Larger, international forwarding and logistics companies have been leading the way in digitalization for many years, while smaller forwarding companies usually have far fewer resources for this. Nevertheless, these companies have been extremely successful across generations, work in a highly specialized niche and fulfil important functions there. However, a genuine digitalization strategy often fails in day-to-day operations. The standard software of the relevant IT providers runs and runs and runs … It is not easy to change a proven system. Otherwise, you will only have trouble.

And now open source? »If it doesn’t cost anything, it’s no good« – that’s how many potential users of open source software in logistics have summed up their skepticism in recent years. But this attitude is now changing. In fact, more and more companies are asking themselves how they can participate in open source solutions, that the entry hurdles are low – that it really costs nothing, exactly because it is good for something …

Platforms drive open source

This development is driven by the growing importance of platforms. After the well-known developments in the B2C sector, logistics platforms for the B2B sector are increasingly being seen as an opportunity to make processes more efficient and transparent. This includes open source platforms, such as those developed by Fraunhofer IML as part of its Silicon Economy projects. These include, for example, arrival time forecasts. Here, an AI-supported ETA service improves the connectivity of intermodal transports and the exact determination and, if necessary, adjustment of the total transport duration in real time. In addition, components for digital load carrier management have been developed, which were already incorporated into a platform of the Logistikbude start-up, a spin-off from Fraunhofer IML. Of particular importance, of course, is the digital consignment note, for which open source components are being developed in another »Silicon Economy« project. At the same time, a so-called e-freight folder is being developed – a digital wallet to accompany truck transportations, in which further important documents can be stored in addition to the digital consignment note.

The development of platforms will be accelerated by the EU regulation on electronic freight transport information (eFTI), which will come into force in 2020. It obliges the authorities of the member states to accept legally required information in the transport of goods, such as consignment notes, in electronic form. Within the context of the Digital Transport & Logistics Forum (DTLF) of the European Union, an Electronic Freight Transport Information Platform is currently being set up, which follows the principle of the Silicon Economy. It is organized in a decentralized way – there is no central provider. Companies can therefore coexist, build their own platform and connect them with each other.

This goes hand in hand with the establishment of an open community – and according to European values: despite having significantly greater market power, a large international freight forwarder has no more influence on shaping the market here than a medium-sized freight forwarding company. Despite having significantly greater market power, a large international freight forwarder has no more influence on the design than a medium-sized freight forwarder. All companies have a responsibility to their customers to keep pace with the new digital possibilities.

Fearless, courageous and innovative

In fact, only compatible companies will be successful in logistics in the long run. Those that are not compatible will disappear from the market. But compatibility requires a special mindset: it is about forming interdisciplinary teams, involving customers in projects, quickly developing prototypes or new processes and then finding and eliminating the mistakes. The mindset of tomorrow’s logistics companies is to be fearless, courageous and innovative and it has to say goodbye to beliefs such as: »We never did it that way«. This mindset also makes it easier to deal with IT and makes it much more powerful.

Research laid the foundation with the »Silicon Economy« and the Open Logistics Foundation, founded in 2021, enables companies to commit to open source. By becoming members of Open Logistics e. V., the Open Logistics Foundation’s support association, they can actively participate in the development of open source software, initiate their own projects under the umbrella of the foundation. Participation in the software development of ongoing projects is even possible without being a member. This means that small and medium-sized forwarding companies now also have the chance to help shape and participate in the new developments. It is in their interest and in the interest of logistics as a whole that they benefit from this opportunity. The time has come!