European Business: With the help of algorithms, you optimize transport routes for different clients - from cargo-bike services to freight forwarding. What challenges does your company have to overcome and how does your product work?
Monja Mühling: We see our technology as cross sector, because through our complex data science we can already deal with a high level of complexity. Naturally, in use, there are some differences in customer approach, but Smartlane can add value to any sector.
The principle of our product is, at the end of the day, always the same. Complying with set parameters of restrictions and conditions - for example delivery time windows, driver working times, the know-how of drivers and service personnel, the size and loading capacity of the vehicles, and many other factors - our algorithms, in the form of Transport Mining, generate an optimized allocation of assignments, together with dynamic tour optimization and automated operations. We can also significantly increase service quality in the logistics sector, in that very precise ETAs (estimated times of arrival) can be predicted for end customers.
European Business: In general, what are the greatest inefficiencies that you are looking to eliminate with your optimization?
Monja Mühling: Mostly in the motto: We do things the way we have always done them. Particularly in mature structures, there are often many different systems in use, over which we have, at some point, lost oversight. With Smartlane, we can offer our customers one single system, and in one single optimization run, present the whole process transparently; this is in complete contrast to a diffused mature system, which has been cobbled together and over which operators no longer have an overview. When you have to deal manually with 10,000 assignments a day, there is no alternative but to always give standard assignments to the same drivers, even when in some cases this may be completely inefficient. In some companies, there is a static form of tour optimization. However, it is not dynamic, and therefore is unable to create an all-round optimization at any point in time. Most companies of course know that processes can be streamlined and that service quality for end customers could be significantly improved; what they don’t know is, which buttons they have to press. Smartlane simply makes it all possible.
When you have to deal manually with 10,000 assignments a day, there is no alternative but to always give standard assignments to the same drivers, even when in some cases this may be completely inefficient. Monja Mühling
European Business: Apropos mature structures: You once worked for a DAX company, but very quickly left the world of large organization. What didn’t you like about it, and what can a start-up achieve, that a mature concern cannot compete with?
Monja Mühling: As an intern, I spent a few months at a DAX company, and I quickly realized that in such a large concern, so many people are involved and there are so many overlaps in tasks, that it is very difficult to initiate something concrete, if you have a good idea or see the opportunity to optimize something. Because of the incredible complexity of the decision-making process and the political background which impacts some decisions, even an ambitious individual cannot generally change very much. I quickly realized that even if I did the same thing for years and invested huge amounts of energy in my work, it wouldn’t achieve much in the end. At start-ups, you can achieve your goals much quicker as long as you know where you want to go. That stimulated me and motivates many others too.
European Business: According to your website, your team is equally balanced in terms of gender. How important is diversity in your company culture?
Monja Mühling: We are quite lucky that this equal balance exists, although we didn’t specifically plan it that way. We selected our team on the basis of ability, and filled roles with the people who best matched the requirements; it was pure coincidence that half were women and the other half men. We were far more concerned with covering all the necessary competences with proven specialists. Nevertheless, I believe that this personnel structure results in better dynamics and a more productive exchange of views in decision-making and creative discussions. Of course, that is not only related to gender, but more a general advantage of a certain heterogeneity, which brings a different momentum to the company.
I believe that a heterogeneous personnel structure results in better dynamics and a more productive exchange of views in decision-making and creative discussions. Monja Mühling
European Business: Diverse companies are working on the complete automation of the whole transport and forwarding process. In your opinion, how will the delivery of a package work in 20 years’ time?
Monja Mühling: A lot still needs to be done regarding regulation in this segment. The technology is also far enough in less than 20 years that fully automatic vehicles and aircraft can deliver mail and packages. However, the important question about liability and morals will remain unclear for a while still. And this, along with developing technical solutions, is the primary task to be dealt with.
From the perspective of reasons of capacity and feasibility, I don’t see all human package deliverers being replaced by automated systems in 20 years either. Especially within cities, many things, including a lot with the infrastructure, have to be done first. I assume that by that time, we will have had largely self-driving trucks bringing packages and goods in large volumes to distribution centers in road transport for a long time.
Interview: Julian Miller | Fotos: Smartlane