We’ve written before about the big changes being faced by the European shipping industry right now. Over the past couple of years, I’ve had a firsthand look at how the industry is shifting in Europe as I’ve worked with hundreds of drivers, carriers and freight forwarders all across the continent.

Last week, I sat down with some pretty incredible individuals: Artur Kreft of PKS Gdansk, Thies Grage of Hoyer Group, Antoine Le Squeren of Fretlink and Emilio Lopez Martin of Berger Logistik. They were all selected as panelists for our latest European carrier and freight forwarder virtual summit – the continent’s largest to date. All are leaders in the European carrier and freight forwarder industry, and I have learned a great deal from them about the many challenges surrounding this sector in Europe. Cost pressures, emissions requirements, customer demands for operational excellence, aging drivers and the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources were just a few of the topics we discussed during our hour-long conversation.

Here are the key lessons I came away with from our discussion.

Lifting the Veil

As challenges mount for logistics organizations around the world, I’m reminded of something we say all the time here at FourKites: You can’t fix what you can’t see. Without accurate, up-to-date information on delays, statuses and locations of your shipments and supplies, improving efficiency in your operations is like taking a shot in the dark. Even though by now I hope this is starting to feel like common knowledge, European supply chain leaders have had this idea top of mind for longer than most.

Supply chain visibility is not exactly a new idea, especially in Europe. As Thies mentioned during our panel, the idea of supply chain visibility has existed in Europe since at least the 1990s. The difference, he said, is that the capabilities of modern visibility technologies are head and shoulders above what was possible even a few years ago.

The improvements in advanced telematics alone have changed the game for many carriers and freight forwarders, allowing them to take steps toward resolving supply chain issues long before their customers are impacted by them. The advent of Internet of Things technologies, meanwhile, offer tempting new opportunities for forward-thinking companies to better monitor temperature, pressure, fuel levels and more – making it less likely that minor problems would compound into larger ones.

The main lesson I found in all this is not that new either, but it’s as important now as it ever has been. No matter how advanced or effective our tools and technology have become, the real force driving our industry’s constant improvements in sustainability, efficiency and productivity are the people who put those tools to use each day. Likewise, no matter how far we’ve come or how much we’ve improved, there will always be those looking for new ways to squeeze just a little more performance out of their operations. Those are the people who are truly moving the world forward.

Before we started to work with FourKites, we only had rudimentary track-and-trace. That’s a big leap.

– Artur Kreft, PKS Gdansk

Building from the Ground Up

The summit served as an indispensable reminder of how unique Europe is as a supply chain nexus, and how succeeding here requires a vastly different approach than in other parts of the world.

Europe is an incredibly fragmented place. There are 24 official languages, and closer to 200 different languages are actually spoken throughout the continent. There are dozens of national borders, many of which can have long and highly variable wait times to cross. And, as we’ve recently observed, the multimodal freight ecosystem throughout Europe is shifting dramatically in the face of COVID and other global disruptions.

Amid all of this fragmentation and decentralization, the number of different pieces of the supply chain puzzle is staggering. If you’re going to fix its inefficiencies, you’ve got to first see where they are. Then, if you’re going to truly visualize the entire picture of your supply chain, you’ve got to bring all of those fragmented pieces together into a single pane of glass.

Actually realising this is easier said than done, however. The United States had the benefit of a top-down approach: the ELD Mandate. Europe has no such impetus for change. Here, improvement will have to come from the bottom up, and it’s clear that the continent is already well on its way.

Balancing Privacy and Trust

But here’s the other unique challenge of implementing a new technology solution in Europe: Any change you make to your supply chain must be balanced with privacy. The European Union has some of the most robust privacy protections in the world. GDPR is just the latest development in a commitment to privacy and individual rights that stretches back centuries, but it also presents unique challenges to asset-based carriers and freight forwarders, who find that using certain forms of tracking, such as smartphone GPS, is no longer a viable option.

How do you reconcile that with the notion that end-to-end visibility will likely improve the level of trust among all members of the supply chain ecosystem? We may not have all the answers yet, but the gentlemen I sat down with earlier this week are certainly working their way toward them. As Antoine stated during our panel, “The key is being able to say ‘No, I don’t want to track the driver. I just want to track the asset.'”

Thies agreed, and noted that this kind of incremental improvement may start with one company at a time, but it doesn’t stop there. With FourKites’ help, Hoyer Group has begun to set the standard for visibility throughout the continent, building frameworks and processes for visibility at not only the company level, but at the industry and national level as well. The more carriers who join, the more powerful the system becomes.

If you were unable to join us at last week’s event, you can watch the full recap here. If you have any questions about FourKites services and coverage in Europe, please contact us at hello@fourkites.com.

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