arrives, the order is processed, the order is transported on a truck to its final destination, and then the order is invoiced. This process isn’t actually designed to make a chain more efficient, but purely because a container has to be transported, for example, or a pallet has to be stored in a warehouse. What we want to do is to handle challenges in the supply chain, congestion in ports and the enormous demand that has arisen since the Covid-19 pandemic more efficiently. All this requires a lot of data. We’re going to use this data differently, and not necessarily in chronological order.
An example: imagine a container is transported by sea-going ship. The customer doesn’t immediately need the IMO class of the ship, but you do want to store this information to calculate CO2 emissions. Not enough consideration is given to this data when systems are configured. We mustn’t underestimate what that means, as it’s a massive challenge in terms of technology and security. It’s also a major task to change the mindset of employees in the industry; moving from processing files in chronological order to using data to improve quality and reliability. That makes it fun and challenging at the same time.
Data vs. sustainability
This will greatly inspire young talents. They study this data so they can make better decisions and, for example, take steps to advance sustainability, especially now that many companies are becoming more sustainable or intend to. It’s also an increasingly important subject for consumers. Can a customer, or a customer of a customer, who really is sustainable, have the logistics chain set up in the most sustainable way? And does this customer have all the data necessary for this? In the current climate, probably not.
This drives the sector to both implement sustainability at the front end, and to further examine aspects such as how we exploit the load factor of a ship, container, train or any other modality to the full. There are enormous opportunities in this area for the logistics sector and the associated products, because as well as wanting to know if the truck is powered by hydrogen or batteries, consumers also want to know the source of the cotton, and how it gets to China or Bangladesh. We can only offer our full support, and we must continue to invest in these opportunities, as this is the only way to achieve complete transparency.
What does it all mean for Seacon?
We recognise the importance of data as a theme, and have incorporated it into our strategy. In the coming years, we will invest more, set up our systems and processes accordingly, and give our team further training. For us, this shift means that we will further reinforce cooperation in the chain. There are also solutions for our customers, and the customers of customers, for the logistical challenges that they’re not yet even aware of. All the information you have access to as a chain director puts you in an excellent position to know where to find your chain partners and make supply chains stronger. For Seacon, it means working closely with our customers and carriers to see where data sharing is possible. We’re doing this for ourselves, for our customers, and for the sector as a whole.
One important subject that hasn’t been mentioned yet is security. This mainly applies when sharing data, but equally to data protection. It’s an important subject at Seacon Logistics, as it relates to sensitive information about our company and other parties, which has to be handled with great care. It’s more than just a firewall; it’s about being able to use data, about investing, and the right partners. Sometimes a party wants to share data, but may be unable to do so due to issues such as technological restraints. In the event of any such obstacles, Seacon is the right partner that can share its thoughts with these customers in order to find the solution.
Basically, the ship has set sail, it can no longer be stopped, and we’re piloting it into a safe harbour for the foreseeable future. Using and sharing data is a continuous process. Let's work together as partners in the chain, and examine how we can help and reinforce each other in this area.
23 June 2022