Don't believe the hype - there is a long way to go before digitisation revolutionises container shipping, says Alphaliner
Predictions that the current crop of disruptive digital start-ups will revolutionise container shipping has been ...
With no let-up in investment in IT and software, freight forwarders and online logistics platforms are increasingly running into a talent shortage, as demand from shippers for better supply chain visibility grows.
Flexport founder and chief executive Ryan Petersen told The Loadstar in a recent interview that it was it was becoming “super hard” to get staff as the US-headquartered freight forwarder continued its international expansion – recently raising $65m of new investment and opening an office in Shenzhen.
“We are adding a software engineer every week, and we have built a few really important things recently, such as the ability to reroute cargo in transit, down to the SKU [stock keeping unit] level.
“If you are selling through a retail channel and you know that there’s some possibility that a certain product is going to get more orders in certain places, you can redirect cargo via our web app. In the near future we will do that through your API, which allows you to start matching demand with supply.
“This is true omnichannel retailing and involves retailers’ purchase orders at a 3PL level.”
Inna Kuznetsova, president of online container shipping platform INTTRA, told The Loadstar: “The existence of companies like Flexport raises the bar for the container shipping industry by bringing in money, brains and talent. This is a very complex industry and you need to package innovation in a way that helps the wider industry adopt it, while the problems that are being solved have to have a very quick return on investment.
“But it creates fantastic opportunities for shippers which have strong IT systems, and requires freight forwarders to provide more data – which itself is an opportunity to create more value from visibility.
Mr Petersen said it also involved something of mental shift for forwarders.
“One of the most important differences with us is that we see all the people as our end customers, whether they are trucking companies or ocean carriers
“When you automate things there is a real opportunity for everyone – you can bring the factories into your transaction, even if it’s third-party factories because we have a work flow for them to trade with each other, as long as you provide data points to put in.
“The problem hasn’t been explaining this to customers – for almost all our customers it’s not a transactional system – the bigger problem is explaining it to carriers.
Meanwhile, INTTRA, which recently released a detention and demurrage feature on its dashboard, is looking at other ways it can develop its platform.
“We are looking at perhaps developing products such as those providing predictive business analytics,” said Ms Kuznetsova. “But the ‘holy grail’ is tracking containers via the Internet of Things – there is a huge appetite from shippers for simple reports telling them where their box is.
“Another direction could be facilitating smoother transitions from ocean to intermodal, combining the information about long-haul rail operations and drayage services at ports. We are exploring various partnerships that could make this work and finding the best way to package the information.”
In a related development, this week INTTRA and online container booking platform 45HC.com signed an alliance allowing the latter to expand its services and reach by providing access to the INTTRA network to its customers through INTTRA’s container booking and track & trace services.
Stefan Kukman, chief executive of 45HC.com, said: “The integration of INTTRA services provides our customers with seamless access to the world’s largest multi-carrier network and best-in-class container tracking rooted in the industry’s largest repository of shipment data.”