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Open source approach as further impetus for better logistics

Making software applications freely available does not have to mean that all distinguishing features between companies disappear in competition. But it should improve interface communication, reduce barriers to entry and thus increase the networking of all participants. We would like to briefly outline here how supply chains benefit from this.

In Q4 2021, a foundation called the Open Logistics Foundation was established in Germany. The initiators included industry giants such as DB Schenker, duisport, Dachser, the BLG Logistics Group and Rhenus. The ambitious goal behind it: To standardise logistics processes through de facto standards. However, this is not to happen through the introduction of laws, guidelines or regulations, but rather arise en passant - through open source solutions.

Incidentally, a local Internet provider describes open source as follows: "Behind the term 'open source' is much more than just software that is accessible to the public and can be viewed, copied or changed by third parties. Over the last decades, open source has also developed into a way of working and a movement of collective problem solving."

And it is precisely here that the founders of the Open Logistics Foundation see a lot of room for improvement in the industry. Even though the trend towards more digitalisation and thus better data flow is unmistakable, silo thinking still prevails in many cases, in which decades of competition continue to manifest themselves. Both the innovative strength for the logistics world of tomorrow and the data transfer in supply chain management of the here and now, which is more necessary than ever in times of clearly strained supply chains, suffer from this.

Interdependence between cultural change, technical possibilities and efficiency

It seems logical that the overall effort is higher if each individual logistics service provider develops its IT transmission paths to the customers or its live shipment tracking or the forecast of arrival times of shipments (ETA) independently than if all companies with the same basis "only" work on fine details for their respective orders. Last but not least, such a high investment in innovation limits the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises, which often do not have the material and personnel capacities for such initiatives.

Here it is important for the logistics sector to increasingly adapt to the generally observed cultural change with regard to the sharing of ideas and resources. However, this does not need to happen as an end in itself, but rather, due to the technology that is available in the digital age, it is intended to raise efficiency potentials that are still lying fallow in joint work. Everyone can collaborate on certain applications that the Open Logistics Foundation initiators, for example, would like to publish in a timely manner, and everyone benefits from the successive improvement through free access.

Individual solutions can become a dead end

Most predictions expect a flow of data between the individual participants in a supply chain never seen before in the logistics industry, thanks to improved algorithms, the use of artificial intelligence (AI), the advantages of the platform economy and the inclusion of blockchain technology and cloud computing. Due to the speed of innovation, it seems foreseeable that a company's own solutions - however good they may be - will soon no longer be compatible with the contact points of the other participants in a transport or warehousing project.

The previous front-runner could thus quickly slip into the midfield or to the end due to cut interfaces, as all the others would overtake it thanks to their joint work. However, the open-source approach does not mean that all differences between the companies competing in the market would be levelled out, as there would remain enough creative space for the final design of the individual customer relationships, or that the sharing of basic applications would make otherwise bound capacities available again. However, it is likely to be about one central aspect across companies in general, which the chairman of the board of trustees of the Open Logistics Foundation, Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael ten Hompel, summarised as follows in a conversation with a logistics blog: "It is about increasing the jump height into digitisation, because many still significantly underestimate the complexity that is coming our way with AI and predictive algorithms as the basis in data-based business models".

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