The freight forwarder’s profession is on the verge of a revolution. Data exchange and sharing economy is no longer a trend, it is a necessity.
You can read this article in 11 minutes
Experts argue that the freight forwarders’ working patterns must change. Above all, this requires a mental change, because tools that enable much faster freight forwarding, also thanks to the exchange of data between companies, are already in place. The biggest players are already using them.
I remember the days when we hired 5 or 6 forwarders. There was no need to create any complex databases. If someone had a transport, let’’ say to Munich, he asked his colleagues which carriers it was worth writing to or calling,” recalls Agata Steczek, head of the forwarding department at Crusar. “Now it is physically impossible. The company has grown, and so has the number of customers. Freight forwarders occupy several rooms and work on large quantities of different data. And sometimes, unfortunately, it is not possible to quickly determine who has what information and what they are working on, and the exchange of information and rapid communication are the foundations of our teams.”
It happens that a forwarder works for a particular customer. He has a few of ‘his’ carriers, who drive for him most often. However, if a sudden, additional order comes in, or a subcontractor’s truck breaks down, he has to look for a vehicle quickly.
He may not even know that in the same company, in the next room, there is another forwarder, working for a customer, who sends goods using very similar routes, conditions and times. However, completely different carriers drive for him, whose help could be used now, in this emergency.
Excel is not enough. Looking for carriers takes too long
Agata Steczek admits that this is a typical example of one of the biggest problems in the industry. Some people call it the problem of ‘data islands’. The point is that companies, departments and sometimes even individuals have data sets that only they know about. Sometimes they don’t have the will or the tools to share them. This effectively hinders cooperation.
On a small scale, this is illustrated by an example with two forwarders separated by a wall. In the larger one, it can be seen from the work of a logistics operator that functions as a separate island.
It has its own TMS, its own database of carriers and exchanges data with them. It cooperates with the outside world by e-mail, phone, etc. It’s actually cut off from external resources, explains Marek Prószyński, global account manager at Trans.eu.
Freight forwarders are well aware of this problem and look for solutions.
We tried to eliminate the problem of lack of information exchange between employees. Actually, the solution seems straightforward – a suitable tool, something like a database. And we used to do something like this. But a list of carriers, e.g. in Excel, is not enough. As long as this tool does not allow the forwarder to communicate quickly with the outside world, directly from it, without the use of e-mail or telephone, it will not do much good,” convinces Agata Steczek. “In addition, such communication should be possible with many carriers at the same time, so that a forwarder doesn’t have to write to each of them separately, offering an order.”
Sharing economy in transport – not for everyone?
Thanks to such improved communication and exchange of information, time spent on finding a subcontractor would be saved, but it would also go a step further – towards optimization of transport means.
It happens that one forwarder has two customers with cargo to be delivered e.g. to Munich. The timing of these transports is similar. Would it not be good for the system to suggest combining these loads in one truck? This would be a big saving for all participants in the supply chain, and it would have a good impact on the environment,” believes the representative of Crusar.
“Of course, such sharing economy attitude requires a change in the way of thinking not only about transport but also about the way the company is managed. I think, however, that for many companies it would be an interesting solution,” she adds.
Massive data production
But there is one condition. It is necessary to learn how to use data, which is largely dispersed today. This is one of the megatrends which, according to experts, must be observed in order to keep up with the digital revolution unfolding before our very eyes. And there’s more and more data.
According to forbes.pl, in the last two years we have produced more data than since the beginning of mankind.
Experts claim, however, that in order to use it, we need to learn how to collect and share it. This is becoming easier, because the amount of data is followed by the development of devices and systems that make it easier to handle them. Representatives of the industry confirm this.
Logistics operators manage not only the physical flow of goods, but also the information that accompanies these flows. This means that data must be managed efficiently, e.g. in terms of scope, permissions or transfer speed. Live information about the status of order fulfillment in the era of e-commerce deliveries is a must-have. There is a similar demand for data that allows for precise planning and updating of the lead time,” says Teresa Bukalska, Head of Project Management Office at ROHLIG SUUS Logistics.
They want to keep abreast of what is happening
This is what all actors in the supply chain expect. First of all, the recipients.
They want to receive not only status updates on the most important stages of the route: freight forwarding, transshipment and delivery, but they also like to keep abreast of what is happening and keep track of the route in real time. It is a convenience that allows you to precisely plan your presence at the pick-up point,” explains Bukalska.
That is why her company ‘has been investing in the safest form of communication with clients, i.e. systems integration, for several years now.’
It gives transparency of data entering the TMS system, eliminates errors during copying of data, is the basis for fully documented cooperation, as well as financial settlements and KPI,” explains Łukasz Włodarczak, International FTL Product Director at ROHLIG SUUS Logistics.
One data exchange platform
So much for exchanging data with customers. However, it turns out that their expectations in this respect do not differ much from those of the forwarders. Although the latter, as they argue, have a slightly different goal.
Efficient organization of transport while maintaining optimization of routes and costs,” Teresa Bukalska says. “This is where IT support comes in the form of TMS (transportation management system) systems with options for easy, often automatic route planning for vehicles, according to the type of transportability of a given commodity.”
“If we add to this the integration with the systems of customers and business partners, then using mobile devices and solutions such as RPA (Robotic Process Automation), the role of the forwarder may focus on controlling the entire process and making possible corrections so that the activities are optimized. It is possible to go further and integrate with commercial platforms of services, i.e. freight exchanges,” adds the expert.
Indeed, in the era of high-end IT systems and TMS 4.0 it is possible.
Version 2.0 was prepared for use within a company and was helpful in managing transport orders in a specific company. Version 3.0 allowed for a bit more, e.g. occasional communication with another entity, e.g. a driver, who could send some confirmation or status,” recalls Marek Prószyński and adds that the most recent, cutting edge technologies enable ‘access to enormous resource data outside the contract,’ which is their great strength, because ‘they are able to combine dispersed islands of data and resources, combine them into a platform and give the forwarder what is needed at a given moment in time.’
Some forwarding companies are already using tools that allow them to overcome at least some of the problems related to accessing distributed resources and data. Successfully.
As a logistics operator, we often combine different types of freight when planning the route of a shipment in a complex supply chain. Therefore, we decided to integrate the systems with the leading companies on the air and sea transport market: airlines and shipowners. In this way, our forwarders can optimally plan the entire route and then see the entire route of the shipment, regardless of the type of freight,” explains Teresa Bukalska.
This data integration is crucial. So is the electronic transmission of data, which is directly distributed in the systems of the participants in the logistics process.
A responsible company, faced with a large number of processes, invests in solutions that automate and optimize the workload,” agrees Łukasz Włodarczak.
“There are many systems available on the market, working in different programming environments. At the interface of cooperation between companies, this, unfortunately, results in the need to implement and duplicate certain processes in at least two systems. Rohlig Suus Logistics, seeing a significant dispersion of data and systems, gradually invests in system integration mechanisms, not only with ERP or SAP systems of contractors but also with data exchange platforms widely available on the market, used by our contractors and subcontractors,” he adds.
However, companies believe that investing in such tools pays off.
Thanks to such solutions, we not only increase the efficiency of our operations, but also eliminate errors resulting from rewriting data,” notes Włodarczak. “In this way, we are informed in real time about the current vehicle position, the status of order execution, anomalies, but we are also environmentally friendly because we eliminate the flow of paper documents.”