Interview: Redspher CEO Phillipe Higelin | Distribution
Redspher was born out of Flash Europe International which was established in Metz in 1981 as a courier service for urgent transport. It grew in line with the rise of lean manufacturing and supply chain methods, which was the company’s core business when it was known as Flash, and last year increased its turnover by 50% to €285m.
Today, when companies want to minimise their stock but can’t afford production line disruptions, premium freight is a flexible and time critical solution to overcome any unforeseen issues. With premium freight, companies can tense their supply chain, producing on demand. “We started our digital revolution in 2013 and have been working hard to ensure we can support these companies with an efficient platform for time-sensitive on demand delivery,” confirms Redspher’s CEO Philippe Higelin.
Higelin maintains since 2015 the company’s motto has been: “We want to be the disruptor, not the disruptee.” He adds: “To digitise our business we incorporated one IT system, with one bidding tool, for the whole group. On top of digitising our existing process, we incubated our own startups, with agile development to further disrupt the market. Some are directly related to transport while others act as enablers, facilitating the cooperation between entities or adding further value to our services.
“Flash is the freight forwarder and Redspher is the platform,” explains Higelin, who pledges Redspher aims to provide its customer with the best solutions for on demand delivery derived from a group of companies under the Redspher banner. Alongside Flash these include: Schwerdtfeger Transport (German time critical specialists), Easy4Pro (ad hoc transport management), Roberts.eu (for online access to the biggest European fleet of small vehicles), Easy2Go (online customer logistics support), Upela (worldwide shipping tool), Easy2Trace (app to monitor vehicles and shipments), GeniusAcademy (the online training centre) and YOCTU (IT tools).
“More than a freight forwarder, we provide tools, teams and access to the largest fleet of small vehicles,” explains Higelin. “We also offer more than premium freight with on-demand delivery for all non-regular shipments whether urgent or not. We are a taxi company for the same day delivery of goods and like Uber have digitised our business with tools to enhance the user experience for all our customers. In 2016 we launched these startups to support our current strategy: the platform approach. We take advantage of synergies within the platform and add new partners – either to expand our range of services or improve their quality.”
Redspher aims for on-demand delivery with nothing forecast – the customer just asks for what they want. To get to this point it’s not only about technology, reveals Higelin. “Flash, and then Redspher, is successful because we combine technology with years of experience in the transport business. You need a deep understanding of your client’s needs to ensure you spend time and money on the right solutions. Flash developed a neuronal algorithm to compress the data. This patented lane mapping tool allows us to process the data to have a time responsive map about all current shipments. We now have data and efficient tools to process it, in order to support our employees and give them easy access to that data.”
Among these tools, Snapshot helps satisfy market needs by forecasting them – it’s able to forecast the need for vehicles in 450 cities, and cross with availabilities, to create a market value for each shipment, shown in the form of a heatmap. “Our tool predicts the area from which it’s going to be easy to find a shipment back,” adds Higelin. Way Finder also makes forecasts to reduce the distance of each delivery, he explains: “The creation of line hauls/shuttles in real time is achieved by the use of cross-docks (using a metaheuristic method) allows the partial sharing of a delivery a run. We choose the best routing based on an automatic learning system. This is collective intelligence sharing. Trucks and vans are not always driving fully loaded. But there are some major transport corridors on which we can optimise the use of vehicles thanks to a network of warehouses.”
Allied to this, Redspher’s Solution Finder software analyses the routings to propose solutions for a given shipment. It will look between availabilities, on-going shipments and suppliers’ databases. “We can analyse flows in a new way, seeing much more than a pick-up or delivery,” assures Higelin. “This helps us to plan positioning of cross-docks, establish chances of co-load, study balances and much more with tools like Easy Trace – a fleet management app with E-CMR and GPS tracking for communication with the driver and relaying special instructions.”
It’s currently a booming market for on-demand delivery driven by the consumer and connected to the rise of lean manufacturing to minimise stocks. Higelin believes the interconnection between systems providers and customers is key: “Machine to machine communication is now prevalent as we work towards more seamless solutions supported by key data. The market is fragmented but companies would rather deal with one intermediary. Digitisation helps us overcome the disadvantages of a fragmented market by allowing us to reach more and more carriers in an efficient way. Thanks to the platform approach, we can think globally but act locally with a global platform connecting local players with global shippers.”
Redspher is also developing automation through the implementation of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and API (Application Programming Interface), reducing the barriers to the order process and allowing staff to focus on more critical matters. “This move towards a more seamless operation is a major trend among big shippers,” recognises Higelin. “Improved data analysis gives a better understanding of the market and its evolution, allowing us to predict requirements. If, based on our analysis, we know a certain client is most likely to have increased needs for urgent transport around a certain time of the year, it enables us to better manage our carriers and provide a better service to the customer. Our continued goal with the platform approach is to standardise our data intelligence system to be able to collaborate with more companies around gaining meaningful insights from that data.”
Redspher is open to developing new partnerships as it builds a worldwide platform. Higelin concedes they can’t do this by themselves so alliances are essential, not just for on-demand delivery, but as enablers to help support the Redspher ecosystem. This is where Easy4Pro comes into its own for Redspher, says Higelin: “It’s a web-based solution to manage all ad hoc transports – as a meta-searcher it’s much more than a TMS (transport management system). It allows us to add any new partnerships to the platform and strengthen our working relationships.”
What sets Redspher apart from other 3PL operators in the market? Why should businesses embrace this platform? “We can provide our customers with multiple options for turnkey solutions for on-demand delivery,” confirms Higelin. “We have competitors in many markets – critical, express etc. – but I don’t know of any our competitors providing a full package of solutions for on demand as we do. Our solutions are tailored to our client’s needs using the synergies from our companies. We could use one of our companies to GPS track the vehicles and our online training centre to set up dedicated safety procedure coaching for drivers. Allied to this Easy4Pro can be utilised along with Upela to create one transport management system to compare worldwide shipping and tracking solutions for parcels, further enabling on demand delivery.”
Higelin cites Easy4Pro as one of the secrets of Redspher’s continuing success in Europe (with a focus on the automotive industry now broadening to target machinery and aerospace), while also a big driver in its US expansion and plans to build the platform further into Mexico and South America. “We’re reacting to requests from our customers to provide our services in different continents,” he says. “It’s a sign of our success that they trust us to support and help them expand their own businesses as we in turn expand ours.”
What are Higelin’s predictions for the logistics industry? “Currently it’s a fragmented market with a lot of small players who favour one logistics partner,” he says. “We predict the new trend will play to our strengths with a platform approach allowing us to offer one solution while combining the skills of smaller players and helping us consolidate the market. We’re focused on the mantra: ‘Think global, ask local.’ There’s a great opportunity to link digitally worldwide, while locally you can focus on efficient shipment and last mile delivery. Just like Uber you can have the same interface everywhere. We’re trying to create new standards like this with our platform approach as each company is trying to optimise their operations, minimise dead miles and empty kms, so there’s a real need for these standards and cooperation between companies to renew the transport industry.”
Looking to the future, Higelin wants the Redpsher group to draw on its strengths and meet the challenge of further developing and interconnecting its own businesses. “We aim to develop cross-selling between our brands to deliver a more seamless experience for our current and future customers across the globe.”