Automation: The Future of Freight

Instant Freight Quotes: The Future of Freight

Picture this:

A freight forwarder gets a call from a shipper, who asks for a quote. The freight forwarder takes out his tablet and taps in the origin, destination and shipment details. When he clicks “Search”, the website searches for an instant freight quote. If the forwarder doesn’t have coverage, it searches his agent’s rates too. Within 30 seconds, the freight forwarder can call back the freight forwarder with an instant freight quote. Cool, right? Now imagine the shipper logging directly into the freight forwarder’s website to do the same exact thing!

The magic behind this is automation. What is automation and how can it increase your revenues?

Technology, meet freight.

Freight is a big, big business. If you take a look at Inbound Logistic’s 2013 Shipping Line guide, you will see that the 25 shipping companies listed own and operate over 5,000 ships. And these are not small yachts. Maersk’s 500+ ships have almost a 2,000,000 TEU capacity. And that’s just scratching the surface. In the United States alone, trucks travel 93 billion miles per year. That’s like driving around the globe 3.7 million times.

Which explains why 3PLs, 4PLs and even 5PLs are popping up in order to provide additional services to supplement shipping activity. It’s a simple equation: more freight being moved means more carriers and more complex routes. More carriers and routes means more 3PLs, which means more service providers to provide additional freight services. While this traditionally would require more people involved, technological developments have become a force multiplier. Take the largest ship out there, the Maersk Triple E, and count the number of crew members aboard. 22. That’s it. But those 22 highly trained, skilled workers are conductors leading a symphony of computer systems that control the biggest ship in the world.

Automation at a factory

KIVA Robots in action

Today, computers and robotics can drastically reduce overhead and improve efficiency. There is a reason Amazon recently acquired Kiva Robotics for $775 million dollars. Kiva robots are, as Time Magazine explains, smart forklifts that can deliver inventory to workers. The automation solutions they provide are a quantum leap forward from harnessing machines for brute force; these robots are capable of planning routes and cross-checking information to make sure that they can quickly deliver products to employees in busy warehouses. So automation has been moving over from only physical processes to knowledge automation.

This IMPO article predicts that:
“Changes we’ve seen in the past 20 years as a result of robotic technology and automation could be followed by a period of equally dramatic changes as automation extends further into the knowledge sector“. As knowledge automation increases, companies can outsource complex calculations to computers, freeing up employees to chase new leads, make more sales or continue to expand business in other ways. Humans cannot be replaced (at least not yet) but they can be assisted.

 Freight Automation on the Rise

While freight is a huge business that spans the globe, it remains eminently human. When a shipper wants to move freight, they call up a freight forwarder who they trust. They know that the freight forwarder has the right connections, the right routes and the experience to see a shipment through. Customer service remains a keystone in the industry and will never be replaced. But knowledge automation can be incorporated to help that freight forwarder work faster. And it doesn’t require robots sitting as a desk either.

Freight Software: Your Best Salesperson

High up on the list of most freight forwarder’s pet peeves would probably be the nightmare they go through when generating multi-modal, multi-leg quotes that force them to open up dozens of contracts, wait for answers from agents and then add in their own markup.
 There are two critical processes here that could move much, much faster:
  1. Instant freight quoting
  2. Collaborating  with agents.

Automating these processes will let forwarders generate quotes in second, so that shippers don’t need to wait for quotes. It also frees up the freight forwarder to spend more time on sales and less on clicking through Excel spreadsheets. A Logistics Viewpoint article about SaaS (Software as a Service) highlighted the real benefit of using SaaS:

 SaaS applications that connect organizations and support trading partner transactions are well positioned to deliver demand-side increasing returns, also known as the “network effect.” Once established, the network increases in value with the number of users.
We couldn’t agree more.