Interview • 26.04.2023

"We work with digital triplets"

Interview with the DAKOSY CEOs

Digital twins are "in", blockchain in logistics is "out". But which digitalization trends really make sense for the logistics industry in terms of resilience, time and quality benefits? In an interview with DAKOSY magazine, CEOs Dieter Spark and Ulrich Wrage talk about the "top" digital twins, platform economy and sustainability.

A talk with the DAKOSY board members for
the editorial of the magazine

(from left: Dieter Spark, Ulrich Wrage)

What do you see as the most important digitalization trends for logistics?   

Dieter Spark: For me, the most important recognizable trend is the digital twin. The topic is clearly gaining momentum, as evidenced by the ever expanding and intensifying possibilities for using it. The term digital twin initially referred to merely visualizing the state of objects. In the meantime, it is applied more broadly. With regard to the transport of goods or a logistics project, a digital twin maps the entire process chain. This trend is closely linked to the platform economy and collaboration. In logistics, the mapping of digital twins usually requires the data of all parties involved in the transport chain to be consolidated on a neutral platform.

Ulrich Wrage: Classic digital twins, i.e. data gathered using sensors, are only of limited help when it comes to supply chain transparency. For example, a chip attached to the container only provides information about where the freight is located right now. That's not enough. That's why we have been working with "digital triplets." In addition to the "where," status information and planning data relating to the transports of the different participants involved are incorporated into these triplets. Only this mixture offers real added value.

"For me, the most important recognizable trend is the digital twin. The topic is clearly gaining momentum, as evidenced by the ever expanding and intensifying possibilities for using it."

Dieter Spark, DAKOSY board member

Where does DAKOSY use these digital twins or "triplets"?

Spark: We digitally map the process chains for sea and air freight - by planning them out even before they physically take place. Our platforms, the Port Community System at the Port of Hamburg and the FAIR@link Cargo Community Platform at Frankfurt Airport, combine both target and actual data. This information can be used to draw conclusions, also with a view to resilience. With the help of our platforms and with the inclusion of artificial intelligence, our customers can know days in advance when planned deliveries will be delayed due to vessel holdups or customs clearance issues. This gives logistics, industry and commercial operators a maximum time window in which to prepare themselves logistically for these situations.

To what extent will data obtained from Internet of Things (IOT) sources also be included?

Wrage: We use IOT as a data source for the digital twin at the Port of Hamburg and Frankfurt Airport for slot booking, among other things. For example, before entering Cargo City Süd at Frankfurt Airport, a Fraport camera records the truck license plate number. Based on a comparison with the system, the barrier only opens if there is a corresponding slot booking. Another example would be the AIS antennas on the Elbe which report the current positions of container ships. This sensor data flows into our platforms and becomes status information there.

How can supply chain visibility in the Port of Hamburg be further improved?

Spark: When it comes to collaboration, we should not only be focusing on actual data, but also be relying more on planning data. This data is an important key to speeding up processes. A concrete example is the terminal handling of import containers. A ship unloading 4,000 to 5,000 containers usually takes two to three days. At present, freight forwarders and trucking companies can only schedule the subsequent truck runs for the final unloading day at the earliest, as it is not sufficiently transparent in advance when the designated container will become available. However, half to two-thirds of the containers could theoretically reach the recipient one to two days earlier if the planned unloading data could also be used within our platform. This would also reduce peak times at the terminals and ease congestion in the port, among other benefits.

Many companies are currently addressing the topic of the platform economy. Why now?  

Spark: I believe there is a broad consensus that digital platforms can be used to optimize information flows and data exchange with all participants in the transport chain. As a result of declining cargo volumes triggered by the consumer downturn, companies now have the resources to look at digital optimization in terms of processes. The last two years have been pivotal to the trend. The new movement towards a more platform-based economy got a big push. However, during that time all capacities were tied up in operations. Now a kind of digital catch-up effect is taking place.

At the end of 2022, Maersk and IBM announced the end of the supply chain service TradeLens. Why was the solution not successful, even though it mapped nearly half of the world's container traffic?

Wrage: The problem was the concentration on the shipping side of the market. Other leading carriers joined the platform initiated by Maersk and IBM. At the same time, competition between forwarders and shipping companies increased for pre-carriage and on-carriage services, which the shipping companies are increasingly looking to handle themselves. Maersk in particular is aggressively expanding its logistics business and is now one of the world's largest players in this sector. In such a competitive environment, freight forwarders were not willing to provide their data to the supply chain service TradeLens. The bottom line is that the main reason for the failure was the lack of platform neutrality.

To what extent was the failure also due to the blockchain technology used, and is the technology actually suitable for logistics?

Spark: TradeLens did not fail because of blockchain, but for the reasons already mentioned. In general, it is uncertain if and when blockchain will become commonly used in the logistics industry. One of the main strengths of this technology is absolute transparency across the entire chain, which makes it particularly interesting for financial transactions. Within the supply chain, however, it is important that only authorized parties have access to certain data and that not all information is freely available, due to the competitive situation.

This contradicts the principle of blockchain. In addition, issues of interoperability, for instance standardization, have not been resolved. The development of software is also far more complex than with normal platforms.

How do you rate open source solutions as alternatives for data consolidation between different parties along the transport chain?

Wrage: Cross-sectional functionalities, such as the digital bill of lading, do not have to be newly programmed by every provider. For this, open source solutions could absolutely become an alternative. As a software service provider, we are in a position to technically integrate open-source elements. However, issues such as support and liability must be clarified in advance. After all, we have a duty to our customers to ensure that our solutions work.

What role can your platforms play in the exchange of sustainability data?

Spark: Just as today we know where the shipment is in terms of tracking, in a few years it will be a matter of course that we will also be able to determine the associated emissions. In the future, everyone involved in transport will have to prove the volume of emissions generated on their leg of the journey. We can bring this data together for the entire supply chain. That's the next collaboration project we're tackling. After all, we already map both the planning and actual data for air and sea freight supply chains through our platforms. It is therefore only a logical extension to also exchange sustainability data via these platforms.


"Cross-sectional functionalities, such as the digital bill of lading, do not have to be newly programmed by every provider. For this, open source solutions could absolutely become an alternative."

Ulrich Wrage, DAKOSY board member

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