Future challenges and trends of the transport mode rail
Following our first “10 Questions for” article with CEO André Käber, which focused on the cloud business, this time we turn our attention to the topic of rail. Christiaan Carstens has been instrumental in shaping our leogistics Rail solution. He is project manager, idea generator and is now answering our questions.
Mr. Carstens, what makes rail such an interesting mode of transport for leogistics?
Christiaan Carstens (CC): In contrast to other modes of transport, rail holds special challenges for logistics processes – but also huge potential for the future. For example, many processes are still carried out in analog form. Electronic data exchange based on uniform standards and far-reaching collaborative scenarios have not yet been established across the board. Yet the field of rail-based logistics offers huge untapped potential for optimization and digitization. This is precisely where we can apply our expertise and solutions head-on and swiftly realize optimization potential for our customers.
In addition, the volume of rail as a mode of transport will inevitably grow. As the EU sets ambitious climate targets, it is only a matter of time before the current market share of around 18 percent of rail freight transport continues to surge. In order to be able to cope with this growth, solutions are called for which, on the one hand, scale up in terms of volume and, on the other hand, make the rail mode of transport as a whole even more interesting for the shipping industry.
How important is the digitization of rail-based transport today?
CC: For decades, the rail mode of transport has been neglected as far as optimization and especially digitalization is concerned. While the integration of real-time data, the use of modern optimization technology up to object recognition and, to some extent, artificial intelligence is already well established in the handling of trucks, these approaches are often still in their infancy. This situation is very much apparent amongst the sit and connecting railroads of the loading industry. Here in particular, there is a growing demand for digital solutions that intelligently combine infrastructure, new technologies, cross-company integration, and both evolved and new technical requirements.
How does this affect our consulting services?
CC: It is thanks to this situation that we as leogistics are currently implementing many projects, especially in the field of transshipment, port, plant and connecting railroads. With further modernization, digitization and an increase in the willingness to collaborate, rail represents the transport mode of the future. Not only does it serve as an opportunity to even begin to achieve the ambitious climate targets, but also as a means of realizing cost reduction potential in the intelligent modal split. Seamless cooperation of well-orchestrated CT chains plays just as central a role in this as the trouble-free integration of routes RUs and connecting railroads on the last mile.
The digitization of precisely these topics will be one of the future consulting focal points as well as a key area of investment for innovative IT solutions from leogistics GmbH.
Which user scenarios are particularly frequently requested in this sector?
CC: Demands are manifold, since ultimately every solution must cover customer-specific particularities. In many cases, it is the physics of a site or a track area, a special constellation of process participants, or even the need for deeper integration that determines the degree of sophistication of the solution.
In general, this relates to three domains: In the case of plant logistics, the aim is to map all modes of transport to be handled at a site in a solution integrated with the production and dispatch planning and ERP systems available there. Within such a solution scenario, it is important to prepare the data and functions relevant for the respective application groups (route RU, plant railroad, loading points, truck dispatchers, plant security, etc.) in a user-friendly and intuitive manner.
In particular, the task of “moving away from paper, radio and improvisation” is becoming increasingly common. Brand new technologies, modern mobile applications, but also functions in the area of voice control and assisted reality, which are already marketable in the area of warehouse logistics, for example, are making their way on to the market.
What else sets rail apart from other modes of transport?
CC: Rail freight transport is characterized by the fact that it is divided across company boundaries and each with its own responsibilities provides a part of the overall logistics service. Performance in such a construct is all the higher the better the various disciplines and players work together. For this reason, solutions that enable collaborative planning and cooperation are increasingly in demand.
The following example of rail-based distribution logistics clearly highlights this: In the shipping sector, it is not uncommon for rail transport planning to be centralized. The actual handling of wagons and trains takes place in often dislocated plants or other storage and loading facilities. The shunting activities required for loading are seldom performed by a plant’s own railroad, but in many cases by a shunting service provider. The actual transport service is provided by a railroad company.
Thus, it becomes evident that customer satisfaction depends on the smooth and integrated interaction of these players. This requires collaboration platforms that offer sophisticated planning algorithms on the one hand but are also amenable to simple on- and off-boarding of logistics partners on the other.
What is the third domain? Are there perhaps certain trends?
CC: The third domain, in which projects are increasingly in demand, involves the use of new technologies and possibilities, such as edge/IoT applications or the use of services based on artificial intelligence, e.g., to optimize the sequence of upcoming shunting activities. Topics relating to the acquisition and use of real-time data currently have a prominent position. However, the mere availability of data is not the only added value. This is only gained when this data is intelligently linked with process-controlling and commercial data and made available within the logistics solution for rail-bound transport on a role-related basis.
Which approach do we take when consulting or developing an appropriate digitization solution?
CC: There is no overall answer to this question. But one thing is universally true: solutions that ignore our customers’ requirements simply for the sake of digitization will not be successful.
First and foremost, the focus is on the customer and, above all, the customer’s processes and requirements. It is often necessary to first create certain basics at the technical process level so that digitization can take effect successfully. After all, what good are the most digital tools if fundamental processes simply cannot be improved? Once the basis is in place, the degree of digitization of our logistics solutions to be introduced depends heavily on the requirements, but also on the capabilities of our customers. Here is where we find different stages. For some, the introduction of a modern mobile app is already a big step, for others it’s sensor-based piecing and haul-off requirements for a factory web.
At the end of the day, however, it is still people, i.e., end users, who account for a large share of logistics value creation, especially in rail-based transport. It is important to take them along gently on the journey of digital transformation and not to overburden them by skipping evolutionary stages.
What advice do you like to give a new customer?
CC: Often, a one-step philosophy is more promising than using a digital crowbar to pry the door open. For this very reason, we have assigned a special status to our own leogistics implementation methodology. Here, we build on a semi-agile approach that intelligently combines both established procedures of rather classic project management with newer approaches from the field of SCRUM – but above all always aims to work close to the customer and end user. In addition to providing the ideal solution on a technical and functional level, the management of the upcoming transformation also plays a central role in our projects.
As the head of consulting, how do you perceive the impact of the corona crisis on the consulting business?
CC: The past year has been particularly testing for all of us and has brought with it new challenges. Distributed work and the need to conduct many workshops remotely in a virtual environment have increased the already enormous need for coordination and the creation of a common understanding. We are especially aided by those little helpers like digital boards for progress tracking and various communication tools.
Do you have any closing words for us?
CC: Last but not least, team spirit is more important than ever. Major transformation projects are always a team effort. Only when everyone involved joins forces can the opportunities in an IT project be fully exploited. However, the new situation has once again shown us one thing very clearly: The days when software rollouts were always associated with many onsite appointments, carried out by large teams with a lot of overhead, are over.
You also have questions about leogistics Rail or Christiaan Carstens? Would you like to make an appointment for a demo? Then write to firstname.lastname@example.org.