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Providers dangle free software to hook forwarders amid COVID-19

Global forwarding is a distributed business, but rarely have teams at individual locations been prevented from working together on a long-term basis. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

Software providers catering to the forwarding industry are offering their products free over the next few weeks to support logistics providers during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis — and potentially gain new customers. 

Kontainers, which primarily provides forwarders with front-end software enabling them to quote digitally, said Monday it would offer its Essentials product free to forwarders over the next 60 days. Essentials is the most basic of Kontainers’ three tiers of products, aimed at small forwarders.

Winmore, which offers freight tender and bid management software to forwarders and domestic freight brokers, said the following day it would offer its software to the market for 90 days via an “IOU,” or “virtual elbow bump” agreement.

Also on Tuesday, logistics software provider Acuitive Solutions said it went live with a free collaboration tool, one it was scheduled to release later this year, to help shippers and logistics providers obtain and provide spot quotes, available at www.getspotquotes.com. 

On Wednesday, Mumbai-based FreightBro, which develops software to help forwarders digitize front- and back-end operations, also said it was offering its software free until April 30.  

The need for logistics companies to work remotely has become acute as global cities start to enforce lockdowns and isolation policies. Cloud-based computing is at the heart of software enabling teams to be able to coordinate shipments in a distributed fashion. The larger question is whether the disruption will push forwarders, container lines, and cargo owners to adopt more digital, distributed systems long-term.

Managing supply chains from home

“The global pandemic continues to put massive pressure on every person and business all over the world,” Kontainers CEO Graham Parker said in a statement. “Supply chains are under immense pressure and people all over the world look like they will be working from home for weeks or even months ahead. Now more than ever, forwarders need to be able to interact digitally with their customers.”

Parker said Kontainers has a help center, videos, and ticket-based support to set up their “own branded platform to offer rates, process bookings, and sets of dashboards to manage all orders online” in less than an hour. He said Kontainers also provides an admin portal where operations teams can communicate with customers, update bookings, and add rates via a web browser.

Winmore CEO John Golob said his company’s offer is designed to help forwarders, brokers, and carriers maintain business continuity as their teams become even more distributed than before.

“Silicon Valley has been working from home for decades,” Golob said. “There’s a lot we’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t, so we’ve put that insight into the workflows designed for logistics service providers. It is a time of crisis, so we all need to work together to get through this, and that means pushing off pricing discussions until the crisis is behind us.”

Winmore essentially is designed to allow teams in offices around the world to work in cohesion. It is used by C.H. Robinson and DHL, among others, to coordinate on bids. “The same technology can also unite, align, and integrate thousands of individuals working in home offices,” Golob said.

Specifically, he said Winmore has adapted its workflow software for logistics providers to better enable work-from-home policies, including virtual meetings and collective applications for its bid scoring models.

Forwarders are facing a range of issues as they grapple with the COVID-19 crisis. Some are using tools they developed prior to the outbreak to power internal operations or to empower shipper customers to be more self-service.

“We’ve been working hard with our customers and partners to keep things as close as possible to business as usual,” Meagan Wells, spokesperson for Minneapolis forwarder Navegate, told JOC.com.

Navegate provides both traditional forwarding services and a software-as-a-service that shippers can use independently of whether they book freight with the third-party logistics provider (3PL). 

“Luckily, our teams are well-suited for working remotely, which the majority of our workforce is doing currently,” Wells said. “Our software puts our customers and our internal teams in a unique position of advantage in situations like this, when teams may be working remotely for extended periods of time. We’re all able to message, submit, and respond to quotes; upload and edit documents; and track shipments from just about anywhere.”

‘Devastating’ reality

But even small forwarders that think progressively about technology are struggling under the weight of uneven supply followed by an uncertain demand picture.  

“It is hard to tell at this point,” said Robert Khachatryan, chief operating officer of Los Angeles area-based Freight Right Global Logistics. “It is definitely challenging. We were recovering from the China shutdown only to be hit with the complete collapse of EU/UK business, which is largely by air. However, we are not seeing a huge dip in bookings yet. This is largely due to the order backlog finally shipping from Chinese factories. There is also a huge demand for medical and household products. The main concern now is a drop in consumption worldwide of anything other than household necessities. This will likely result in a slump in Q2-Q3.”

Khachatryan said Freight Right’s digital channels are providing some buffer indirectly, “because many of the customers using them are not based in the US and therefore not equally affected. Internal tools are generally cloud-based and certainly make it easier for our teams to work remotely. We have started working from home today and have seen little drop in productivity.”

He said he doesn’t necessarily see broader use of digital tools due to the COVID-19 outbreak. “People either get quotes online instantly or request them via email, both of which are accessible from home,” Khachatryan said. “There will be some drop in the number of requests for a few customers who have other relevant documentation on their work computers that are inaccessible immediately. But this is probably a very small minority.” 

Contact Eric Johnson at eric.johnson@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @LogTechEric.