ANCOTRANS – Containing Your Excitement
We learn how Denmark’s leading shipping container road transport company is adapting to a rapidly changing world.
Anders Nielsen – ANCOTRANS is a family-owned company whose history goes back to 1882 in a harbour in Copenhagen.
“Over the years we’ve specialised in a number of different types of transport. In the late ‘70s we started container transportation, which is our speciality now,” explains Anne Kathrine Steenbjerge, the CEO of the company today and the great, great-granddaughter of Anders Nielsen’s founder. “We have seven offices, two in Sweden, three in Denmark, one in Germany and one in the Netherlands, and our customers range from big forwarding companies to liners and direct importers and exporters of goods. What we focus 99% of our business on is the road transport part of the long journey of a shipping container and that’s been our main focus for 40 years. We truck 1,300 containers every day and have 750 trucks on the road.”
The company trades on its unique selling points of huge capacity, excellent flexibility, and its ability to deliver “the best and highest service” to their customers through an array of digital tools.
“We were the first company in our niche to develop a planner for container trucking,” Steenbjerge says. “Things are happening very fast and we’ve developed an app ourselves that all our own trucks and subcontractors use. We launched a ‘Truck and Trace’ service this year, where our customers can track their container transport just like you might when you receive a package through DHL. We have developed our own API enabling us to do all kinds of connections to container terminals and customers. We had a trial on a blockchain, we’re really trying to push the digital agenda.
The company has come a long way from the decidedly analogue set-up it had when Steenbjerge first came to the company in 2003.
“In 2003, when I started in the company, we were doing all our transportation administration manually on small pieces of paper that we stuck onto the wall, and at that point in time we didn’t have any IT people in-house,” she remembers. “We had one person who knew how the printer was working and that was all we needed!”
Since then Anders Nielsen has invested in a resource planning system and today, they have a team of eight people in their IT department, with two or three developers working on their systems every day.
“We’re right now doing a big cloud migration to get even more resources from the investments we are making,” Steenbjerge says. “We have an external business consultant looking at all our services and applications, and just putting a new digital strategy into place for the next three years that will enable us to make the next very important step into a more automated and digital world. We will also get some business analysts in-house doing cases on where we can automate and optimise our workflow. That’s where I see the profit and competitive edge coming from in the future.”
As technology advances, other challenges can arise. Steenbjerge points out that shifting demographics and the changing needs of the company are creating new recruitment challenges. She tells us, “Our main manpower consideration was people working in dispatch, but now I see we need to invest much more in IT skilled people, and I think that we’re looking at development going where we need to educate our skilled taskforce in another direction.”
One of the most essential elements of any road transport business is drivers, and that has become a challenge.
“Some of the challenges we are facing include the lack of capacity in our market regarding drivers,” Steenbjerge says. “Being a driver is a tough job, and it’s a job that used to be more sought after but isn’t any longer. The younger generation is looking for other challenges now, so we have a huge number of drivers that are nearing retirement so we need to build a new pipeline of talent coming into the sector.”
Anders Nielsen is responding to this challenge by working on ways to create a new pipeline for driver talent, not just from themselves, but through their subcontractors as well.
“We have our own education programme where we train a couple of drivers every year to become certified, but to be honest we need to do much more in that area,” Steenbjerge says. “Our company is structured so we have 100 trucks of our own and 650 others that are subcontracted, so what we will need to do in the future is have discussions with our subcontractors to enable them to build that talent pipeline.”
It’s entirely possible that while digital and automated solutions have changed the make-up of the workforce in such a way that qualified drivers are harder to come back, digital and automated solutions may provide the answer.
“Another issue to point to here could be the automation factor, looking at automated trucks could be a solution to this problem,” Steenbjerge says. “We could see a smaller demand for truck drivers but a bigger demand for truck engineers, people who will need a different set of skills because they may be steering remotely.”
Technology is also important to help meet the growing need for environmentally sustainable solutions.
“I hope we can become a leader and set new standards in terms of delivering the greenest container transport in the market, investing in climate compensation solutions,” Steenbjerge says. “We’re planting a huge forest in Uganda as we speak. The common thing is resources. We need to do more with less. That is what a digital automation project will enable us to do and is also the key in terms of sustainable trucking. We need to find new solutions for how to truck longer, to maybe use new kinds of diesel biofuels, to find out how we can do more with less.”