"Thinking beyond the limitations"
Deutsche Post DHL releases its study of the future, "Delivering Tomorrow - Logistics 2050". In five different scenarios, the study examines the potential state of the world in the year 2050 and explores the potential impact that these five scenarios will have on the logistics industry. In the following interview, Group CEO Frank Appel explains how the study was produced and why the world's leading postal and logistics group must think today about the challenges of tomorrow.
Mr. Appel, in 2050, your children will be about as old as you are now. What will their world be like then?
Frank Appel: I hope it will be a world worth living in. No one really has any idea today just what this world will be like. Given the innovations from the broadest range of areas that are already appearing on the horizon, you can be certain that the daily lives of people in 2050 will be much different from our lives today. The open question is: Will we be able to get a grip on the most critical problems, such as climate change?
Above all, this will depend on how well political leaders, companies and society as a whole succeed in working together to manage the global challenges of our time. All of us must realize that it is our responsibility today to set the direction for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. The new study shows, in a particularly striking and, at times, even drastic way, just how strong the impact of these decisions can be.
In this study, you look 40 years into the future, a period that is much farther than the usual planning horizon of a company. Why?
Frank Appel: In recent decades, the pace of economic and social change has greatly accelerated. Our business environment has become dramatically more complicated, and it is impossible to make precise projections. A high level of uncertainty has simply become a part of our lives now. We have to accept this. For this reason, being prepared for the unforeseeable is more important than ever before - not only in our industry, but also in all areas of the economy. Therefore, an in-depth examination of key questions of the future is invaluable - for companies as well as for individuals.
This is not the first time that you have ventured into the future ...
Frank Appel: That's true. In two previous studies, we examined customer expectations in 2020 and trends toward more sustainable logistics. As the leading provider in this key global industry, it is part of our responsibility to intensively explore social and business issues that will shape the future. We do not want to be caught off guard by developments and trends. Rather, we want to actively shape the future. For this reason, we plan to act as a catalyst that continuously offers ideas and suggestions for public debate, and which promotes the dialogue about core issues that impact our world today and will characterize it for decades to come. The study is perfectly suited for this.
What is special about this study?
Frank Appel: The first special aspect is the large group of highly respected experts with an array of different backgrounds and nationalities who took part in the work. Then, there is the methodology: In our volatile, connected world, traditional linear analysis and projection methods have proven to be wrong time and time again. For this reason, we chose to use the scenario approach in this case. The methodological starting point for developing alternative scenarios of the future was a close examination and the linking of key factors to those trends that could have the biggest impact on the world in future decades. With this approach, potential trend lines can be clearly shown and several complex visions of the future systematically identified. The study takes you on an exciting and, occasionally, surprising and radical trip into the future that - I am certain - will broaden readers' horizons.
The study produced five completely different scenarios. Which vision of the future do you like most of all?
Frank Appel: For sure, it would be nice to be able to decide just what the future should ideally look like. But we can only try to influence things to a certain degree. And this is precisely the reason that the study is so important: We can make responsible decisions that will shape the world of tomorrow only if we gain an understanding of different perspectives. I am personally interested in having a world where the fight against climate change has been won and sustainable business practices have taken hold. At the same time, we should definitely prevent a return to protectionism and nationalism, as one scenario describes, for the sake of business, cultural and social development.
From the point of view of the world's largest logistics company, what is the most important finding of this study of the future?
Frank Appel: The scenarios give us the opportunity to better estimate trends and anticipate where they could lead us. Taken as a whole, the study clearly demonstrates that the role of logistics will change significantly in coming decades. This is the case in each of the five scenarios. But they also contain very good news for our industry: Demand for logistics services will rise in nearly every case - amid, depending on the scenario, widely different business conditions and concrete needs.
What information from the study will you use in your work and planning as CEO?
Frank Appel: We shouldn't kid ourselves: none of the scenarios described in the study will actually come true. It is more likely that we will see a combination of various aspects of these visions of the future. But this understanding of the study's limitations should not prevent us from taking the results into consideration and from thinking beyond these limitations. At the same time, you should not make the mistake of drawing up specific plans for each scenario and tucking them away in your desk drawer. Thanks to the study, we learn about possible changes in our business environment and their significance for the distant future. This will help us set the right course for the future.
In addition, our innovation team, which develops our logistics solutions of tomorrow, will of course examine the results of the study. After all, we intend not only to be the mastermind of the evolution of logistics, but also to remain the innovation leader in our industry. For this reason alone, Deutsche Post DHL will continue to shed some light into the black box that we call the future.