XPO Logistics has embarked on a huge effort to ramp up its last-mile delivery capabilities in Europe, which targets the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and France. The company’s management expects to manage over 750,000 last-mile deliveries in Europe this year.
“Our last-mile expansion in Europe is being driven by customer demand, primarily related to e-commerce, said XPO COO Troy Cooper.
The final mile has been a major battleground in B2C e-commerce, but it is also gaining ground in the B2B sphere. A white paper on last-mile logistics published in February by Eyefortransport indicates that demand for last-mile services increased by 50% in the past 18 months. This has been largely driven by B2C e-commerce, but B2B is catching up.
“Increasingly, regardless of market, customers want the same consumer-like experience. As on-demand becomes standardized across markets, we can expect to see continued strong growth in last mile,” the authors of the paper wrote.
Logistics providers and pundits agree that B2C e-commerce is casting an ever-lengthening shadow over 3PLs’ activities in the B2B segment. More and more shippers expect capabilities that they experience in the former segment to come into play for their B2B logistics.
If final-mile capabilities are one tenet from B2C that is increasingly required in the B2B arena, another key element that is spilling over is visibility. Used to receiving status updates and messages of impending deliveries of personal orders, shippers and consignees demand similar transparency for their commercial shipments.
“Shippers expect more visibility,” confirmed Bob Imbriani, executive vice-president international at Team Worldwide
Some large operators are looking to blockchain for improved supply chain integrity and visibility. In collaboration with Accenture, DHL has developed and tested a working prototype to track pharmaceuticals from the point of origin to the consumer.
At large multinational 3PLs, which have moved to digitize much of their activity, visibility is shifting to digital platforms. At the beginning of March Kuehne + Nagel unveiled a new platform called KN ESP, which is supposed to offer a comprehensive and frictionless experience to manage physical as well as digital supply chains end-to-end. Shippers can connect through it with their vendors and customers as well as the logistics provider to control the full product life cycle.
Backed with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence, the system optimizes orders and prioritizes transportation decisions based on a set of business rules, cost and service options defined by the customer. K+N management described the platform as “part of our strategy to become a data-driven value chain provider.”
In addition to KN ESP, the logistics behemoth also launched a digital platform for sea freight services in a network that has access to over 3,000 vessels and over 750 direct weekly services. Beyond book, quote and tracking capabilities, the Sea Explorer platform offers service evaluations. Using big data technology and predictive analytics, it ranks services by smart indicators to give realistic transit times, nominal carrying capacity and emissions scores.
“Today, about 75% of the vessels arrive on time and volatile reliability in lead times is one of the biggest challenges customers face in managing their inventory levels adequately,” the company stated in the release about the new platform.
Albert Saphir, principal of logistics consultancy ABS Consulting, is not convinced that the migration of elements like booking and quotes to online functionality is going to move beyond the large multinationals.
“Yes, large players will use more sophisticated tools, both on the buyer and the provider side, but for smaller and mid-sized forwarders and their customers I don’t know how much benefit there would be,” he reflected.
“Putting out a price is one thing, actually following up on a shipment is a different matter,” he added.
Similar questions hover over the issue of sustainability. Large 3PLs have stressed this element, but little has emanated from the SME segment of the logistics provider scene.
“A drive towards sustainability is happening now. We see evidence that taking decisions in the interest of sustainability provides a source of innovation and growth for a lot of our customers and business partners,” said Angelos Orfanos, executive vice-president global marketing and sales, DHL Global Forwarding.
In early March, his company tabled a white paper on sustainable supply chain management which claims that, over and above environmental benefits, a sustainable approach to supply chains can help reduce costs – particularly in logistics, as a result of lower transportation costs and re-use of products and materials.
Faced with capacity issues and rising fuel costs, many logistics providers have more urgent priorities than sustainability or cloud-based predictive analytics. Still, shippers are bound to ask more questions about such elements.
By Ian Putzger
Correspondent | Toronto