CEO Rob Schuurbiers looks back on 10 years of Simacan

Fri | 7 Apr 2023 | Interviews

CEO Rob Schuurbiers looks back on 10 years of Simacan

A milestone in the still young field of transport execution management: Saas platform Simacan is ten years old. Co-founder and CEO Rob Schuurbiers looks back on where it all started ten years ago, his visionary plans and what became of them. What were his proudest moments? What lessons has he learned? And what is his vision for the next ten years? "My vision of the future is a world with autonomous driving, electric vehicles and organisations exchanging real-time data to continuously maximise the use of these vehicles."

In 2013, you founded Simacan together with a partner, what urged you to do this?

"We both came from the world of geodata, the world of digital maps, real-time traffic information and trip planning. We knew that companies in the field of road transportation could benefit tremendously from this geo information, but we also knew about the technical hurdles implementing these into their processes. Back then, planners were on the phone all day to coordinate arrival times (ETA) and they used (broadcast) Teletext for traffic information. In our opinion, the geotechnology of the time was not user-friendly enough. Our goal was to build a solution that would remove the high level of complexity for the end user and to provide all stakeholders with the same data.”

"We knew right away it had to be a SaaS solution, Software-as-a-Service, because we didn't want to provide a software tool but a service. A service focused on data: bringing data together, enriching data and making data accessible to all. In our opinion, this not only allowed those planners and trip supervisors to work much more efficiently but it would create many other benefits. Such as receivers knowing exactly when a vehicle arrives, chain partners making optimal use of transport capacity and less stress for drivers, to name just a few."

Has this vision with which you entered the field of transport and logistics 10 years ago, been well received?

"Given the number and diversity in customers that have joined the Simacan platform in recent years, I think I can answer this question with a resounding ‘yes’.”

"It started with Albert Heijn, a customer who believed in our vision from the start. To supply their shops, AH worked with numerous carriers who, until then, drove their routes according to a pretty rigid timetable. Shop locations were supplied according to schedule and did not need to be specially informed, even though there was always a difference between the planned schedule on paper and the reality on the road. However, when the company switched to dynamic transport planning, they needed a tool that would allow them to inform shops as accurately as possible about truck arrival times. By building this themselves, this would mean a separate IT connection for each carrier. That’s why they decided it was a much better idea to go for our Simacan platform, which had the added bonus of integrated real-time traffic information.”

"Our first customers were shippers, but soon transport companies started to take an interest in our solution. Nowadays, organisations like Cornelissen, Nedcargo and Simon Loos know they can offer a far better and higher quality service towards their retail customers with a real-time execution platform such as ours. It also provides them with control on their supply chain orchestration and cooperation with other carriers, allowing them to make better use of each other's capacity. Subsequently, our vision started to land more and more in sectors outside retail as well. PostNL became a customer and also Bloomon, they needed to provide their consumers with insights into when their flowers would be delivered at home. I’d also like to give a special mention to ANWB, our very first customer! And recently we gained rental company Boels (with a large European operation) as a customer, further diversifying our customer base.”

"From the very first beginnings of Simacan we've had an international focus, and now we are operating in eight European countries. So yes, our vision has been well received, I think."

Looking back, what are you most proud of?

"I am proud of a lot of things. First of all, it's great to see that in the supermarket sector we have made a substantial contribution to making transport operations transparent. This has really enabled shippers and their carriers to collaboratively work together at a higher level. We are doing something right, because in all these ten years, not one of our customers has left. In other words or in SaaS terminology, we are at a 0% churn rate. That is a huge compliment for our company.”

"I am also very proud of the Open Trip Model (OTM), a data protocol for transport planning and trip information. It's developed by us and embraced by the sector and used now by other IT companies. We started OTM because we saw a great need for it within the industry: There are a lot of IT parties involved in order management, planning or execution but they all use(d) their own data definitions. We thought it would be useful to develop one protocol that could combine all those process steps. This became OTM, we transferred our protocol to the SUTC in 2018, giving the ownership to an independent party that also continues to develop the protocol. OTM 5.0 is the latest version and is even used internationally.”

"I like to mention the example of OTM because it is indicative of how we as Simacan are in the game; collaborating with other IT companies is in our DNA. We provide a digital foundation on which other IT companies - and customers, for that matter - can build. Shippers and carriers can base new partnerships on this foundation, e-commerce companies can use it to build track & trace portals, municipalities can use it to regulate their inner cities, and so on. This is the reason why we have never developed a driver app ourselves, even though we have the underlying platform for it. We want to remain neutral so others can build these applications. It makes me proud to see that this is being recognised more and more outside the company and it has already led to great initiatives and partnerships."

What in your opinion are key milestones in the development of the Simacan platform?

"According to the roadmap and in close cooperation with our customers, our platform is continuously improved and expanded. Our white label track and trace feature was considered a breakthrough when we launched this in 2021. Our customers and other parties could integrate their transport data into their own information portals. Major retailers were already using our ETAs to facilitate arrival displays in their supermarkets but with this track-trace, home delivery companies like Bloomon could notify their customers when their flower delivery would be expected to arrive… a real milestone. Transport planners use our platform to manage trips, drivers can use our platform to perform their last mile(s) as efficiently as possible, now our platform can also be used for customer service and communication. Back then during the launch of the track & trace feature I jokingly said: "From now on, Twitter is our referee".”

"Another milestone is the launch of our Business Intelligence reporting tool in 2022. Until then, the control tower was purely focused on the execution of trips, that is, enabling chain partners with smart transport execution management during transport, now with BI, we can analyse a trip afterwards (post-trip) and enable organisations to structurally improve their transport processes. With this tool you can exactly analyse the extent to which actual execution has deviated from planning. Important to know? Yes, because it allows improvements for the next time you're planning the same route. Bottlenecks are easily identified and together with your SC partners, you have the right insights to cooperate in a much smarter way.”

"Today, our solutions have evolved to the point where they have reached a new stage. According to analysts, the term 'Control Tower' no longer exactly covers what we can offer. They are talking about the next step, a logistics ‘Command Center'. A Control Tower mainly focuses on visibility and on domain-specific systems, whereas with a Command Center you can collaborate and respond to real-time data in a way that transcends systems. These are just labels, of course, but I am pleased analyst firms like Gartner now also recognise what we do. We have always been fairly unique in this sector and sometimes it’s difficult to get across on what exactly we can provide and what differentiates us from other IT providers. Having a logistical Command Center designation like this, along with clear definitions from renowned experts, can help enormously."

What is the most important lesson you have learnt in the past decade?

"A very important lesson I would like to share is that everything depends on the quality of data. You can digitise until the cows come home but if the underlying data does not correspond with reality or is incomplete, it will not help you. Unfortunately, this is still happening. For example, when organisations are only recording the departure time of a driver and the time he or she clocked out again. The information this provides is of no real use. If you want to improve, you will have to record when a driver arrived somewhere, whether he or she was in a traffic jam, how long he/she had to wait until a dock was free and so on. Here is when the power of smart execution management comes in; all SC parties are connected via a platform and actions are registered. You don't have discussions afterwards.”

"Another lesson is to be very careful users of a data platform do not draw the wrong conclusions from data. I have experienced way too often totally wrong decisions are made based on a graph or a message. For example, people compare the realised unloading times at different DCs without realising that a driver usually takes his break at one of the DCs. I sometimes compare data to a block of iron… you can make anything out of it: a horseshoe but also the most sophisticated spring for an expensive watch. So, do you give someone a block of iron, a horse shoe or a watch spring? It’s symbolic of the art of our trade. You have to do something with the data, provide meaning and context, before a user can work with it.”

"We are a SaaS company, providing data is our core business. We see it as our responsibility to ensure that data is correct and matches the customer's needs. But do you need a horseshoe or a watch spring? Many people do not know and just assume 'data is data and how hard can it be to share', but that is a misconception. Quality of data, completeness of data, ensuring the right selection of data for the right user, making sure they make correct analyses and draw the right conclusions; that's where Simacan invests a lot of time and effort in. And sometimes it's underestimated how much time and effort this really takes."

What is your vision of the future? What developments do you think we will see in the next 10 years?

"An important development - and very much welcome - is the fact that transport organisations and shippers are working more closely together. Organisations are working less and less with the standard carriers driving fixed routes, but making more dynamic decisions about who can transport a certain freight most efficiently and sustainably. Transport will also increasingly be organised in networks. You already see this happening in the higher market segment of shippers and logistics service providers, and I certainly expect this to continue sector-wide.”

"Another big development is the transition to electric driving. Currently only a small amount of transport operations is carried out with hybrid or full electric vehicles. But by 2050, both passenger transport and logistics must be emission-free. This will make the field of smart execution management even more relevant, if not preconditional. After all, during the execution of a trip you need to continuously monitor whether the ‘State of Charge’ is still sufficient to complete the trip as planned. And whether the time in between the current and next trip is enough to recharge the vehicle. This also depends on the charging capacity you have available. Simacan's role in this sustainable future landscape is to connect logistical execution with battery / energy management. If you look at it from the planning context side of battery charging, we are the missing link between truck manufacturers and energy suppliers.”

"My vision for the future is a world with autonomous driving electric vehicles, in which vehicle location data, shipment information, traffic and other geodata are processed real-time to continuously maximise vehicle utilisation. Scientists refer to this as the physical internet. It sounds futuristic, and perhaps it is, but I’m convinced this will become reality. We need to move towards a sustainable society with the least possible inconvenience for citizens and waste of scarce resources. Clean, self-driving trucks to supply our shops and DCs at night are, in my opinion, the ultimate step. With everything we develop at Simacan, we keep this future vision in mind. We are ready."