IMPRESSIONS

On November 21 and 22, 2017, Roland Berger hosted the Urban Logistics Convention in Amsterdam, together with the German Federal Logistics Association (BVL) and supported by the Dutch and French logistics associations VLM and ASLOG. The convention was the fourth event of its kind, following two Aviation Conventions in 2013 and 2015 and an Urban Mobility Convention in 2014.

More than 100 top-level experts representing almost all stakeholders in the industry (corporations, start-ups, research, and policy makers) convened in Amsterdam to share insights, plans and ideas. Participating corporations and institutions included UPS, DPD, Bpost, Deutsche Post DHL, Zalando, La Poste, FM Logistics and Foodora as well as representatives of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the University of Rome and the World Economic Forum.

Presentations and discussions centered on current and future developments in the European logistics industry. After setting the scene for the evolving ecosystem of urban logistics, the convention focused on cooperative models, the role of technology, new business models, and about challenges implementing urban logistics solutions.
What follows is a summary of the five main topics addressed during the convention.

  1. Customers increasingly expect delivery as soon as possible against no or minimal fee, but the surge in traffic is taking an environmental toll
    Although logistics has its costs, the majority of customers expect free delivery, and retailers act on it: More than half of orders now include free delivery. This offer seems to be essential to enable the players gaining market share.
    Even if the share of e-commerce in urban traffic is marginal, a contagion effect on B2B, which constitutes the bulk of flows, is very likely. Thus, although freight transport is not the main cause of urban congestion, the search for solutions to manage the fragmentation and growth of traffic flows is essential.
  2. New economically viable cooperative models need to be defined. Greater interoperability between actors has to be encouraged
    Finding urban logistics solutions that maximize efficiency while minimizing adverse environmental and social impact in ever-denser cities is a collective challenge. New models of cooperation must be defined while maintaining a fair competitive environment; projects and pilots must succeed in bringing together the know-how and resources of researchers, local authorities, shippers and transport operators to achieve economically viable initiatives. Otherwise, the vast majority of initiatives are doomed to failure. In the long term, greater interoperability between players should facilitate this collaboration by reducing interface costs. The “physical internet” could be a good source of inspiration.
  3. Open systems for urban logistics data collection should enable governments to better guide their initiatives
    Every city needs its own logistics approach: While best practices can be transferred, solutions for the logistical configuration have to be defined on a case-by-case basis. In addition to regulatory frameworks, governments have been creative in combining calls for projects, e.g. in the context of public procurement, provision of consolidation infrastructure, or dynamic allocation of loading zones. Beyond these initiatives, governments must anticipate and develop a thorough understanding of the often contradictory objectives and future expectations of stakeholders in order to make the best decisions for the city. To this end, it is essential to set up systems for collecting and sharing data on urban logistics. The vast majority of these systems do not exist today.
  4. Faced with the increased scarcity of urban logistics real estate, future infrastructure will have to be more creative
    After a period where warehouses have moved away from city centers, they now seem to come back downtown in order to meet the demands of speed and service. Faced with the scarcity of logistical real estate near the centers, new solutions will have to be thought of to compress space (by automation for example) or to provide more vertical warehouses (similar to the warehouses of Asian megacities). The use of multipurpose infrastructure (logistics and urban agriculture, logistics and housing) is also being considered by the largest developers.
  5. Technological innovation will increase productivity– but it will not be enough to build new, disruptive logistic models. A European interoperability standard is needed
    Innovations like drones, robots, digital platforms, or IoT that essentially aim at optimizing the existing systems will probably just absorb the growth, or even reduce unit costs at best. The great technological achievements can, however, be a source of inspiration for finding new models of collaboration such as that of the blockchain. A reliable model, traceable, but respecting confidentiality, decentralized, but organized, at a lower marginal cost and infinitely re-dimensionable.  Whatever the technical solution adopted will be, it seems essential to work on the definition of European interoperability standards – so not to be imposed otherwise.

Many different voices came to the table, from all corners of the logistics space, making the Urban Logistics Convention a successful and productive event. Our discussions made it clear that finding sustainable urban logistics solutions in ever denser cities is a collective challenge.

So what’s next? We recommend working with all stakeholders to build a common understanding of today’s and tomorrow’s challenges – this will serve as the basis for collaborative solutions down the road. Stakeholders could entail governments, carriers, retailers, academia, and technology providers, as well as food delivery services and people movers. Topics like sharing data (real-time and otherwise), improving city readiness, smart tendering, consolidation centers and push-to-pull delivery should be put on the agendas across the logistics industry. We are all responsible for tackling the challenges ahead – together.