"The world is changing, and so is the logistics and transportation industry. The opportunities and perspectives, as well as the dangers and risks arising from these changes, were the focus of this year's BCO Conference, held on September 26, 2023, in Antwerp, Belgium, at the invitation of XSTAFF GmbH.

Just as the industry has changed, the BCO Conference has also evolved significantly in recent years. What started as a management meeting in the fall of 2018 in Düsseldorf has become a high-profile event that, this year, not only attracted renowned speakers but also around 100 participants from Europe and Asia. An in-house trade show, held for the first time, allowed members and network partners to showcase their offerings, providing another valuable opportunity for networking and idea exchange.

Meeting Challenges with Innovation

Whether it's the effects of demographic changes, the consequences of climate change, or changes triggered by digital transformation, like many other industries, the logistics sector faces significant challenges. According to Dr Martin Schwemmer, Managing Director of the German Logistics Association (BVL), this situation didn't come as a surprise. ""The possibility of such scenarios arising has been known for a long time. However, we thought that global supply chains would be more resilient. In recent years, we have been proven wrong."" Nevertheless, he sees good prospects for tackling these global crises. ""The megatrends of our time have one thing in common: an innovative, technological component. This is where we can and should take action."" In the German market alone, which has a volume of 319 billion euros and contributes eight percent to the gross domestic product, there are currently numerous approaches to anchor sustainability more strongly in logistics. The focus areas include software development, infrastructure, data management, and network design. ""Start-ups are usually developing innovative solutions, especially for the B2B segment.

Their concepts show what happens when technology and innovation go hand in hand. This is the only way to make global value chains more digital, sustainable, and resilient."""

"Artificial Intelligence on the Rise

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to play a significant role in addressing these challenges. For Dr Max Pillong, Business Director at Lufthansa Industry Solutions, AI is an important topic with a lot of potential. ""With Chat GPT, there is already a very good offering that we have further developed for our Smart Assistant."" XSTAFF is now also relying on the innovative technology. Here, they are developing their own AI solution that adapts the advantages of the new technology to the requirements of the shipping companies. For project manager Christian Boekhoff, this is a promising approach that offers significant added value to customers. ""Whether it's capacity and route planning, the management of cargo and transport solutions, or error analysis, artificial intelligence can be used to benefit all stakeholders along the entire supply chain."" The pilot project has been running since the beginning of 2023, collecting, analyzing, and processing data from 12,000 shipments and around 130,000 estimated arrival times. The system is still in the testing phase, with a rollout planned for 2024.

More Actors Embrace Sustainable Solutions

Innovative developments are bringing further momentum to an industry already undergoing massive changes, says Jan Tiedemann, Senior Analyst at Alphaliner. ""Predicting what will happen in the market in 2024 is challenging. Most shipping companies are currently making good profits. However, it is already foreseeable that the era of large alliances is coming to an end. Of the top ten shipping companies, some will certainly slip into the red by 2025 at the latest."" Nevertheless, the expansion of transport capacities in a heavily consolidated market continues, partly due to the need to equip ships with sustainable technologies. ""The green transformation of fleets is underway, both in terms of ship design and equipment, as well as with regard to fuels. By 2024, approximately half of all ships entering the market will be powered by alternative fuels such as LNG, methanol, and ammonia.""

Other actors are also increasingly aligning their activities along the supply chain with sustainability criteria, including the Port of Antwerp/Bruges. The second-largest port in Europe, with an annual throughput of 287 million tons, aims to offer customers a wide range of alternative fuels in the future and thus contribute significantly to reducing CO2 emissions in international maritime shipping. The offering includes procuring fuels (LNG, methanol, ammonia, etc.) and providing them through a modern bunkering system," "supporting last-mile deliveries, and promoting alternatives. ""By 2025, we want to implement the so-called 'Green Shipping Corridor,' and I think we are on the right track,"" says Jan Cuyt, Business Development Advisor at the Port of Antwerp/Bruges.

Similar satisfaction is found at the Belgian Colruyt Group, co-founder of XSTAFF GmbH, along with COOP Swiss and the Spanish fashion companies Mango and Tendam. Colruyt has been working on the electrification of its vehicle fleet since 2005. ""It has always been important to us to contribute our own ideas and visions and to work together with manufacturers to find solutions. If that didn't work, we even built hybrid vehicles ourselves,"" recalls Peter Leonard with a smile, looking back on the beginnings. The goal is clear: to reduce the CO2 emissions of the entire fleet to zero by 2035. An ambitious undertaking that, according to sustainability expert and consultant Dr. Günther Bachmann, points in the right direction. ""We can't just talk about sustainability all the time; we also have to act. Sustainability is today, not tomorrow or the day after. It could already be too late then."" For the former Secretary-General of the German Council for Sustainable Development, it's about more than just individual measures: ""We need a paradigm shift. The old saying 'Business first, then the environment' simply doesn't work anymore. Today, the transformation of business is part of the business, and sustainability must come first.""

China Remains a Big Unknown

Innovative AI solutions, the conversion of shipping fleets, and infrastructure improvements—The BCO Conference has demonstrated how engaged the industry is in developing new and innovative solutions. Regardless, the logistics sector remains dependent on major geopolitical developments, which are significantly influenced by the situation in China. Felix Lee, a journalist and an excellent expert on the Chinese market, considers China to be stable despite declining economic data from the Middle Kingdom. ""The speed at which Chinese companies implement processes and develop products is still significantly higher than in most European countries. In many areas, China has reached a level that Europe will no longer be able to match."" For example, approximately 85 percent of solar systems worldwide are currently ""Made in China,"" and China is now the world's number one in electric mobility as well. To sustainably change the current status quo in relations with China, he believes a paradigm shift is needed: ""We should view China less as a systemic adversary and more as a competitor. This is where mutual understanding can be achieved, while the current discussion about values and ideals will likely remain fruitless."""

"BCO Conference 2024 in Hamburg

At the end of a varied day of events, the two Managing Partners of XSTAFF, Stephan Schiller and Antonios Rigalos, drew a thoroughly positive conclusion: ""We heard highly interesting presentations and experienced exciting discussions that made it clear how much potential there is in this industry, but also how big the challenges are that we still have to overcome,"" said Stephan Schiller, succinctly summarizing the results of the event, which for Antonios Rigalos also had a lot to offer in terms of team building and networking: ""With the premiere of the Marketplace, we have created a place that offers excellent opportunities for all players to engage in dialogue and exchange ideas. We will certainly offer this option again in 2024 in Hamburg, where the next BCO Conference will take place."""