In a constantly evolving digital landscape, more and more businesses are turning towards online platforms. The shipping and freight forwarding industry is no exception. Those who are most at risk of falling behind in the digital race are those who are reluctant to embrace this technological world we find ourselves in. Businesses want more immediate responses in relation to their supply chain enquiries and all this can be done at the touch of a button, plus it doesn’t have to cost the earth as some would have us believe.
“Take the travel industry” he said. “How do you search for flights? You don’t go to a travel agent anymore – right? It’s online. It’s all online at the touch of a button and you’re probably using a Google search.”
“So, my friend knows me well. But his point was… if you apply that same principle to the freight forwarding industry, the small independent forwarder is in trouble. Only ten years ago, we heard that ‘if you dug up Nelson’s shipping clerk, he would recognise much of the paperwork today’. But today the industry is awash with multimillion-dollar investments in digital technology and blockchain solutions.
It’s generational. Generation Y want to automate processes; Generation Z will expect automated processes. The counter argument from an older guard: freight forwarding has always been an industry built on personal relationships.
That’s true, it always has been. Each generation is right, but as the counter arguments slips in to a well-earned retirement, we have to agree that business processes are changing. Slower than the tech start-ups would wish for; quicker than the naysayers believe. Ignore, for a moment, the typical ‘multinational freight forwarder in multimillion-dollar investment in digital solution’ headlines. There are still huge benefits for a shipper using small independent freight forwarders.
In container shipping alone, bankruptcy, consolidation, mergers and acquisitions among the top shipping lines are choppy waters that most SME shippers would be unwilling to navigate. Further, there is the instability of freight rates as supply and demand from Asia turns liner shipping books from black to red, to black again, as each quarter passes.
Digital forwarding is coming, but here’s the thing: Digital forwarding does not require million-dollar investment from small forwarders. You do not have digitise your entire business. Digital forwarding does not mean you have to offer rates to the whole world. On a smaller scale, digital forwarding is about offering value, and it can be achieved in small cost-effective steps:
Start with larger clients, allow them instant pricing online, update a tariff designed only for them. Let them book online and get access to analyse their business with you. Shipper needs and wants have not changed – how they get them has. The freight forwarder that embraces digital forwarding as an opportunity will become a cost and value leader. Tomorrow’s forwarder is delivering information as much as the container itself.”
James works for Maritime Standard. Local + Global + Together + Digital, they run a worldwide freight forwarding network that uses cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solution to drive collaboration between freight forwarders. They offer digital forwarding solutions with the same software: From simple instant pricing, booking, chat functionality through to much more complex integration with operating systems.