Digitizing the Freight-Forwarding Process

The ability to see and make use of the data has never been greater. The freight-forwarders who combine those tools with the best of their own strategic thinking will lead the way.

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Just about everything in logistics can now be digitized. The industry has access to an astonishing number of technology platforms that can perform almost any conceivable function – from securing rate quotes and locating carrier capacity to freight visibility and dock access.

Freight-forwarders looking to bring their own unique value proposition to the industry are both blessed and cursed by the plethora of digital tools. The blessing is that digitizing functions is easy. The curse is that it’s just as easy for everyone else in the industry. And merely digitizing is no longer a value-add for an industry that’s struggling to overcome difficult challenges.

What was once the exclusive realm of tech-savvy companies is now utilized by even the smallest of competitors. The advantages that once belonged to those with access to the latest technology now belong to those who can apply the sharpest thinking to the use of that technology.

The freight-forwarder who wants to stand out must add high-level strategic insight to the tools now available. Just providing data is no longer acceptable for freight forwarders in the eyes of their customers. Big-box stores require actionable data that not only tells them what’s currently happening, but also provides insight into steps that should be taken next. Forwarders must take the extra step and become customer driven in order to remain competitive.

Harmonizing customer needs with technology solutions during the onboarding phase

 It’s often said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Freight-forwarders who invest in certain digital technology may be tempted to recommend the “solution” that doesn’t address the customer’s problem but rather fits with the capabilities of the digital technology the forwarder wants to use.

With so many kinds of technology available, there is no reason for this approach. Freight-forwarders need to objectively consider all capabilities of every available platform, then design applications that work to solve specific problems of specific customers.

One factor that can complicate this approach is too many software implementations. What’s needed is an integration platform that brings together different technologies and aligns them to speak the same language. The marketplace is seeing high demand from companies who want more technology options – without having to grapple with the many different platforms.

When companies in the supply chain industry can plug their legacy systems into modern API-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools to better manage things like freight visibility, pricing and compliance risk, the real strategic thinkers are in a better position to achieve the best solutions, while freeing up people to perform customer relationship duties. 

Thinking strategically about where to invest in digital assets

More digitization doesn’t necessarily lead to a market advantage. The best strategy for investing and deploying digital assets is to align them with a company’s existing brand and service offerings.

Company leaders should ask: Where do we already offer industry-leading ideas and insights? What kinds of value does the industry trust us to deliver? 

Investing in digital assets to bolster those areas of strength is the best way to find a unique positioning in the market.

Of course, it’s always worthwhile to consider establishing new services that can benefit from digital tools. But either way, the key is to strategically tie digital investments to a company’s strategic positioning and capabilities. 

Aligning new digital technologies with a familiar TMS

One advantage of cloud-based technologies is that they can be aligned with a company’s existing transportation management system (TMS). Rather than making companies deal with a series of individual software deployments, the smart move is to simply integrate them with the system company leaders are already using, so they become one more feature in an already familiar system.

This makes it possible to move quickly past the difficult deployments and into the impact phase of heightened visibility and all-around better information. It is one of the most frequent things our clients mention as a priority.

And the industry needs effective tools like this right now. The Federal Maritime Commission is looking for better ways to examine shipping data and determine existing constraints to help the flow of cargo. FMC Commissioner Carl W. Bentzel says this will start with an examination of data already available to the public.

Some of the best data is in the TMS systems of companies that have integrated their digital assets. The most effective freight-forwarders, having made these strategic technology investments, can become industry leaders by now deploying these assets to solve the biggest problems their customers face.

The tools are plentiful. The ability to see and make use of the data has never been greater. The freight-forwarders who combine those tools with the best of their own strategic thinking will lead the way.