Troubled TNT to strengthen pharma, road networks

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After reporting a €47 million operating income loss for the third quarter, compared to a €3 million profit for last year’s Q3, Dutch express delivery firm TNT Express NV said it will roll out a new platform allowing pharmaceutical customers to track their sensitive shipments from end to end throughout the process.

During Monday’s earnings call, TNT also announced a four-year, €185 million initiative to beef up the courier’s European road network, plus an ongoing effort to improve customer service.

The new platform, called TrialDat, is a web-based data management tool designed for managing shipments in the lucrative life sciences sector. By enabling customers to see detailed views of the entire shipping process and create their own customized reports, TrialDat is expected to bring more visibility to the complex supply chain of the clinical research industry.

“One of the key challenges facing the [clinical research] sector is how to bring new drugs to the market faster, whilst maintaining a tight control on R&D spend,” said a spokesperson for TNT. “This is made even more difficult by the often fragmented clinical trial supply chain, a direct result of the growth of outsourcing strategies by pharmaceutical companies. In order to manage this effectively, the need for a bird’s eye view of global study data is becoming critical.”

TrialDat is expected to be available to all customers in first quarter of 2015, TNT said.

Citing the enormous road fleets of his chief competitors, such as Deutsche Post DHL, UPS and FedEx, TNT CFO Maarten de Vries discussed the company’s plans for improving its road service. For the next four years, TNT “will focus on 12 of our 19 international road transit hubs and will open a new hub in Madrid,” he said. “The investment will be spent on software and tools for route planning, and trailers. It will give us operational excellence and productivity improvement.”

De Vries, who became CFO in July, also said he was “looking for long-haul partners” in the company’s air network. “We have five fully utilized long-haul aircraft. As time goes on we will review that and replace where needed,” he added. “We are looking to play it smart, without significant investment.”

Restructuring costs, Europe’s poor economy and a “competitive challenge” for express services were the main reasons for the Q3 downturn, de Vries said.  But TNT was also negatively affected by a €50 million provision for the European Competition Commission regarding alleged violations of antitrust laws. The antitrust dispute also helped scuttle a planned $7 billion takeover bid by UPS in January 2013.  

“Our customers are improving their supply chains day by day and we need to keep up to serve them in the best way possible,” de Vries added. “The key challenge is in our service performance, which is not where we want it to be.”

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