Unlocking AI’s Potential to Transform the Future of Forwarding

AI and digitalization are already helping forwarders in various ways like transforming unstructured data, enhancing visibility and analytics, and streamlining internal communications.

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Within the logistics industry, those using digital logistics platforms, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) are leading the drive to transform how our business is done in a meaningful way.

Yet the fear that technology, and AI in particular, is threatening roles within our industry has not only impeded it from fully embracing digitalization but has also created the misinformed idea that AI is here to hurt rather than help. 

AI gives forwarders the power to automate tedious and time-consuming tasks such as data entry, invoice reconciliation, and customs entry preparation, enabling them to do more meaningful work such as regulatory compliance, sharing knowledge, relationship building with colleagues, vendors and customers, and improving service levels – which drives real growth and profitability. 

Further, digital platforms are offering a smarter way for forwarders to communicate, both internally and externally. 

AI and digitalization are already helping forwarders in various ways, such as: 

The transformation of unstructured data to drive greater operational efficiency 

The process of extracting relevant unstructured data from a document (such as a paper invoice or a pdf of a packing list), into a digital format is a lengthy and tedious process to do manually – especially when these documents can be hundreds of pages long. 

AI can contextualize, extract and input this data in seconds. But it’s what you do with the extracted data which is of real value to your operations. By harnessing this now structured digital data, it can be tied into existing systems (such as TMS) to automate workflows which optimize processes across the lifecycle of a shipment. 

This is a revolutionary development which alleviates a lot of manual pressure on forwarders, reducing the time taken to prepare documents, conduct risk assessments and process invoices, thereby empowering them to refocus on more meaningful tasks and strategic initiatives. 

Enhanced visibility and analytics 

AI can help improve visibility across the supply chain by providing up-to-date information to yourself and your customers, as well as allowing shipments to be tracked in real time. 

This data provides a centralized, holistic view of a business, giving insights into various aspects including how to improve team, understand what is happening with your clients and optimize your business making decisions. 

For example, AI could analyze team and client performance to identify operational bottlenecks so forwarders can resolve issues faster, providing forwarders with a unique opportunity to offer their customers a better, more efficient service.

This visibility also helps forwarders to improve decision. By analyzing data on shipping routes, transportation modes, and delivery schedules, and considering potential risks and hazards along the way, AI can help to identify the most efficient and cost-effective logistics solutions for a shipment while reducing the risk of delays or disruptions, based on parameters set by the organization. 

Streamlining internal communications 

As our industry continues to digitalize, we are seeing more and more methods of communication being used across businesses, including email, Slack and WhatsApp.

Across these disparate systems we are seeing multiple threads, or siloes, of crucial information that can be confusing, time-consuming and annoying for teams to read back through and connect together, which could additionally lead to errors or miscommunications if things, understandably, slip through the cracks. 

It is becoming increasingly apparent that digital solutions are needed to help forwarders, who are communicating across time zones, geographies and disparate systems. 

Part of the solution is to utilize digital platforms, which negate the need for different communication methods by providing one centralized solution where all communication takes place. This strengthens coordination internally across the whole organization and externally with customers.

Another key benefit of this is to record clear audit trails, where price changes or alterations to contracts may otherwise get lost outside of the system. The immense power of having all this information internally, and in one place, is yet to be realized fully by freight forwarders who are facing these challenges daily.

Embracing AI – how far can we go? 

Embracing digitalization and AI is becoming a competitive advantage for freight forwarders and logistics companies. In order to remain relevant, our industry needs to embrace these new technologies and prioritize the digitalization of everyday processes. And using these technologies is now possible, and more accessible than ever. 

I am optimistic, especially after covid acting as a catalyst for digitalization, that boards are paying a lot more attention and our industry is accelerating towards embracing such technologies.

And it's clear that, ultimately, this is ushering in a new wave of smart logistics to help forwarders increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction. 

We are only just beginning to scratch the surface of what this technology can do for our industry, but those who are using it are already reaping the rewards.