The drive for productivity and efficiency in supply chains continues to expand beyond metrics such as crane lifts per hour and ship turn times.

No digitized product in container transportation can succeed without the support of at least a handful of the major carriers, was the conclusion reached by SeaIntel after examining the host of online initiatives available in the market.

SeaIntel CEO Alan Murphy said the online products that will succeed will be those that have learned the lesson that it is not about technology, it is instead about business processes and getting the carriers on board.

“The reality is very simple — while there are millions of shippers, and some would always want to try new technology, there is a relatively limited number of carriers who control the physical assets, and no digitized product can succeed without the support of at least a handful of the major carriers,” Murphy said.

“And looking at the landscape emerging right now, it clearly seems that some players have indeed learned the lesson and are business focused instead of technology focused. Others appear to go out of their way to explain the brilliance of their technology without realizing that it is not the technology which is the most important part.”

Haven CEO Matt Tillman had a different view. He said coming out of Silicon Valley in every tech growth sector was not one platform to rule them all, but what is known as a federation of applications. He likened it to the applications on an Apple iPhone, where there was a single app for chat, a single app for the calendar, email, etc, but all the apps were on a single operating platform and they all talked to each other.

Tillman said some tech companies in the supply chain were trying to do interesting things with data that was not possible before because there was no access to the structured data sets. “It is difficult to convince a carrier to give up all its customer data from an 18-month sales cycle,” he said.

“This stuff has all happened before but it has happened in these big carrier-backed chunks, and you don’t need the permission of anyone to build a system anymore, whereas in the past you had to beg for permission from carriers and others,” he said.

Haven recently launched a transportation management system, Haven TMS, that Tillman said could dramatically reduce the amount of work, communication, and personnel needed to book, document, and manage cargo shipments.

The Haven TMS seeks to smooth the workflow required to book a shipment, eradicating the need for most of the 67 emails typically required for such a transaction. Tillman believes the system could slash 30 percent off the cost of transportation logistics management, reducing the number of employees needed to handle bookings at a company that ships 15,000 containers a year from six to one or two.

Haven is one of a slew of startups with venture capital funding that in recent years have looked to harness new technology to transform the shipping and logistics process, casting aside traditional industry methods and equipment. With its new system, Haven is stepping away from developing an online marketplace that would reshape the cargo booking industry in the way that Expedia and other internet sites did in the air and hotel booking industry.

Another online platform that has recently launched a product to eliminate the excessive usage of emails in the logistics industry is Cargobase. The online platform for spot-buy freight has introduced mobile application “On the Go” for shippers that allows users to book, approve, and track shipments, as well as interact with logistics service providers.

“We are learning every day more about the gaps in today's supply chain and the struggles both shippers and providers go through on a daily basis,” said Wiebe Helder, CEO of Cargobase.

The spot freight business is a multi-billion-dollar market, and Cargobase said companies across various industries spend $350 billion per year on it, a number that is currently growing due to shorter product lifecycles, demand-driven production, and more complex products.

“For shippers it is important to get the right price and service for an ad hoc movement, but what happens next is still a big unknown. Quoted cost and delivery time, versus actual outcomes have a huge delta, but most shippers don’t have the tool to measure this, let alone fix it. That’s where we focus on,” Helder said.

The online freight marketplace is a crowded sector, with companies such as Freightos allowing the calculation of door-to-door rates and booking with carriers, Xeneta offering benchmarking of freight rates, CargoSphere operating a rate management platform, and ClearMetal using predictive technologies to help with container flows.

Contact Greg Knowler at greg.knowler@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler.

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