Digital transformation: The secret to success

Targeted innovation built alongside forwarders is the secret to digitalisation progress, writes Edward Handscombe, VP Forwarder at cargo.one.

Pictured: Edward Handscombe, VP Forwarder at cargo.one

Our company was established back in 2017 when our co-founders experienced first-hand the inefficiencies and pain points of everyday operations in freight forwarding branches everywhere.

From that day on, our mission remains to provide the best technology to forwarders that makes their lives easier.

For decades, freight forwarders relied on slow asynchronous methods for data collection and a tangle of complicated communications, based on spreadsheets, emails and databases. Performance was too often throttled by delays, complexity and scope for error.

Even today, I often see myself how most forwarders still spend hours responding to hundreds of email requests and waiting on the phone to speak to airline teams.

Since 2017, cargo.one has worked to digitally connect freight forwarders with leading airlines, today over 40 carriers globally.

The impacts of instant digital air cargo bookings have been impressive – forwarders have gained powerful market visibility, access to rates and routes new to them and the ability to serve customers rapidly outside of office hours.

Above all, the time freed up for freight forwarders has rightfully been reinvested into more valuable endeavours such as new business development and enhancing client relationships.

But how can the industry best build on this foundation? The truth is that the majority of most recent developments have been incremental changes, such as tools to make bookings and data transfer more quick, seamless, and user-friendly.

The growing ubiquity of digital and live rates directly from carriers presents a plethora of yet to be explored potential innovations that can help make freight forwarders’ lives easier.

At cargo.one, our R&D teams work intensively alongside dozens of forwarders worldwide to continually develop tools to tackle their most pressing problems.

Our focus is on developing solutions for the forwarder that leverage this new foundation of digital rates to unlock substantial additional value for them and their customers.

Game changing digital tools
Freight forwarding has always been about building and harnessing trusted connections.

Digital platforms should play a much larger role in enabling forwarders to connect and collaborate in order to do their best work as a community.

Much the same as freight forwarder networks help build trusted connections, digital platforms should also support these connections.

For example, our latest innovation, cargo.one pro, was developed to tackle a longstanding challenge in the industry – booking imports across the globe which has always been very complicated, time-consuming and expensive. This area had remained largely on the digital sidelines until this moment.

Now access to live air freight rates and capacity has enabled a reimagination of how forwarders can work together to facilitate import shipments.

Technology has long played a role in connecting people globally and helping them to offer services to each other.

During my time at Airbnb I understood first-hand the importance, and power, of creating a digital platform where people from around the world can connect with and offer services to one another, simply and trustfully.

Freight forwarders need tools that allow them to book, collaborate, and ultimately win new business easily across the globe. And dare I say, it should be fun to use those tools!

At cargo.one, we set about making the biggest leap forward the industry has seen in digitalising agent-to-agent bookings.

For around two years, a dedicated team worked alongside 60 forwarders who co-built the solution with us – helping to test and refine digital import bookings between them.

Of course, these forwarders enjoyed exclusive access to a powerful new digital service, so there is an intrinsic reward for their help.

The solution means that for the first time at the click of a button, import agents can now browse and book live airfreight and local charges from a wide range of verified export agents around the world.

In the months before its official launch, a community of 60 export agents successfully served over 6,000 import shipment quote requests – all without the burden of manually replying to every request.

The power of connectivity
By enabling digital agent-to-agent collaboration in seconds, a transformational benefit is realised across the board.

For example, export agents can now offer live digital booking to thousands of agents in more than 120 countries across the globe and so grow their business around the clock.

One such forwarder benefiting is Mike Mierwinski of Mid America Overseas Inc. based in Chicago.

Mierwinski says, “We found that we are being approached by agents we had not previously worked with and able to secure new business relationships. It’s reliable and accurate and it helps us win business while we sleep.”

There is huge untapped potential from digitally connecting agents and airlines in a more holistic way.

For example, digital booking can be much further connected with other digital trajectories for air cargo – such as AI for route optimisation, and seamless multi-platform, end-to-end visibility of shipments across their journey.

By giving agents these digital superpowers, they will achieve the best results ever possible in air cargo.

By strictly prioritising areas of digital that can offer game-changing new value for forwarders, and co-building new solutions with real users globally, we can level up meaningful digitalisation across the industry.

This approach, of course, is a steep hill to climb. It takes significant investment and a lot of trial and error but the results will be truly meaningful.

By placing the forwarder in the heart of a new solution from start to finish we better ensure that it can make a real-world impact.

With more widespread and capable digital connections, freight forwarders can propel their capabilities to deliver a great service, raise efficiencies, build trust rapidly and win business from new partners all over the world.

Vendors like cargo.one must remain bold and focus on targeted innovation that can shift the needle for air cargo outcomes.

We must all push the imperative to collaborate with customers and partners towards this ambition.

This article was published in the August issue of Air Logistics International, click here to read the digital edition and click here to subscribe.