How BLG LOGISTICS continually digitalizes and improves logistics with innovations
As a logistics company, we are particularly in tune with current developments in the world. From the state of the economy to consumer behavior, we immediately detect change. That includes changed expectations of our customers, business partners and employees. It seems like the world is turning faster all the time and the demands on businesses are increasing. So logistics services must keep pace, becoming faster and more flexible. We don't see this as a problem, because the opportunities for making logistics much more efficient are also growing. The 21st century offers us countless innovative digital possibilities.
Find out here how we can together not only think about innovation and digital transformation, but also actively shape the logistics of the future.
We see these three factors as essential to good innovations. For us, innovation means achieving genuine novel developments in logistics, not simply improving on existing systems. This is important because the world around us in constantly changing: new goods flows, new challenges, new possibilities. The word "innovation" comes from "nova", which means new. And fresh thinking is part of our mentality. Of course, we will continue to optimize existing processes. But that's not new. For BLG LOGISTICS, innovation in logistics also means embracing new technologies. Technologies that create added value for us and our business partners. BLG LOGISTICS is open to new, sustainable, digital business models that secure the long-term success of the company and our employees.
Methods we use to develop and implement great innovations
Innovation doesn't have to be based on a chance discovery. Of course, failures are inevitable on the road to progress. But with the right structures, we can imagine innovation more clearly and develop it more reliably. Responsible for this at BLG LOGISTICS is our own innovation team. The InnoTeam defines the framework for projects, but always works together with the operational or central units of the company. We use four different paths to implement innovations:
100-day projects at BLG LOGISTICS
At BLG, anybody can submit innovation ideas for a 100-day project, placing a kind of "in-house order". Because we know there can be no new ideas if we're afraid of delays, failure or wasted time. Our 100-day projects provide space to try things out, test them, bring together theory and practice on a small scale. Sometimes things go wrong. For example, because an idea turns out not to be viable in practice. But do a few failures matter compared to the one great innovation that, scaled up, saves thousands of working hours? Or minimizes industrial accidents? Or significantly reduces our carbon footprint? Innovation is hard work, and sometimes a difficult path. Sure, you can save yourself the effort. But at the end of the journey, after the final climb and with a few blisters on your feet, you have the chance to achieve something amazing.
First, our InnoTeam examines a proposed innovation, then launches a 100-day project. The purpose of the projects is to put good ideas into practice in operations. Together with BLG locations and various departments, we test new technologies, processes or solutions – strictly over a period of 100 days.
Ideally, the project produces a proof of concept. After the 100 days, we present the result to the person who submitted the in-house order, along with a recommendation for action. Generally, this can be one of four recommendations:
- We adopt the solution directly in our operations.
- We have a proof of concept, but we need to do more work on the solution's implementation. We set up a 6-month sprint.
- The solution is rejected.
- We look for a new application.
Here's an example of a 100-day project:
The "app toolbox" – agile digitalization of small, heterogeneous processes
Many of today's business processes are based on data, or a broader database would make them more reliable or capable of optimization. Companies must collect the data as efficiently and reliably as possible. But often, companies still collect a large part of their data in analog form. Above all, this takes up far too much time. What if we could digitalize lots of data-based processes, including smaller processes, in apps? The tricky thing is that the app would have to be accessible to all employees with no significant learning effort.
The many small processes in the company are all very different. It's impossible for a single app to cover all processes and all use cases in which analog data needs to be digitalized. But if would be ridiculously expensive to engage a service provider to develop different apps for all possible work areas within our divisions. For smaller use cases, it is simply not worth developing more and more new apps or adapting core systems. Now, with the app toolbox from our partner smapOne, our employees can create their own individual business apps.
The app toolbox's user interface is so intuitive that employees can develop new, customized apps quickly and without programming skills. It works directly in the browser, using drag and drop. Training takes just 2-5 hours, then we have a new app developer in our workforce!
The app is simply rolled out onto the required terminal devices. It's the dream of all process optimizers: an app that improves a process is developed by the very people who work with the process every day. It was important to us that the app toolbox isn't just for a few departments, but is suitable for use cases throughout the company. Since the kick-off, we have already implemented 15 licenses, comprising six in the Logistics Center Bremen and nine in the Logistics Center Geiselwind.
Four licenses are planned for the Logistics Center Berlin-Brandenburg, one for the Insurance & Claims Management Department, and one for BLG LOGISTICS of South Africa. We also arrange further licenses for interested areas and develop user support as well as helpful support processes.
6-month sprints at BLG LOGISTICS
What happens when a technology, process or other solution achieves a proof of concept within a 100-day project? The next step is transferring it to regular operations. But how? Ideally, the division in which the solution was trialed adopts it directly in its operational unit. In the very best scenario, this happens automatically after the experience gained in the 100-day project. Admittedly, this rarely happens. Many solutions need further implementation work. This is the purpose of the 6-month sprints, supported by the InnoTeam.
Here is an example of a 6-month sprint:
Predicting personnel requirements using predictive analytics and machine learning
Optimal personnel planning is the basis for the smooth running of all processes in a company. But it is a challenge, especially in operational areas in logistics. We are faced increasingly with fluctuations that we have to manage at short notice. Many internal and external factors impact on the personnel capacities we need. This often makes planning difficult.
For a solution based on predictive analytics, we record the relevant internal and external influencing factors. This data forms the essential basis that can enable us to predict personnel needs. We can only do this together with our employees on the ground. Working from historical data, we can compile accurate forecasts – for example about volumes in the various functional departments and the personnel needed. Depending on our requirements, we can plan weekly, daily or shift deployments. By applying the software, we were able to significantly improve personnel requirements forecasting and planning during the test phase. The next step is to further optimize the solution, improve the data and identify new use cases.
R&D projects at BLG LOGISTICS
There are problems in logistics for which we don't yet have any elegant, efficient solutions. But there are lots of ideas. The problem is, until we have a guarantee that they work, we can't use these ideas on a large scale. That's what our research projects are for. They are different from our innovation projects because they can not be implemented in 100-day projects or 6-month sprints. As a rule, we do not conduct research projects on our own. Instead, we put together an interdisciplinary team from various companies with different specializations. Often, a university institute is on board to provide scientific backing. BLG is also always keen to give SMEs and startups the chance to take part in these projects.
That's because especially small companies frequently have new, innovative solutions and can quickly try them out in practice. Usually, the projects also receive government funding.
In the R&D project Isabella and its successor Isabella 2.0, we are working on automobile logistics in sea and inland ports. We wrapped up the first phase in June 2020. In the project, we developed an intelligent planning and control system that supports us with the handling and monitoring of automobile movements in sea and inland ports.
Isabella has two dimensions:
- On a multitouch table, we can visualize the current situation of a terminal and realistically map, simulate and evaluate possible planning scenarios. This will make vehicle handling in ports more efficient in the future.
- With Isabella, we can see the current position of every vehicle, even if it is on the move. As a result, we can more accurately manage transport orders and communicate more effectively with drivers. This is how we optimize routes even more efficiently.
Now Isabella 2.0 integrates external transport carriers such as trains, ships and trucks, including their loading and unloading. Read more about Isabella 2.0 here.
Here is an example of an R&D project:
KITE – artificial intelligence for more sustainable truck transport
Every time a truck drives without a payload, it causes unnecessary emissions. And because we take sustainability in logistics very seriously, we want to minimize emissions. With our research project KITE, we are taking a further step toward climate neutrality. Using AI-based transport volume prediction, we intend to prevent empty transports and additionally reduce our CO2 footprint. KITE is an acronym for the German project name, which translates as
Artificial Intelligence in Transport for Emissions Reduction.
With KITE, we are developing a system for predicting transport volumes. The process will operate on various levels (customers, companies, branches) and in various time periods (days, weeks, months). Our project goal is to reduce empty travel by 15%.
Our key principle: Innovation is a team sport
Every colleague has different viewpoints, experiences and talent we want to utilize. That's why it's important to us that we work with the people who shape and further develop the business of BLG LOGISTICS every day. Top-down ideas are not enough. That would waste opportunities. Innovations rooted in practice are the way forward. Our innovation principle is: innovation involves everybody and is not a spectator sport! Our InnoTeam provides the framework and support in the form of the right methods, but everybody can and should contribute ideas!
We develop innovations in interdisciplinary teams.
Our teams constantly apply new, creative methods for ideas and innovation workshops. In internal meet-ups, we bring various departments together to present the work of the InnoTeam and new innovation projects. Then we discuss the potentials.
To allow the freedom that innovation requires, we make sure people are not afraid of failure. We value every idea and encourage employees to think outside the box and discuss their ideas with colleagues on all levels. And we see failure as an opportunity to grow together. We are a learning organization.
External partners are also members of the teams.
In our Digilab, we cooperate with startups and young companies to develop innovative solutions for tomorrow's logistics. Structures like the DigiLab make BLG LOGISTICS an innovation driver in the entire industry. Our good contacts with the startup community are a win-win for both sides.
- Inventive startups get the opportunity to test their ideas on a larger scale so they can optimize them with our support.
- BLG benefits from the fresh wind of innovations, finding applications in our own company.
We also pick up lots of great new ideas at congresses, trade shows and other events, and from our continuous exchange with universities and institutes. Obviously, not every idea is relevant for BLG. But our InnoTeam takes a closer look at many of them, then searches for and often finds suitable use cases at BLG. We also gain from innovative ideas from startups. Sometimes the process is reversed: When one of our locations comes up against technical or process-related obstacles, we actively search for innovative solutions. Together, the technical or commercial department and the InnoTeam cooperate in a 100-day project to thoroughly test a possible solution.
Our growing innovation culture means that innovations can be developed decentrally at many locations – not necessarily with the involvement of the InnoTeam. With creative workshops, hackathons, pitch nights, internal training and media such as our Innoplatform, we create transparency and promote a broad innovation culture.
Our current focuses in digitalization and innovation
BLG LOGISTICS has identified three innovation focuses which are scalable, sustainable and effective. To stay ahead of the curve, we have created a trend management process.
It keeps us up to speed and helps us quickly evaluate what role new trends play for BLG now or in the future. Our trend management relies on communication. This is why we've established an internal community of trend scouts. In this community, interested colleagues from all departments discuss the latest trends and developments.