Every day, every organisation in every business sector faces similar challenges: the constant pressure to reduce costs and maintain or even increase service levels, all while delivering on the bottom line. They face constant demands for novel ways to meet new realities and also operate responsibly and surpass regulatory or voluntary requirements. It is a daunting task for sure, but that’s why it’s more important than ever to innovate. However, that’s not as simple as it might sound.  

“Innovation is the answer, but what is the question?” says Ari Marjamaa, WWL’s Head of Global Market Intelligence. “You need a challenge to solve to be truly innovative, and you need to have the infrastructure in place to even approach that challenge constructively.”

Currently, one of the biggest challenges for the shipping and logistics industry is keeping pace with the changes happening all around it. The Internet of Things is pointing the way towards “smart shipping”, where the cargo will be connected and monitored throughout the entire journey and the involved assets will be constantly connected to fully optimise the logistics chains. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, threatens to upend logistics chains, and the impact of the sharing economy can significantly shift industry dynamics. The most immediate changes, though, are within the realm of minimising companies’ environmental footprint, both on water and land. This is also where the most progress has been made recently.  

“Innovation is something we have to excel at in order to stay relevant, and that has been a central tenet of our successful survival over the last 150 years,” Marjamaa says. “In the last decade, the environmental standards set for us and the ones we set for ourselves became our hurdle to clear, our challenge to overcome. Everything from the way you run your processes to the technology that goes into the vessels and how they are operated and managed – all that comes together to form the innovative effort required to reach those environmental standards. For us, abiding by strict regulatory or even stricter voluntary requirements typically drives our ability to innovate.”

The way that WWL builds its innovation capability is twofold: a top-down, management-driven approach, where the leadership team sets the direction towards selected areas of development and innovation; and a bottom-up process, in which suggestions and ideas from those “on the ground” are taken and reviewed for their viability. It’s the basis of an internal campaign at WWL called “Innovation for you and me”, which includes an app that facilitates idea collection across the organisation.

“Very often there are these incremental improvements that reduce waste or costs or even the time that it takes to do something,” Marjamaa says. “Individually they could be small, but collectively they become extremely important.

“Additionally, there are other industries, like our customers’ industries, that are undergoing fundamental changes in the business model. That’s why it’s vital we need to work closely with customers to understand what these changes mean for them and for us and to develop our capabilities accordingly.”

WWL has embarked on numerous initiatives to bolster its approach to innovation by collaborating with customers and peers. Two such examples are the Innovation Lab with Volvo Cars and the Joint Project Group for Alternative Fuels Vehicles (see fact boxes for details).

“The road towards innovation is a journey that never really ends, but it is an exciting one that will define how we and our customers conduct business today and the future,” Marjamaa says.