Since KLU was founded, its research and teaching emphasis has been on logistics and management. In order to bring even more focus to the university’s profile and to enhance cross-disciplinary interaction, KLU is implementing a new structure based on Key Competence Areas (KCA).
With its KCA approach, KLU is responding to current developments – not only in the fields of logistics and management, but also in society. “We have identified the three areas we believe will be of great importance in the future: Digital Transformation, Creating Value, and Sustainability, each for the benefit of transportation, global logistics, and supply chain management. They will change entire industries,” explained Thomas Strothotte, president of KLU. “Here at KLU, we want to do our share to identify, contextualize, explain, and push the developments in these areas.”
The Key Competence Areas will create new connections between different fields and disciplines, as well as between scientific research and practice. “Our aim is to formulate first-class academic insights and then transfer our knowledge to people who are in positions to apply it in their professional environments,” said Strothotte. The approach foresees interdisciplinary research teams working together and new research projects in cooperation with business active in the fields of transportation, global logistics, and supply chain management.
“Other technological developments have rarely had a comparable impact,” said André Ludwig, Associate Professor of Computer Science in Logistics and spokesperson for the Digital Transformation KCA. “The ongoing progress in the information and communication technologies has changed the way in which individuals, societies, organizations, and businesses communicate, collaborate, operate, and make decisions – and will continue to do so.” Reason enough for KLU to call one of its Key Competence Areas Digital Transformation. This KCA will cover topics such as big data, automation, and decentralization. It will take a close look at phenomena like smart objects, 3D printing, and algorithmic approaches to decision-making.
One of Ludwig’s own research papers is the perfect example of the scientific work in this KCA. “We have been looking at ways to ensure data privacy in online networks,” Ludwig explained. “In most social networks, your data is saved in one central location and used for commercial purposes. With the prototype we developed, users can take advantage of a decentralized cloud-based service to store their data. They regain control over their data and can determine who gets access to which information.”
Increased competition in mature markets and growing pressure through new entrants from emerging economies has made shareholder value increasingly relevant. “The first reaction to this phenomenon was managerial concepts focused on bottom-line measures,” summarized Kai Hoberg, Associate Professor of Supply Chain and Operations Strategy and spokesperson for the Creating Value KCA. “They called for programs aimed at increasing efficiency, reducing failure rates, and cutting costs.” However, a new approach to growing shareholder value is gaining traction – the focus on value creation. The idea is to leverage hidden potential and stimulate creative solutions to developing new sources of value for companies. Doing so shifts the focus from the bottom line to the top line. Sources of hidden potential can be found in all elements of the corporate framework. They include employees, who can be qualified to better serve stakeholder requirements; customers, who can be motivated to spread information by word of mouth and act as co-innovators; and managers, who learn to create sustained team motivation with means other than financial incentives. Customer-centric processes in logistics and SCM increase the value of provided services, while the improved utilization of intangibles such as brands enables higher margins.
A current article by Hoberg in cooperation with McKinsey & Company illustrates the relationship. “We are looking at ways in which supply chain management and logistics can improve the customer experience,” he said. “There are several technologies that will have an impact on customer experience, ranging from real-time planning and digital manufacturing to no-touch order processing and new delivery options. Companies need to identify the ones that best suit their business environment and customers.”
Sustainability has emerged as a central issue in today’s business world. Environmental issues such as global warming, the rise in waste and pollution, and dwindling natural resources need to be tackled. At the same time, societal issues such as health, safety, equality, fairness and development are more important than ever. This has put unprecedented pressure on companies to realign their businesses while remaining profitable and competitive. “Governments around the globe are taking measures to shift from the traditional linear economic model based on a ‘take-make-consume-throw away’ pattern to a more circular, sustainable economic model based on sharing, leasing, reuse, repair, refurbishment, and recycling,” explained Asvin Goel, Associate Professor of Logistics & Supply Chain Management and the Sustainability KCA’s spokesperson. Similarly, global warming is changing the way governments and businesses need to think about carbon emissions. On the societal level, an increased awareness of socially responsible development is pushing companies and governments to design operations and supply chains that take their direct impact on society into consideration. Their deliberations now include aspects such as employment, the development of local communities and humanitarian or disaster relief operations.
In one of his research papers, Goel looks at the importance of working conditions. “The paper analyses the impact of working hour regulations in road freight transportation,” Goel said. “Although longer driving times contribute to reduced transportation costs, they also lead to higher fatigue-related accident rates. We have developed a methodology to help transport companies and policy makers identify the ideal balance between efficiency and safety.”