99 Problems; One Solution to DEAL with them
This blog post by Margherita Forcolin originally appeared on 20 August on LogisticsArena.eu.
Communication and cooperation are essential when creating an efficient and flexible (logistical) network. ICT can provide an adequate environment to support real-time interaction between various actors.
Every logistic operation involves a network of people and organizations: the sender, the driver, the coordinator (planner), the administrator and the recipient. Each of them needs to interact and coordinate with (some of) the others, to obtain insight into the operation itself and to make further inquiries with specific people in the logistic chain. All these parties have different requirements, though they are all based on similar needs (ease and speed of getting to the required information, saving time, improving efficiency of procedures).
Can a single solution be applied to satisfy all these different needs and to bring these benefits? From the viewpoint of Information and Communication Technologies, the answer is "yes!".
In order to support all different actors in the logistic network, it is necessary to control the necessary information and to have a clear definition of the pieces of information every actor of the logistics network needs or has the right to access to, including data related to the other actors, the freight and the operations. Also, it is important to understand how each actor can most comfortably access the information, whether with a mouse click on his pc or a tap on his smartphone.
An ICT solution that provides these services is the DEAL platform, which gathers all information about the logistic process in the cloud. All players in the logistic network gain access to relevant information, through the right tools and devices – easily, at any time, anywhere. This way, the sender and the receiver can monitor the delivery process from their own office, administrations can quickly access operational and financial information to handle customer payments and feedback, the driver and logistics coordinator can react timely to changes and incidents, perform route planning and schedule changes. All players are informed quickly, can adapt to any change and effectively collaborate with each other and with partners.
Born from a research project among universities and logistics parties in the Netherlands, the platform has been made available on the market by the company DEAL Services.
Richard van Klaveren, graduated in Technical Informatics, worked for 8 years in the international defence environment, mainly focused on enabling interoperability in real-time information exchange. He specialised in logistics, and currently is the technical leader of DEAL Services, the innovative company originating from an R&D background, establishing horizontal and vertical collaboration solutions in the logistical chain.
We asked Richard a few question to better understand the innovative aspects and potentiality of the DEAL platform:
What is the main target of DEAL Services?
DEAL Services aims to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in the logistical chain, by making the relevant information available to the appropriate stakeholders in the logistical process. The focus is mainly on the real-time aspect, to facilitate coordination and communication and to apply on-the-fly adaptions in the foreseen activity. This solution is applicable to different markets, varying from the pick-up and delivery market (e.g. couriers), the services market (e.g. security services) to logistical processes in major (freight) ports.
What is the added value of the DEAL solution?
The DEAL Platform enables the different stakeholders within the logistical chain to coordinate and communicate in a timely fashion; helping them to gain insight, to influence the process and collaborate. This concept can be applied on different levels, starting from collaboration between drivers and coordinators (planners), but also considering horizontal collaboration among transporters by promoting freight exchange, and vertical collaboration for example between second-party and third-party logistics providers. For each type of collaboration, the aim is to enhance efficiency and effectiveness for all parties in a win-win scenario.
In addition to these types of collaboration, collaboration with non-logistical partners such as senders and receivers of packages or services is promoted by providing them with the relevant information that they need to influence the process and to collaborate with logistical parties.
How do you manage the centralization and (cloud based) distribution of the platform and services? How do these aspect interrelate?
The DEAL Platform is realized as a cloud solution, so from a conceptual perspective the platform is a centralized location where data of all customers is located. However, the cloud itself is distributed over multiple places, so physically the data is stored in a distributed fashion. Also, the platform itself is set up in a distributed way, as a multi-agent platform where the agents are loosely coupled using an event-based mechanism.
The services offered to a customer (as a Platform as a Service) are specific for that customer without interrelationship to other customers' data. However, by having the data of the other customers stored in the same platform, combining this data on pre-agreed authorization rules enables the identification of efficiency enhancements via collaboration.
Having a single (or centralized) distributed platform instance and a distributed customer base enables collaboration at different levels.
DEAL Services is a spin-off of Almende, born from the research project DEAL (Distributed Engine for Advanced Logistics, 2002 to 2007). What was the DEAL project about?
The DEAL project was about experimentation how distributed coordination can be used to support monitoring, last-minute planning and scheduling. The aim of the DEAL project was to speed up negotiations between different parties by using representation through software agents, increasing the number of examined alternatives as a result. The use of software agents also allows for an unlimited number of stakeholders to take part in negotiations, generating an overall optimal solution.
When did you first see the possibility to start a new company from a project? How did you pass from a project to a spin-off? Was this part of your exploitation and business plans?
Part of the DEAL project was to identify the potential market adoption of the researched solution and the potential costs that could be saved. Based on those prospects it was decided to start DEAL Services as a spin-off company of the DEAL project, using the results to build a product suitable for the logistical market. Since then, the spin-off company participated in 2 other research projects to further mature the scientific aspects of the technology, it has continued building a product based on the demonstrator developed in the DEAL project and started approaching the logistical market.
Which obstacles did you meet in the passage?
Multiple obstacles have been met, both from a commercial and a technical perspective. From a commercial perspective, the economical crisis reduced the willingness of the logistic market to invest in innovative solutions. In times of economic difficulty, such investments are generally postponed since they do not solve a day-to-day problem, but rather address future efficiency enhancements. Luckily, multiple commercial projects were adopted by the market, including a freight exchange concept among 7 Dutch transporters (Freightfactory), a project involving the recipients of day fresh vegetables (mostly restaurants) in the logistic process, and the adoption of the DEAL Platform for real-time coordination and communication by TNT Express' special services, allowing sub-contractors to coordinate and communicate with the TNT agent.
Has the DEAL Platform evolved from the results of the DEAL project?
The results of the DEAL project was mainly a set of demonstrators, applicable in a controlled environment and potentially interesting concepts. Based on inputs from the market and new insights, these demonstrators have evolved into a robust product applicable for use in practice. In addition, the concepts have matured and enhancements to the DEAL Platform have been made to also include non-logistical stakeholders like the recipients and senders.