Interview: Sixfold Executive Director opens up Transporeon cooperation and the visibility sector
Jesper Bille Bennike, Executive Director of Sixfold, is confident about Sixfold's ability to be independently ranked as one of the clear global leaders in the supply chain visibility sector.
The world’s supply chain visibility market has evidently grown in prominence as more companies see the benefit of harnessing visibility platforms to improve their own operations. Eye-catching sums of investment are being made, and leaders are being established.
One of those around the top of the tree are Sixfold, who appear to be well placed in Gartner’s most-recent supply chain visibility quadrant. The research found Sixfold in the top 2 in terms of “ability to execute” and in the top 3 with regards to “completeness of vision” – putting them closest to the two big players in the ‘leaders’ section of the quadrant.
However, with the strength of Cloud Logistics and Transport Management giant Transporeon behind them, Sixfold appears to be confident of crossing into that threshold sooner rather than later. Among the senior figures leading the charge as the competition in the supply chain visibility market hots up, is Jesper Bille Bennike, Sixfold’s Executive Director.
We recently caught up with Jesper to find out about Sixfold’s aspirations and its development, as well as his own thoughts on how the supply chain visibility market may develop over time.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to Trans.INFO Jesper. You joined Sixfold just under 6 months ago. I would guess your first day may still feel like yesterday. How have those first months been, and what do you hope to achieve by the end of your first year as Executive Director?
They have been absolutely great. Joining a high-growth tech company is and will always be a bit hectic, but it’s all about the team! This team continues to impress me every day, and it’s absolutely a fantastic team to work with. Over the course of the last 6 months we have grown around 50% and will continue to hire the best talent out there. Besides getting to know the team, the industry is in the midst of driver shortages, capacity crunches, new regulations and border rules, Brexit, and pandemics. So let’s just say it has been an incredibly busy and exciting time.
By the end of my first year, I’m confident that I’ll have led Sixfold to a place where we haven’t just helped our users “weather the storm” so to speak, but actually thrive and succeed. I don’t see this as being in any way unrealistic, because the truth is that RTV helps shippers, carriers, and forwarders alike to really add an extra layer of value to their services, gain a substantial and realistic operational cost improvement, and of course, empower them to proactively deal with disruptions. Essentially, we have a service and add-on products that can massively improve a logistics company’s operations – in terms of their revenue, costs, and ability to deal with unforeseen happenings. My goal is to achieve the same internally at Sixfold too.
By the time you arrived at Sixfold, you had already been working in the supply chain visibility space for a number of years, including a 3-year stint at CEO GateHouse Logistics A/S. What have you learned during this time that you have been able to use to the benefit of Sixfold?
Every company is different, and in logistics what made sense last month probably won’t hold up 3 months from now. There are however two things that I think almost always seem to be true. One is that within logistics, we always seem to be on the verge of a digital transformation revolution, without ever actually fully jumping on board.
The second is that people in logistics, like any industry, have long-term goals, but the short-term realizations are what preoccupy around 75% of conversations. With that in mind, what I’ve learned that can benefit Sixfold is that retaining a focus on making the daily lives of the end-end users (like dispatchers or warehouse managers) a thousand times better will always deliver results. However, we should never lose sight of the fact that there are real and ever-shifting wider business goals that we need to be constantly addressing.
The latest version of the Gartner quadrant for supply chain visibility places Sixfold in the top 2 in terms of “ability to execute” and in the top 3 with regards to “completeness of vision”. According to Gartner, that makes you the strongest challenger and the company best placed to join ‘the big two’ in the leaders’ quadrant. Are you confident that you can make the hop over to the leader’s quadrant in the foreseeable future?
Yes. Although I imagine that you would like more of an answer than that, so would “yes, absolutely, yes” do? Let me elaborate. The great thing about Gartner is that it can reduce the many complexities of an organization’s thought processes to something simple. And being in the business of delivering services, what is more important than actually executing on what you promise and having a credible plan to then exceed those commitments?
For me, that is what the Gartner quadrant reflects. The reason we score so highly is that our roadmap doesn’t just focus on acquiring as many customers as possible and dealing with the consequences later. We have a very clear vision of what separates the needs of a shipper, carrier, sub-carrier, forwarder, and LSP, and we have products that we offer to specifically address these against carefully set benchmarks. Outside of specific products, we’ve also been a leader in emerging themes like sustainability, which I truly believe will elevate us beyond the competition.
From my experience talking to senior representatives of supply chain companies, there is a strong desire to get as many European carriers to join their platforms as possible. The hypothesis is that having a huge number of carriers would be a significant competitive advantage. Is this something that Sixfold is focusing on too, and how important is the number of carriers on a platform when we consider the bigger picture and the overall package you offer?
The importance of carriers is huge. In logistics, they are the ones linking various shipments together, and in the RTV space, they are what you might consider as the ones linking the various data points together. So, from a strategic point of view, carriers are integral to everything, which is why I’m happy to say that we’re the leaders in Europe when it comes to our network.
As far as shippers or LSPs are concerned though, their main concern is not necessarily having access to the biggest number of carriers on their platform, but rather the biggest number of carriers they actually use (or might want to use). With that in mind, we were the first to introduce a dedicated one-click integration system to make it easier for preferred carriers to join. It’s also meant that we’ve had to really reassess the value that we could bring to carriers. For many competitors, carriers were almost an afterthought, with the rationale being that if shippers or customers need their carriers to have RTV, they will drive carrier adoption themselves.
What I think makes Sixfold special is that we very early on challenged this model. We focused on building products that would make a difference to carriers of all sizes, so that they would actively want to use our product. The result of this has been great new initiatives that allow carriers to manage their fleet from a single window, or to access a marketplace of tenders so they can grow their company with minimal effort.
In the last year or so, the relationship with Transporeon has deepened. How important has their role been in the development of Sixfold? How key shall it be in the future?
Transporeon is a key part of our story, and we’re committed to strengthening our relationship as much as possible. While I was at Gatehouse Logistics, Transporeon was very much seen as an unassailable market competitor. It was a reference for what to do, but a reference you could probably never hope to overtake. So now at Sixfold, the challenge is to leverage this opportunity as far as possible by really making the most of the wider service ecosystem we have access to.
At Sixfold, we can supply industry-leading ETA metrics on transports and help to unlock real value when RTV meets the actual transport execution. So Sixfold plays an important role in Transporeon’s vision of bringing transportation in sync with the world! To achieve this, we need to be real-time in everything we do, with high data fidelity front and center.
One of the hottest initiatives we are closely working on with Transporeon is using our high-fidelity data as a core component of other services like emissions reporting and helping shippers with capacity challenges. Bringing these services in sync is only possible through high fidelity data and service interoperability across the Transporeon platform, all powered by real-time insights. This is where this relationship between the companies is unique, combining state of the art ML and AI with Transporeon’s 20 plus years of deep knowledge and expertise within transport execution, freight procurement, and audit, etc.
I recently spoke to the CEO of a company that is creating hardware that could potentially bring visibility to significantly more containers across the world. As I understand it, around 90% of the world’s containers remain unconnected. Therefore, do you see container visibility as being the ‘next frontier` for the visibility platforms? If not, which development will prove to be more game-changing?
It is a huge and exciting frontier for sure. We’re working with a number of hardware manufacturers to natively integrate their data feeds so that we can service container clients, regardless of it being ocean, rail, or higher value shipments in pallets for example.
Other than containers though, I would say in Europe the ability to create standardized emissions reports throughout a supply chain is still going to dominate the narrative for the next year or two at least.
Besides your HQ in Austria and your sales offices throughout Europe, Sixfold also has a couple of sites in Estonia working on R&D. What innovations are they currently working on, and which of those do you hope to see become a reality in the near future?
In Estonia, we have a collection of engineers, data scientists, and product managers working on a few things. The ones that are closest to coming to market are the aforementioned ocean transport tracking solution and the standardized emission measuring and reporting framework. Obviously, these products follow our high-level strategic roadmap, so they’re important to me. But one of the great things at Sixfold is that anyone can make a case for new innovation, spend time following it up, and then engage the wider team to decide whether to move forward or not.
This approach has meant we’ve really opened up our pipeline with other potentially important innovations, like services to help shippers, carriers, and forwarders match loads to empty runs to help them either save or make money while reducing their emissions at the same time.
How mature do you feel the supply chain visibility market is at this point, and to what extent do you see a flurry of acquisitions potentially making the market less fragmented?
This is an interesting question. Visibility on its own is mature, and everyone has long recognized the value of it. The real-time layer on top of that though, and the sharing of that data between different stakeholders, is where the market still has work to do in terms of education. We deal with some companies who are already 100% convinced of the concept, but equally, we deal with a similar number who have almost no idea of the benefits and applications.
I think this subtle difference between “visibility” and “real-time visibility” is also driving the acquisitions. As it’s a relatively new market, breaking out of a highly established market, you’re seeing the big “visibility” companies trying to shortcut their entry into the new market. But I don’t see it defragmenting anytime soon. There are still too many areas for all of us to improve and innovate, which will always inspire new companies to enter.
One of our approaches to the potential fragmentation problem has been to create the Open Visibility Data initiative. This allows all stakeholders (even the ones outside of Sixfold) to link whichever platforms or data providers they use and then share their data with whomever they like. This has been a popular initiative, because it means that the dangers of fragmentation for shippers and carriers are mostly negated.
Given the competitive nature of the supply chain visibility market, one would imagine there is a keenness among the top companies to maintain their talent and avoid losing them to the competition. What are you doing at Sixfold to ensure that you hold on to the talent in the company for the long term?
We have a fantastic talent retention rate, and we’re still onboarding people with experience at some of our competitors. One reason for this is that we fully invest in our HR and People Culture teams, to build a strong community even though we extend across many countries.
We also don’t set limits on what is possible either as a company or as a member of our teams. This has meant we’ve been lucky enough to get smart people building products that they think make sense which, in turn, gives them a very strong sense of ownership over the direction and success of the company. The key I think has not been to hire people to do what they would do at another company for slightly more money, but to let them do the things they wouldn’t be able to do somewhere else. This approach has really seen our ocean and emissions tracking services become distinct and original, for example.
Finally, what are Sixfold’s immediate priorities looking into the last quarter of the year?
Looking at the supply chain problems in Europe, our immediate priority is to help our customers deliver trees, turkeys, and presents on time so our kids don’t cry on Christmas day! Which is only half a bad joke. We will be releasing a couple of new carrier-focused products in this last quarter which should help them to find new partners to work with and manage their fleets much better, and we want them to be a success. Internally we’re still looking to build our team and do everything we can to start 2022 ready to join the main quadrant in Gartner.