A steady stream of trade and commerce will be critical to economic recovery, but with supply chains disrupted and many logistics operations forced to upend their business models, plenty of obstacles remain in the way of frictionless movement of goods.
Although the pandemic has introduced immense and unfamiliar challenges to the logistics and supply chain management space, friction is nothing new in the sector, said Dan Clark, vice president of product innovation and strategy at Trimble and founder of Kuebix, a Trimble company.
As Clark recently told PYMNTS, one of the biggest bottlenecks is in matching shippers with carriers that meet their transportation and capacity needs — and it's a roadblock to seamless trade that can cause cash flow bottlenecks, too.
The Little Black Book
"Shippers historically have relied on limited contact databases for their capacity needs," Clark explained. "Some maintained contact lists in 'little black books' that they would have to manually flip through to find numbers for carriers. Then, they would have to actually call those carriers up and make delivery arrangements."
Unsurprisingly, this manual, paper-based process would take hours. While the shipping and logistics sector has indeed made progress toward digitization, Clark noted that the process of connecting shippers and carriers remains one with limited visibility and lots of wasted time.
"Some shippers are still relying on spreadsheets and endless email chains to manage their transportation operations," he said. "This way of doing business is both slow and leaves valuable money on the table when shippers aren't shopping around for the best rates."
Connectivity Through Big Data
Developing a community of shippers and carriers that can connect digitally is the first step to tossing out the little black book and spreadsheets. But modernizing this landscape means expanding beyond the matchmaking process to truly optimize the movement of goods — and streamline cash flows.
By combining shippers, carriers, brokers and other players in the process on a single portal, a third-party platform can pre-vet companies to ensure the right match is made. After that link is created, Big Data enables for heightened transparency as goods are transported, with all of that information able to be integrated into users' back offices.
"We live in the era of Big Data," he said. "Harnessing the power of technology gives shippers access to all the data and metrics which were going undocumented when they were relying on phone calls and emails."
This information is essential to contract compliance as well as timely and accurate B2B payments, Clark added, pointing to Kuebix's Freight Pay and Audit solution that supports seamless data integration along the matchmaking, booking and payment process.
Driving The Economy Forward
Accelerating and optimizing the matchmaking process offers the ability to keep commerce flowing, a feat now more important than ever. Today's economic uncertainty means shippers especially can benefit from using technology to mitigate the risk of lane rate volatility and work with reputable shippers, said Clark.
Recovery isn't guaranteed to be swift or easy, even with automated technology reducing friction along the supply chain. Clark said he expects corporates will continue to tighten their belts and focus on a "do more with less" attitude even into 2021, although he noted there is a significant opportunity for automation technology to step in and support businesses' cost-cutting and workflow optimization efforts.
Already, the shipping and logistics market has displayed resiliency amid some of its most trying times as panic shopping weighed down supply chains for products like pasta and toilet paper.
But just as technology will be essential to enabling shipping and logistics players to continue to persevere, economic recovery fueled by supply chain optimization will also rely on a collaborative approach. For shippers, that means developing connections with a range of carriers — a tactic Clark explained as "build[ing] their bench of carriers" — in order to ensure all loads are covered "even during times of crisis."
"The supply chain is as resilient as it is essential for our economy," he said.