It’s Time To Experiment
One theme I heard a lot about was the importance of experimentation. While this idea comes up at US events as well, it seems to be taken more for granted. One speaker from Schneider Electric talked about some ways his organization has had to re-think their approach, including relaxing their requirement that projects have a 3 year payback to get funded. A speaker from Novartis described how his organization rolled out new technology by focusing on the most critical first and building from there. These may seem like fairly obvious ideas, but it's worth noting that many large companies still struggle with how to get started with new technology.
Europe Is More Complicated
Other topics at the event reflected more significant differences between Europe and the US. Supply and Operations Planning (“S&OP”) was an especially big theme, in part because of the complexities of operating across Europe. While theoretically one market, the EU still represents a special challenge for planners because each country or region has different traditions, tastes, and seasons, making it even more complicated to project demand than in the US. I heard examples of this trend from companies selling everything from children's clothing and automobile tires. Speaking to an executive from a leading European children’s clothing brand, I learned that in addition to adapting to different tastes and rates of change in different countries, he also has to plan for additional procession steps in preparing fabric to comply with safety requirements like flammability. These extra steps add months to his production cycle, over and above the normal challenges of the fast-moving fashion industry.
More relevant to the Tive business, I also heard a lot about theft of in-transit goods. In Europe, organized gangs regularly steal product from trucks, often when the driver stops for the night at a rest stop. One head of security described how a gang was able to pull up behind a moving truck, enter the truck, remove product, and drive away, all without the driver even noticing. This has led to a lot of interest in real-time tracking of goods to help detect and prevent such theft.
China Is On Everyone’s Mind
China is a big topic at every conference, but at this event in particular I heard a lot about the rise of the 'new Silk Road', or the increasing shipment of goods from China to Europe over land via new roads and railroads. This route is quicker than ocean freight and cheaper than air freight, so it is attractive to many shippers. One challenge is the wide array of weather conditions the shipment will encounter as it crosses many thousands of miles - some of those miles through extremely challenging conditions. This is another area where shippers are exploring real-time monitoring of goods as they try to understand what is actually happening to their shipment as it travels.
Some Things Remain The Same
In addition to the inevitable blockchain session, other topics are common across all events - the impact of trade barriers, the rise of ecommerce, the challenges of 'big data'. It was interesting to see the European spin on many of these topics, often slightly different from the American take. I enjoyed meeting so many European executives, and I look forward to our next event in Europe to see how these themes continue to develop.