Uncertainty in freight today, and how technology is making a difference
Freight professionals are no strangers to coping with sudden changes in conditions, markets, and prevailing trends. The current COVID-19 crisis is clearly unprecedented, forcing huge change onto every supply chain company across the globe. Coping with, managing and even thriving in these changed circumstances can be achieved, but requires access to every available scrap of information in every area of operations.
Here, technology can make a significant difference. And like many uses of tech in the whole supply chain & logistics industry, the gains in efficiency and accuracy benefit every player in the game: from the manufacturer or importer, right through to the final consumer. Agility in these challenging times, efficiencies and cost savings gained at the logistics level have the ability to positively affect the entire supply chain, cement partnerships and ensure business viability, going forward.
Here on the pages of Tech HQ, we’re looking at suppliers of technology especially for the freight industry, companies that are specialists in helping businesses manage altered circumstances, scale better, and work more efficiently regardless. Rather than having to deploy more staff to pick their way through individual prices, agreements, sudden rate changes, and booking procedures, the tireless silicon “brains” of the latest generation of software are helping companies create efficiency gains and pivot rapidly as market conditions change.
Let’s start with a quick bullet-point run-down of some of the common issues of organizing a freight business with multiple partners and suppliers:
– Lane prices change hourly — much faster than just a month ago — from freight company to company.
– From the other side, load requirements are different every day.
– There’s always variation in freight rates depending on requirement for/availability of vans, flats, or reefers, plus all the combinations available present a scattering of price options.
– Discounts might be possible. When spot rates are low, it affects how contract rates are negotiated and visa versa.
– Do carriers qualify appropriately with regards to licenses, safety records, and insurance? Where are these details?
– The engagement processes and financial processes (quote-to-booking-to) differ from company to company.
– Small factors often make for big problems, such as paper or electronic bills of lading, paper trails, invoicing methods, and so on.
The offices of many brokerages are always busy places, with staff typically having to jump from website to phone, to filing cabinet, back to the computer. It seems to be the only way that information can be kept up-to-date, and the best solutions found for both freight suppliers and freight purchasers.
Thankfully, instead of masses of those manual processes and (probably hundreds of) Excel sheets and data stores, technology now has a majority of the answers to those layers of complexity touched upon, above. The crucial technology is the API (or application programming interface), a simple concept but one that’s not often well understood.
The interface’s power
APIs connect computer systems, in short. By interconnecting the various systems that belong to contractors, haulers, brokers, and companies right across the logistics industry, individuals can see a gathered view of all up-to-the-second information in any form required. As long as a company or organization (and its software systems) has an API that is capable of presenting and/or consuming data, the facts and figures from anywhere can be processed and displayed in real-time.
In a time of market volatility (perhaps worldwide economic volatility), having accurate information updated in real-time is a critical difference for freight operators, brokers, and supply chain elements.
Because the footwork is being done by software, and because all information exists, in its barest form, as data, freight companies, brokers, and customers can draw on that information and parse it in different ways, quickly.
For instance, it becomes easy to spot trends in the ways that prices vary over both the short and long terms; which lanes have the most operators and available truckloads; how unforeseen or seasonal factors affect prices and availability; who are the best companies to deal with; where have unavoidable problems occurred; and where mistakes were made.
It’s that type of analysis that many logistics brokers don’t have time to undertake, and the nature of the information is that much of it is fleeting.
Monitoring change second-by-second
Live load boards are just that: live, allowing brokers to pair loads with haulers with ease, and compare lane rates against averages. Load availability in every lane, too, can be right there, under users’ fingertips, and software can even suggest more efficient solutions, like a new pattern of backhauls, or route alternatives. And with the right technology, individual loads can be tracked in real-time.
From highly granular data upwards, the freight industry and the supply chain in general are finding that the benefits of intelligent, dedicated software can help them scale, pivot, cut costs or invest, offer customers better deals, and make sure truckers and other road users are safer.
The depth of data
But perhaps the real gem of today’s logistics management technology is its ability to unearth from very different data sources the type of insights that can allow significant strategic planning and predictions, even in unpredictable times. That’s because as well as tracking prices and availability, software helps collate and process financial data, too.
Of course, many carriers and brokers already use a range of financial products and are very comfortable with the tools at their fingertips. Here, APIs also play their role, feeding crucial, real-time financial information into systems in ways that allow it to be processed by existing tools, if that’s what’s preferred. That way, the software doesn’t require a “burn down and start again” mentality. Instead, the logistics systems fit into the technology stack that’s already in place. That saves on retraining staff and makes sure there’s a full realization of investment in existing tech.
Good platforms naturally change according to use, according to personal preference, and even as a result of tumultuous changes in the market. One dashboard of all information might be preferred; others may prefer a more modular approach, where specifics of information can be drilled into.
Here at TechHQ, we’ve become aware of one supplier of the type of technology that can make a significant difference to brokers and the astute players in the logistics and freight industry. The platforms from DAT Solutions have been shown to not only help change the way a company works for the better, but they also let efficiencies continue as the company grows and undergoes any change.
When it comes to drawing out valuable insights from the information collected all day, every day, older “traditional” tools just don’t make the grade. Those might be anything from Excel sheets to an expensive (but not particularly suitable) company-wide ERP solution.
But DAT Solutions has been around since before tech became commonplace, and that shows in the way the platform is built solely for the industry (not a different product “parachuted into” the freight sector).
The DAT Solutions iQ technology is probably the best example we’ve seen of software that’s capable of creating rate-forecasting insights for any freight company, anywhere. And in this highly competitive space, using the information that’s hiding in plain sight in everyday operations makes the difference between just surviving in the most challenging circumstances in a generation, and thriving, long-term.
*Some of the companies featured in this article are commercial partners of TechHQ