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Maersk’s 3PL subsidiary Damco has established a wholly-owned digital freight forwarder so it can compete with the rapid growth in the sector and act as a conduit for new business for the group.
Speaking to The Loadstar at the Multimodal exhibition in Birmingham, Twill Logistics chief executive Troels Stovring said the container shipping industry needed to “reinvent itself” after decades of inertia and offer shippers value-added products.
“The ships are the same, the rates are much the same and, with the alliance reshuffle, shippers will be looking for improved customer service and visibility in the supply chain to differentiate the carrier and forwarder,” he said.
Twill – the name had a number of roots towards its inception, but ‘it will’ seems to have been the strongest – has been successfully trialled with 10 selected Damco customers on the Asia-UK tradelane.
It will enable customers of Damco whose shipments are with a number of carriers (including Maersk) to “book, manage and monitor shipments” via smart phones or other devices.
According to Mr Stovring, the four key features of Twill are: instant quotation; integrated document handling; milestone transparency; and proactive exception management.
Jo Southwell, a Scotland-based logistics manager at men’s accessory company Randa Accessories, said the 100-year-old global group had been “pleased to be involved” in Twill’s development.
She said: “Already the online platform is giving us improved visibility of our shipments, meaning we can see where our goods are in the supply chain at any given time.”
Ms Southwell said that hitherto, Randa had “relied on a lot of manual processes including emails back and forth with our team in China” to obtain the status of its container shipments.
Mr Stovring likened early Twill trials to “pouring water into a bucket to find the leaks”, but said having fixed all the bugs in the system Twill would now be rolled out to new customers on the Asia-Europe route from 10 April.
The heavy IT aspect to the start-up is the reason why the 30 staff at Twill – based in The Hague separately to Damco – comprise around two-thirds with tech backgrounds and one-third from the logistics sector.
The UK was chosen over other North European countries to be the first market to be rolled out, due to its lower utilisation of barge and rail, but Mr Stovring said he expected Rotterdam to be included by the end of the year, once the software is upgraded to cover the intermodal hinterland leg.
Mr Stovring added that the software would also cover relays by feeder vessels to final destination ports such as Dublin and Belfast.
He stressed that the overriding endeavour was to “keep the booking process of freight as simple as possible” and claimed that this could be achieved in 30 seconds via the Twill site.
“Shipping has got to move with the times,” he said, and referred to an internal survey that suggested that, by 2020, 47% of people booking container space will be millennials – those born in the 1980s – schooled to expect to be able to reserve and book most services and products via their smart phones.
Referring to other emerging digital-first forwarders, such as Flexport and iContainers, Mr Stovring acknowledged these companies had “great products”, but said the potential market was “enormous and largely untapped”, and that Twill was a key part of Maersk’s strategy for a digital future.