coalescence in logistics

Geek versus nerd? Logistics teams need either one.

Why the constellations of staff in logistics and global trade teams will change. Or better: why you should change it. And as bonus: who’s doing it already.

Let’s start today with one of my Internet evergreens: the legendary clash between geeks and nerds by the US Internet comedy duo Rhett and Link. If you enjoy slightly screwy humor and rap music – take a look. Overacting stereotypical characteristics of contemporaries until (or beyond ;- ) recognition is powerful in good comedy.

So if you need something to raise your spirits – this is it. Watch for as long as it’s fun – or until you say “ah, yes, I know guys like these”. If it takes you longer than 30 seconds, we’re right in the middle of today’s topic.

Logistics teams will increasingly need such guys

Yeah yeah, you probably can’t hear it anymore: everything is becoming digital, or at least is getting digitized, and without real IT competency and data know-how these days, … yada yada yada. But today it’s not all about founding an IoT team (or “Industrie 4.0 Team”, as we might call it in Germany). Or about pushing consulting projects to develop new business models around your products. It’s also not about how to develop an app to stay in business.

Nope. It’s much more tangible and direct today. We’ve been observing a trend for a while – well, and admittedly, we’re supporting it, too: more and more logistics teams declare IT expertise as a standard component of their skills profiles. Geeks and nerds have become desirable team members! With this move, forward-looking companies are driving a two-fold objective: increasing stability and “flexibility capability” – at the same time. How so?

The role of IT is changing dramatically – even “totally without” IoT

Major cycles of the IT evolution have shown pendulum movements time after time. In the beginning, everything was new and individual programs were created for each business. Standardization followed and everything that required uniform, stable processes was put into a fixed framework.

Expectations were overblown at the time, and it was probably in the noughties of the 21st century, when this development reached its peak: the one system that can do everything, and that standardizes and automates everything – this was still the dream back in the day.

These were the days of giant implementation projects and mega budgets “just for IT”. Also the glorious times of the CeBIT and corporate IT teams, by the way. One of these days – when I have more time on my hands – I may take this topic up again, return to my original profession (I’m a historian, you know), and write the outline of the history of business IT.

Real logistics IT – 100% for standards and 100% for flexibility

And in that story of mine, the time around 2015/2016 will surely go down as the phase when we took a breather and, after sobering up, took a more realistic look at the role of IT: more relaxed – and more multi-dimensional. And as the time when geeks and nerds moved from corporate IT teams over to the business side. To engage there in implementing the new role of IT through real #doing.

Gartner calls this “bimodal”. It’s been recognized that you can’t have it both in one: Highly standardized processes – and adaptability that sets apart from the competition. But you can well have it both in one team. If you separate things neatly: in processes and solutions where standard systems are expected and available – and in innovative systems (or differentiating systems) that allow users to quickly do things completely differently. Like:

  • Offering a customer an individual delivery slot;
  • Making certain data, for example for customs clearance, available ahead of time;
  • Arranging special labelling for certain packages;
  • Whatever else the customer may come up with.

You can use standard software for this – if you want. But whether the processing speed will be sufficient (and the budget?) is another story. This may warrant a dedicated – and separate – post.

Back to the geeks and the nerds

Well, yes, I strayed from the subject. But I have actually made my point already. And you are well aware of this anyway: you need experts in your teams – both for the “separating” and for the following “flexibly adapting”. Just because of the speed of things, really.

And basically, because IT without business input and context, simply multiplies zeros and ones. And we all know nothing is really to be gained from that. So now it’s just a matter of acting upon it, right?

Marketing leads the way (yet again ;- ). But logistics is following almost just-in-time.

Do you have – or are you in – such a new kind of logistics-IT-team? Please let me know. We are currently looking for success stories on the topics. And we’re also interested in hearing about ongoing projects that haven’t led to success just yet.

You come across such team constellations more often in (surprise, surprise ;- ) – marketing. Daimler, for example, just founded a new digital unit, a team of 100 people for digital sales and marketing – read more on 50 of them will be geeks and nerds.

Will logistics teams soon have the same quota? We’re curious. We hope you are, too. Let me know your views – I am keen to hear about more examples – on XING, or LinkedIn.

P.S.: Some businesses come to the same conclusion also at a higher level. I was reminded of this last week when I read about BASF announcing Robert Blackburn’s decision to leave the company. Blackburn has been, and still is, leading the way when it comes to seeing and thinking for logistics and IT as a comprehensive whole. As a member of the board of the chemistry giant, he was responsible for – no surprise here either – information services and supply chain operations. Blackburn’s concept is proven by the fact that the company will stick to his principles – despite new leadership.