Regardless of your place in the industry, it’s impossible to ignore the signs that international shipping is headed towards a digital revolution that will dramatically change everything about the way goods are moved from point A to point B—from how the order is placed, how the cargo is tracked and how hiccups in the process are managed. Here are three reasons to expect a digital tsunami in the upcoming years.
Instant price confirmation and online booking have been standard in the travel industry for over a decade—and if you’re picking up a friend at the airport, you can easily check online to see if his flight is on time. Digital tools have proliferated in other areas of business, too. There are tools for managing accounting, human resources, customer relationships and inventory.
In contrast, most companies still book freight through a series of phone calls, emails and even faxes. Most top freight forwarders still take days to respond to quote requests. The entire process seems antiquated when compared with other modern business procedures.
In MHI’s 2017 survey, 80% of respondents thought that a digital supply chain would be the dominant model five years from now while only 5% were very satisfied with their company’s progress toward adopting digital tools. Those numbers point to a major pent-up demand for technology adoption in the logistics industry.
Digital Tools Help Manage Complex and Shifting Relationships
Moving freight from point A in one country to point B in another country requires coordinating seven to ten difference service providers and even more individual humans, all of whom are working in different time zones, in different languages and in different cultural environments. That level of complexity is a recipe for disaster—which explains why problems are so common when moving freight.
Digital tools make communication and coordination between the different companies and individuals in the supply chain automatic—and managed through an API, not a phone call. There is no more risk of information going missing or someone not getting notified about a delay at the factory. Removing the opportunities for human error in communication greatly reduces small problems in the shipping process and prevents minor problems from becoming major disasters.
Digital solutions also allow shippers the visibility needed to make last-minute changes in freight itineraries, whether it’s because of a factory delay or shifting import regulations. One of Fleet’s clients was recently able to ensure that a shipment of steel cleared customs days ahead of the new tariff. Without digital tools, the customer would have had little control over the shipment once it left the factory—and would have ended up losing money on the order.
Digitization Can Solve Major Industry Pain Points
It’s no secret that shippers aren’t entirely satisfied with the level of customer service and general availability of information in the industry. Here are some examples of how digital tools can make your life easier:
- + Digital tools are the only way to provide the kind of real-time visibility into cargo location and continuously-updated ETA that shippers need and expect;
- + While price is an important part of choosing a particular route or service provider, it’s not the only metric that matters—reliability and transit time are also important.-+ Digital tools are the only way to access data on all the metrics that matter to make the best shipping decisions for your company;
- + Things go wrong when move freight around the globe, and digital tools prevent a small problem from becoming a nightmare;
- + Digital tools give you the information you need at your fingertips, without having to track down a customer service representative.
At the moment, digitization is starting to penetrate individual components of the shipping industry. For example, companies like Convoy and Trucker Path build digital tools specifically for trucking, and INTTRA has digital solutions for ocean freight. The real revolution will come when logistic professionals can use a single digital platform to manage the entire freight journey.
The logistics industry is on the verge of a digital revolution that will change the way freight is moved and the way shippers large and small approach their jobs. Ultimately, digital tools will make moving freight easier, more flexible and more resilient in the face of disruption. That will give shippers more time to spend focusing on logistics and inventory decisions that actually relate to their business rather than putting out freight-related fires.