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Eye for Transport recently published survey results on the biggest challenges for logistic providers in 2016. According to shippers, “lack of innovation, new ideas and solutions” is the single largest area where providers fall short.
There is no shortage of reasons why service providers struggle to innovate: budget constraints; dwindling head-count at IT departments; and IT vendors focusing on more attractive, sexier market segments (for airlines read “passenger travel”) do not help to take the logistics industry further.
Perhaps less obvious, but just as detrimental to progress, is the lack of attention that new initiatives are given by both shippers and service providers.
During the recent International Supply Chain Conference in Berlin, start-up companies active in the logistics industry said that this, rather than funding, was the biggest hurdle in bringing new ideas to market. For example, it is commonplace for them to wait for two to four months to get some face-time with their target clients.
And even if that meeting generates genuine interest, the follow-up encounter may well be many months later. This rhythm of ‘few-and-far-between meetings’ makes it difficult for innovative initiatives to thrive.
In the book The Lean Start-up, Eric Ries writes that, by definition innovative initiatives contain a lot of uncertainty around their potential applicability. He therefore advocates taking small incremental steps in order to avoid wasting large amounts of resources in the possibility the initiative comes to nothing.
However, this approach requires frequent interaction between the innovator and the target audience, because that is the only way the innovator could define and test these incremental steps.
This is further complicated by the fact that the organisational timeframe of innovators is often measured in days and weeks, while their audience often moves in months and quarters – and with the latter rhythm, it is very difficult to create the momentum innovative projects need.
So how does the industry as a whole extricate itself from this paradox and generate a more fertile ground from which innovate initiatives can flourish?
Pointing fingers, as does the Eye for Transport survey, seldom leads to progress.
Innovative solutions don’t just fall from the sky – they are mostly created through a series of small incremental steps, often resembling a string of Hegelian dialecticism: thesis, antithesis, synthesis, and so on. It would be far more constructive if all parts in the transport chain would become more open to new initiatives.
Freeing up time to allow executives the chance to interact more regularly with companies that are trying to change the status quo will surely boost the prospects of new successful initiatives becoming reality and actually changing things for good.
It reminds me of the recent IKEA slogan: “attention makes everything more beautiful!”
Niall van de Wouw is managing director of CLIVE. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org