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Portal technology in the logistics sector

Back in January this year, CIO magazine stuck its neck out and published an article in which it predicted “The IT trends that will take over by 2024 according to IDC”, setting out the developments we can expect to see over the next few years. As Marc Twain once so eloquently said: “It is difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future”. But in this case, Marc Twain would have been proud of CIO magazine. Generally, when the big players in a market turn their attention to a topic, it’s a good sign that a trend is starting to take root. One of the four main topics mentioned in the article was the concept of the ‘third platform’: The article claimed that “By 2023, third-platform IT technologies (the cloud, mobile, big data & analytics, social, AI, AR/VR, IoT, robotics, 3D printing and next-gen security) will account for 75 per cent of all IT expenditure”.

New market opportunities for small and medium-sized providers

As tricky as predictions may be, one thing is for certain: New technologies such as the IoT and the cloud have the greatest impact in sectors with complex, interconnected networks and where digitalisation is expected to bring huge efficiency gains. So it’s little wonder that the logistics sector is turning to these new concepts to improve its processes. The sector has a diverse and demanding set of requirements: Ranging from efficient and user-friendly supply chain management software and a solution that enables communication between dozens of systems, across multiple interfaces and data formats, to the need to link up small and medium-sized providers to the systems used by the bigger market players.

Until recently, there was a clear-cut solution for all of these problems: The big players made the rules, and smaller providers simply had to find a way to work with them. Businesses that couldn’t afford more expensive systems had to accept that they would be at a competitive disadvantage. For logistics companies, deciding how much to invest in the right IT infrastructure was a strategic decision left entirely in the hands of the directors. But even the major players were suffering the disadvantages of working in this way: Because of a lack of access to IT systems, the market – and its offering to customers – was shrinking.

A neutral platform for all parties in the logistics chain

In 2017, a Swiss group of industry associations came together to combat these challenges by founding the efreight portal (www.efreight.ch), creating a neutral platform capable of connecting all parties in the logistics chain across all modes of transport. The platform can easily be docked onto existing IT infrastructures to manage data exchange between a wide range of systems – which means that users do not need to invest in provider-specific IT solutions. All partners in the chain can access up-to-date information, status updates and accompanying paperwork in electronic format at any point in the logistics process.

efreight has now made a move into the German market, working with Lobster GmbH to establish the Logistics Data Cloud (www.logisticsdata.cloud). Pilot customers for the new system include Lufthansa Cargo, Schaeffler and hazardous goods specialist NMMN – proving without a doubt that the major players in the market are keen to collaborate with small and medium-sized enterprises. “By using the Logistics Data Cloud, we are able to access 12 per cent more tracking information for inbound shipments and reduce our manual tracking workload for over 5000 transactions a year. We also see huge potential for this solution to increase transparency across our logistics network on a continued basis”, says Dr Harald Kolbe, Head of Digital Innovation at Lufthansa Technik Logistik GmbH. Platform solutions like this create more competition while also boosting transparency and efficiency through the introduction of end-to-end digitalisation across all logistics processes. The solution may also act as a blueprint for the development of third-platform technologies in other industries.

Just like Mark Twain, CIO should be keeping its fingers crossed for the future – in the hope that its ambitious predictions for the IT sector continue to come true.