Adoption of the Physical Internet (PI)
: Key Implementation Challenges

  • Walid Mourhrib

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The current pattern of the way objects are transported has evolved significantly. Various economic trends had caused a growth in the field of logistics and supply chains. For example, a pattern shift towards home delivery has instigated an opportunity for further development of logistics networks and has added to their complexity. The discussion is, however, conducted at the wide edges of the spectrum. Logistics involves long-haul transportation in various modes. This is seen in the mass flow of objects across countries and continents. Consequently, an increase in operational complexity is a result of this trend, and it is not sustainable in the long run. On the other hand, innovative technologies have been introduced and swiftly developed in tandem to facilitate the movement of objects. These include, for example, delivery drones and electric vehicles. Additionally, a shift towards an Uber-style approach has been one of the trends, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the industry remains undeveloped and unsustainable, with the technology being sometimes expensive to implement and lacking in value creation. The ongoing pandemic has highlighted even further the vitalities as well as the inefficiencies of the logistics network, emphasising the need for a new paradigm.

A new game-changing logistics system, The Physical Internet (PI), has been proposed. This is an alternative, suggested to radically reshape the current logistics paradigm by adopting the same analogy of the digital internet. The PI is an open global logistics system aiming to universally interconnect logistics networks and, therefore, increase the efficiency, sustainability, and effectiveness of logistics processes. However, its implementation has not yet been realised. Its adoption is built upon uncertainties. The framework for the innovative transformation is yet to be developed. The adoption requires partially a strategic roadmap, organisational commitment, and an investment in the infrastructure. Currently, a pan-European plan has been introduced to replace the existing logistics networks with the PI by 2050. This research has investigated the challenges of adopting the PI, following an analysis of the status quo of the implementation. A qualitative approach is adopted to consult the projects and stakeholders involved in PI.

The research design features an interpretivist paradigm and a case study methodology to consult experts in the field of PI. This has been done in conjunction with a content analysis of project documentations. This design is particularly fit, considering the context of this research, as it provides credibility to the contributions. The summative content analysis of the projects has resulted in an identification of the enablers, challengers, and stakeholders of the PI. The identified stakeholders have been extensively interviewed. The results from the interviews have resulted in the identification of more challenges, as well as the attributes required for the organisational readiness of the PI. This involves the identification of various contributions to the body of knowledge, both in theory and practice.

This research makes three main contributions to the existing body of knowledge. First, it provides business knowledge regarding the strategic development of the PI, unlike the literature. Second, the diffusion is found to be more related to the PI than its adoption as the level of implementation is not mature enough. Third, the development of a new paradigm is backed by a theoretical foundation resulting from the triangulated findings. These contributions have theoretical and managerial implications.

This research also makes three recommendations. First, there is a need for a commitment to change the organisational mindset towards adopting this new PI paradigm. Second, the existing narrow and industry-focused research into the implementation of the PI needs to be replaced by an interdisciplinary holistic approach. Last, a framework for the adoption of the PI is presented. This provides an opportunity for a comprehensive assessment. at an organisational level. for readiness.
Date of Award3 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSahar Validi (Main Supervisor) & John Nicholson (Co-Supervisor)

Cite this