'Innovation is the driving force of competitivity'
Kurt Van Donink is both chairperson of Log!Ville and CEO of the Nike European Logistics Centre (Nike ELC) in Laakdal. The latter position means that he helms one of the biggest logistics companies in Flanders. Kurt is a firm believer in innovation as a powerful tool for remaining on top. He has taken the time to share with us his insights in innovation in the world of logistics and the role that Log!Ville can play.
Innovation makes all the difference and ensures that a company can stay on top. Unfortunately, I have noticed that the Flemish logistics industry is not the fastest when it comes to innovation, with little focus on data mining, data analytics, machine learning, automation, cloud computing and all the rest. Meanwhile, those embracing the new technologies become more competitive. These technologies are now being accelerated, which means that Log!Ville was born in the nick of time, given that there was no location for showcasing them and seeking inspiration.
What this means is that Log!Ville can become the spark that causes companies to focus on innovation. Because the mere awareness of the existence of something is often not sufficient, seeing innovative technology in action will spur investment in such innovations.
A given technology could already be mainstream in a specific industry and widely applied, but not yet in the world of logistics. This means that the required innovation could consist of extrapolating a concept to the logistics industry. The fact that Log!Ville is an open and neutral centre where a range of partners exhibit their solutions is a great advantage in this respect.
It is not only technology that is rapidly evolving, but the market too, making it a challenge to quickly and flexibly anticipate developments. I have already drafted multiyear plans for Nike ELC five times, which always features a step-by-step plan. And while the first step is always the right one, each time it turned out that the following step was no longer relevant, thanks to sudden marketplace changes. In our plan for our shoe distribution centre in Ham we anticipated that by 2023 ten percent of sales would be online sales – a serious underestimate, with thirty percent of sales already being e-sales, a figure that will hit fifty percent in the next few years. Flexible automation means that you can shift gears more rapidly.
There was a time when robots and cobots were relatively costly and were single-function only, effectively standalone computers. Today they are more flexible, receiving their orders through a transmitter that controls the mechanical parts, and soon 5G will raise that flexibility even further. However, companies must remain aware that increased robotisation will lead to different processes, different forms of automation and different synergies between humans and machines.
There are benefits to looking far ahead, as that allows you to focus. But the value that Log!Ville can mean to you is to be found in the present – knowing what is available today and what can quickly be implemented in your operations makes it easier to make that no-regret move.
Another reason why I believe so strongly in Log!Ville is that it not only gives companies an extra incentive to embark on innovation, it also facilitates interaction between business and developers. It is easier for logistics companies to dictate their needs, giving rise to a dynamic of creativity, and that also holds for interactions between the developers themselves. I am firmly convinced that Log!Ville will blossom as a location of co-creation where new logistics solutions are born.