AI Planner of the Future bridging the gap between the academic approach and practical experience in the industry
Interview Eddy Dekker, DB Schenker
Abdo Abouelrous, researcher at AI Planner of the Future, interviewed Eddy Dekker, Head of Business Architecture & PMO Benelux at DB Schenker to bridge the gap between the academic approach Abdo has as a researcher and the years of practical experience Eddy has in the traditional transport industry.
1. Maybe some background information on yourself? Where were you born/ did you grow up? What did you study?
a. I was actually born in a town in the eastern part of the Netherlands, in the Overijssel province. As a teenager, at one point, I faced some difficulties in terms of getting the right attention and finding the motivation to excel at school. That’s when I decided to take a change of course and to pursue a more practical study path in the field of logistics.
b. When it came to choosing a study, I went with Transportation Management. It provided me with the opportunity to make progress in my journey to my first job.
2. How did you make the transition into Logistics services sector?
a. In my final year of studies, I had the opportunity to intern at DB Schenker, which was my first exposure to the company I currently work for. Concurrently, I also pursued evening classes in logistics management, allowing me to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the subject and its practical application within business operations.
3. Maybe some information on your customer base?
a. DB Schenker, has a very broad customer base. In general, we transport everything that is on a pallet except for maybe dangerous chemicals such as nuclear waste for example. We mostly deal with B2B transportation of goods such as consumer electronics, automotive parts and certain fast moving consumer goods. Within the Benelux, our infrastructure is not optimized for parcel deliveries, although we have one product that offers a business to consumer delivery.
b. We offer logistics solutions for all modalities such as road, air and ocean freight and also offer contract logistics, mostly warehousing operations. The customer base I deal with is mostly concerned with road transport, which is especially strong in Europe and I would say the is biggest division of DB Schenker. In the Benelux region, we’re very strongly oriented on cross-border transportation.
4. What about contact with consumers? Is this a significant aspect of your operations?
a. On one hand there are the small medium enterprise customers to whom we offer our online platform which is an easy way to just start the cooperation for your pallet deliveries. For service requests the customers reach out to our Customer Services teams. For customers of a bigger scale, there’s an extensive integration process before we do business. We start our sales process by analyzing the requirements and needs of our customers, ensuring that we can propose tailored solutions to meet their specific demands. Upon reaching a mutual understanding of how we can best serve the customer, we proceed with the business transaction. Our commercial organization will seeks insights from my team during the solution design phase.
b. Following that, we start an implementation trajectory that often involves data integration projects. These projects play a crucial role in seamlessly incorporating our solutions into the customer’s existing infrastructure. Once the implementation is successfully completed and, we go the extra mile by providing dedicated customer service teams. These teams ensure consistent and proactive communication with our customers, keeping them well-informed about any updates, improvements, or relevant information pertaining to our services. This continuous engagement helps grow strong relationships and ensures that our customers receive ongoing support and satisfaction.
5. What are the major challenges associated with the industry in general?
a. Well, of course. One of the biggest challenges we have as a company, but also as an industry is the environmental topic. Historically, we’re seen as a polluting industry and we know that we need to be front runners to change that by delivering cleaner and more sustainable solutions. We are working hard to become carbon-neutral in the future and to comply with the EU Green Deal.
b. One of the challenges we face is the evolving customer demand over time. While lead time and price used to be the primary concerns for customers in the past, their expectations have shifted. Nowadays, customers are increasingly interested in various forms of integration with different entities in their supply chain. They seek to enhance their processes through digitalization and the seamless integration of data. As a company, it is our aspiration to be at the forefront of this trend and become leaders in providing the integration solutions that our customers are seeking.
6. You are the head of a team. Who do you choose to hire? What academic background would someone need? What about their personal traits?
a. I lead the team responsible for business architecture and project management within our organization. Business architecture serves as the bridge between operations and IT. As we envision the future, we recognize that the key factors that set us apart from competitors are the innovations brought about by digitization. When I assess the individuals in my team, I observe their inherent interest in IT and their drive to be efficient and solution-oriented. This is crucial because in order to define effective IT solutions, it is imperative to have a deep understanding of the capabilities and possibilities offered by IT and software.
b. And when I look at their academic background, I would say having at least some background in transportation or logistics would help. You need to understand the supply chain to understand the demands of our customers. Having a technical background where you attain a multitude of analytical skills is certainly of interest as well. Analytical skills are key to notice the effect of a change in a certain process. And so small changes on one end might lead to considerable results on the other.
c. Personally, when I look for personal traits, I seek people who are accurate and detailed to make sure that we cover every aspect of our operations. But on the other hand, we also need people that can think outside the box and challenge the status quo. That’s a very important skill as well to find a solution which is not an obvious one because obvious ones have probably already been tested and tried out before. From my experience, crazy ideas were usually the best ideas. Even when some of those ideas seemed impossible at first, having the right skillset and mindset would help make them possible. And that also brings fun when I look at the people in my team, they really enjoy when they manage to deliver a special solution that was a surprise to everyone else.
Our primary focus includes a wide range of activities, from the initial booking to the final mile delivery, covering all the stages in between. Consequently, it is likely that you will be work on multiple projects simultaneously. Managing such a workload can be stressful, and some individuals may find it challenging. However, it also ensures that the work environment remains consistently dynamic, offering a constant stream of engaging tasks, making it far from boring.
7. What can your clients particularly do to facilitate your service provision?
a. One of the challenges we face is when customers make improvements to their internal operations, such as their warehousing processes, that may conflict with our ability to serve them efficiently. For example, they may require us to provide pre-alerts and set stricter time-windows, which can complicate our planning. In such situations, effective communication becomes crucial to finding mutually beneficial solutions that don’t hinder our operational flexibility. Additionally, utilizing our online service can significantly save time in exchanging information with us.
b. Data consistency and even data quality I would say is a topic of huge importance. I mean think of all the variances you can have recording a street address across Europe. We of course also like to receive shipment dimensions and weight because that determines the capacity shipments take on our vehicles. The better and earlier we know these specifications, the better we can anticipate and calculate the capacity needed.
8. Can Policy-makers also help?
a. Policymakers are there in close contact with the industry in Europe. Although, we generally have open borders, we still see that some countries that implement new legislation such as Hungary, Romania and Poland. Such legislation may require some administrative processes on the customer’s side before they can ship anything there.
b. The European Union also strives to protect drivers’ rights and competition, which is surely a good thing. But it sometimes leads to planning complications. For instance, you have to make detours in order to make sure that your drivers get enough rest. It would help if all these things are balanced out a bit better sometimes.
9. In the AI Planner program, we have multiple PhD projects researching last-mile deliveries. Do you have any advice for us or general researchers?
a. It is important to bridge the gap between the academic approach you have as a researcher and the traditional industry that transportation is. Every now and then , I learn about great solutions, but getting it to industry is the real challenge. Think of an AI vehicle routing algorithm that gives us optimal results. There’s always the risk that the dispatcher that needs to implement the routing does not fully understand the decisions that the algorithm made, so they revert to their gut feeling and use routings based on their practical experience. Hopefully with the right change management, we can overcome this. But it would also help if the algorithms responsible for decision making are more transparent and explainable.
b. Nonetheless, don’t be hindered too much by my advice because that might really limit your outside the box approach. Rather, explore new areas and possibilities.
10. Any remarks on the future of Logistics Services Industry?
a. I would say that in Europe where the Green Deal has been presented a while ago by Mr. Timmermans. I think that will impact the logistics service industry in the years to come. We also might see more autonomous operated internal logistics.
b. I also think the shipment size will reduce in some way, as the consumer market will demand more, leading to more B2C deliveries. In bigger cities, I expect to see lots of drop off points outside the bigger cities where you have to drop your shipments in order to be consolidated and delivered more efficiently inside the city boundaries.