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Mumbai-based logistics start-up Cogoport is bringing a new level of transparency to India’s ocean freight booking market, it claims.

The online freight exchange offers price discovery and booking using a data-driven technology solution, which it says provides a simpler booking experience.

“My main driver was the disjointed way the freight industry does business and the predominance of outdated, analog systems,” said Cogoport founder and chief executive Purnendu Shekhar.

“Here the inefficiency is largely by design – the opacity created is more with the assumptions of making more profits, albeit that has made hundreds of thousands of organisations sub-optimal and, hence, loss-making.

“We saw a great business which could be built on transparency and efficiency,” he added.

Launched in May last year, Cogoport is now growing at 15-20% a month, with 2,000 registered users and over 11,000 teu shipped to date.

Shippers using the platform are largely multinational companies from India’s agricultural sector, while on the supplier side no differentiation is made between freight forwarders and shipping lines.

Mr Shekhar said Cogoport’s complex algorithm allowed shippers to view and book the best freight rates with a single click.

“It takes millions of line items – prices, transit times, vessel details for 100,000 port pairs across the world and hundreds of suppliers – and runs through distributed computing models.

“After the shipment is booked, the operations dashboard allows customers to track them, and it also provides numerous analytics around that particular shipment.

“Now our priority is to shrink this century-old business into a smartphone screen –and, in a very short time, that will get replaced by a voice command,” he believed.

Mr Shekhar, whose 22-year industry experience includes stints with Panalpina and Damco, argues that technology can replace humans in some aspects of freight forwarding.

“Moving goods internationally or domestically is made up of very sequential and simple steps. Humans are made to do much smarter things rather just making phone calls. There are always initial challenges to change the status quo, but the fact remains that technology can do repetitive tasks much better and with far more accuracy than humans.

“For example, with regards to rolling cargo, give me one good example of to what humans do today, apart from some misrepresentation of facts: make a few calls, that’s it. Most of the time I never even knew cargo had been rolled over when I was working with top global organisations.

“Once the cargo has been rolled over then there’s very little anyone can do, as changing vessels, slot sharing and statutory formalities are not that easy. Technology on the other hand will change many of these things very differently,” claimed Mr Shekhar.

India’s freight market is estimated to reach US$300bn by 2020, with international freight making up $40bn and growing by 12%-14% per year, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).

Mr Shekhar highlighted the complexities of the Indian market and thus the scale of opportunity for making the industry more efficient.

“This segment is complex and inefficient, with multiple players adding layers of opacity, leading to significant cost to the buyer and sub-optimal capacity utilisation for suppliers. A fragmented, localised, scale-inefficient and technology-deprived market creates a huge opportunity for us.

“Ultimately, we want to bring the entire ecosystem on one platform in a very transparent and highly encrypted way, so as to make this traditional industry paperless and currency-less,” he said.

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