The supply chain sector may be undergoing profound change, but we are not seeing the end of the freight forwarder – so says Steve Walker, CEO of SWG, in an interview with Freight Business Journal.
The shipping industry is in the midst of irrevocable change, change that is going to transform the sector radically within the next two to five years – so says Steve Walker, CEO of SWG.
That change is being seen in (and, in part, led) by all sorts of technological developments, from Blockchain to the Internet of Things (IOT), and much of the focus of that change of late has been around the so-called ‘disruptors’: small, innovative businesses that focus their efforts on radical change in an industry such as shipping.
Yet, insists Walker, emerging technology developers and disruptors can be ‘beaten to the spoils’ by forward-looking freight forwarders.
On 17 October, Walker gave a presentation at the 70th anniversary conference of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA).
He was invited to do so by CIFFA to give his vision of what the freight forwarding business of the future will look like, and he also talked to FBJ about that vision.
Walker recalls that he has always had an interest in technological innovation, as well as in how the shipping industry operates and how it can grow. Of course, the shipping industry can be slow to adapt and take on board new technologies. As an industry and, in particular, as freight forwarders, “we don’t always look to the future,” he suggests.
Yet, the industry is changing, and fast. And some of that change is being led by disruptors, as well as by elements of the supply chain other than freight forwarders (shipping lines, for example, that are now morphing some of their business into the traditional sphere of the cargo agents).
But, Walker insists, we are not seeing the end of the freight forwarder, as some have predicted over recent years. Their role will remain fundamental to the supply chain. What is going to be key to their future, he believes, is retaining control over what they are good at – not just the physical shipping of goods but the data that goes along with that and is required for it.
“My message is that in order to progress, freight forwarders have to maintain control, and this means good use of data,” Walker says. That data will have to be meaningful and comprehensive, and easily provided to the customer, but – and this is critical, he opines – control of that data must lie with the cargo agent.
As part of that package needed for freight forwarders’ success, he looks to cargo agents being able to manage issues of compliance, including offering an efficient freight audit system. He thinks that being able to offer carbon footprint data will be a ‘must’, while freight forwarders will meanwhile also have to be able to offer customers effective management of shipping along trade lanes according to key performance indicators (KPIs), with comprehensive data feedback available on all those.
“Technology is raising the bar on what freight forwarders are able to offer,” Walker observes. “They can use the best of the new technology becoming available but freight forwarders must retain control over the data and expertise surrounding that data.” To a large extent, that will be the real value of freight forwarders in future, he considers.
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