Digital transformation is impacting every part of the global supply chain, from streamlining operations, through deep visibility into costs, to aligning supply and demand cycles. The supply chain organizations that embrace these changes will thrive, while those that don’t will be left behind. Digitization is a particular challenge for ocean freight forwarders — often due to the diverse nature of their business, multiple supplier and technology interactions and increasing data ownership from shipping lines.

A recent report in the Journal of Commerce highlights these difficulties, “Digital isn’t just a nice-to-have philosophy: it’s the key to survival. And forwarders already are losing ground to innovative players, with new digital process platforms that deliver more benefits… For forwarders, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) talks about a digital transformation that requires embracing digital platforms, analytics, automation, and improved customer experience, drawing on artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

There are plenty of advantages to digitization, as we’ve previously explained:

  • 60% of supply chain businesses say digital transformation has a big impact, and that percentage is rising
  • The average supply chain has a digitization level below 50%
  • Digital transformation can drive efficiency savings of more than 50%
  • World-class supply chain organizations can save up to 75% through digital transformation


Five Key Transformation Pain Points for Ocean Freight Forwarders

Many of the issues that freight forwarders have with digital transformation can be broadly categorized into five areas:

  • Digital platforms: The lack of a central place from which you can manage freight operations
  • Analytics: Limited insight into operations, third parties and costs
  • AI and machine learning: Not taking advantage of algorithms to drive up efficiencies
  • Automation: Reliance on manual processes that are slow and prone to errors
  • Customer experience: Inability to provide a truly customer-centric experience

The challenges in each of these areas are not insurmountable. A combination of the right technologies, supported by improved business processes, can give your ocean freight forwarding business a competitive advantage.


Moving onto a Centralized Digital Platform

One of the biggest changes an ocean freight forwarder can make is to centralize management, reporting and operations onto an integrated, digital platform. These software solutions will integrate across the disparate systems used by your customers, suppliers, partners and other third parties.

To reduce the pain of this migration, your organization can:

  • Look for supply chain platforms and vendors that provide out-of-the-box integration with common software that’s already used across the industry
  • Identify the most important functionality in your freight forwarding organization and create a detailed Request for Proposal (RFP) that details what you’re looking for
  • Audit and improve your internal and external business processes to help you get ready to move onto a centralized platform
  • Ask supply chain platform vendors if they provide expertise and consultancy to help you get ready for the transition
  • Make your migration gradually, so that you can identify any issues early

Centralizing onto a digital platform is often the first step that ocean freight forwarders should take so that they can implement the rest of these suggestions.


Getting on Top of Your Analytics and Reporting

Ocean freight forwarders have a lot to monitor, so analytics and reporting that keep track of operations while surfacing important business intelligence are vital. Here are ways your organization can successfully manage your organization’s analytics:

  • Centralize your freight analytics and reporting onto a digital platform
  • Examine the importance of all of the measures you currently have in place
  • Pinpoint redundant measurements and areas you’d like to monitor in the future
  • Identify how you’re made aware of each measure, whether it’s through real-time reporting, logging into other software, emails, etc.
  • Establish which metrics come from within your freight forwarding organization and which come from third parties
  • Use your digital platform to integrate with reporting from other apps
  • Create executive dashboards and detailed reports that allow you to take action quickly and drill into the details when needed


Understanding the Importance of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

AI and machine learning are becoming fundamental to good supply chain management, with advanced algorithms able to monitor, measure, predict and automate large parts of the process. Ocean freight forwarding is no exception, with both areas able to offer significant advantages, including the abilities to:

  • Capture important data from shippers, suppliers, customers, documents and other areas using natural language processing and other techniques
  • Analyze data to identify potential issues, like errors in contracts, delayed shipments or incomplete forms
  • Optimize ocean freight management by learning where you can streamline operations, reduce turnaround time and enhance quality and accuracy
  • Plan for the movement of freight based on likely future demand
  • Quote more accurately by getting a fuller picture of all the areas that contribute to costs
  • Build robust forecasting and modeling into your business plans


Taking Advantage of Automation and Forecasting

The global freight shipping marketplace is becoming even more challenging as the major players consolidate their power and the balance between supply and demand becomes even more delicate. Automation and forecasting are now a business necessity for any freight forwarder. To get started in these two areas, your organization can:

  • Implement robotic process automation and software bots to carry out common ocean freight forwarding tasks
  • Identify problematic manual processes that create errors or rework and establish ways of automating them
  • Start building out accurate predictive models and forecasting around areas like supply and demand planning, the most effective logistics routes, costings and profits and any other areas that will give you a competitive advantage


Enhancing the Customer Experience

With an increasing focus on digitization, analytics, AI and automation, ocean freight forwarders can’t afford to ignore the most important part of their business: customers. For ocean freight clients, reliability, visibility and communication are key. In order to enhance the customer experience, forwarders can:

  • Boost reliability by getting early sight of potential freight shipping delays or other problems and then alerting customers
  • Use AI and machine learning to identify and resolve common problems and bottlenecks
  • Allow customers to access your digital platform so they can keep track of their ocean freight shipments
  • Provide up-to-date status reports to clients and manage expectations
  • Setup automated communications from your platform to clients, so they’re always in the loop

Ocean freight forwarders don’t need to fear digital transformation, and it’s far better to ride this wave of innovation than be swamped by it. If you’ve held off your own digital journey, the time to start is now.


Blume Universe is an AI-powered, next-generation command center for real-time insights, automated exception management, and predictive analytics to drive efficiencies and deliver business value through predictive capabilities.

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