IT is firmly at the heart of the freight forwarding industry and continues to play an increasingly important role, as the demands and expectations of customers increase.
In the past 10 years, IT systems have been replaced at considerable expense with sophisticated Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) systems, which seamlessly bridge the gap between the many different stages of the supply chain. This has allowed businesses to increase automation, improve visibility throughout the supply chain and eliminate the need for the double punching of information, which, in turn, reduces human error.
Traceability of cargo and accessibility to ‘real time’ information are fundamental requirements today. Many customers have changed buying patterns, stock-holding and lead times to ‘just in time’, which puts a greater emphasis on the need to monitor progress of cargo in case of delay and other unforeseen obstacles. Remote access and availability of documentation such as pre-alerts, Bills of Lading and notice of arrivals via an IT platform are absolute necessities in today’s market.
Clients are now looking for complete visibility in order to provide accurate information to their own customers – this is paramount for forecasting and managing orders effectively, maintaining optimum stock levels which, in turn, aids cash flow and ultimately drives efficiencies into the business. They are increasingly looking for automation throughout the logistics process with online accessibility. Naturally, a reduction in the physical paper trail traditionally associated with the shipping industry has a positive impact on corporate social responsibility and the environment.
Investment in logistics software systems allows freight forwarders to link different aspects of their business more effectively. The ability to extract accurate data through various reporting functions allows forwarders to analyse their business leading to improvements in forecasting, quickly highlighting areas that need improving or targeting. This is crucial when it comes to negotiations with suppliers and customers alike.
The next step for many freight forwarders is order management, which can be linked through IT systems. This gives businesses a platform to move up the supply chain and get involved with clients from the moment they are looking to place orders. They can then pull together purchase order numbers and assign to vessels, whilst working in the best interests of the client at all times, to ensure their deadlines for final delivery are met.
As the next generation moves up the ladder, the importance of IT and the need for continuous investment in modern and sophisticated systems will only increase. The digital generation is used to having everything available at their fingertips via hand-held devices, so they will continue to search for improvements in processes and smarter ways of working to cut costs, improve service levels whilst keeping their business at the forefront of technological advancement.
By Alan Platt, Managing Director of the John Good Group of companies