With inflation continually driving costs up and demand for freight down, experts say growth in the freight market will be modest throughout 2024. This economic outlook has landed the economy at the top of the 2023 Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry list recently released by the American Transportation Research Institute.
Tech That Helps Small to Mid-Size Carriers
Angel Coker Jones | Comercial Carrier Journal
October 23, 2023
GDP in the goods transport sector – the economy tied to freight transportation – is “pretty ugly,” Avery Vise, vice president of trucking at FTR Transportation Intelligence, said at a recent Transportation Intermediaries Association meeting. And the ever so slight growth expected in 2024 – we’re talking an average of 2.7% over four quarters – isn’t going to amount to a great deal of change from what has been the stagnant status quo.
McLeod Software President and CEO Tom McLeod said when the economy is slow, that’s the perfect time to invest in technology and expand operations to prepare for the stronger comeback. BlueGrace Logistics Chief Technology Officer Azad Ratzki offers advice on several tech advancements that can enable companies to optimize operations, enhance efficiency and drive growth despite market volatility.
These three technologies, he said, can help carriers survive a bearish economy and thrive in a bullish economy: large language models (LLMs), freight optimization platforms and no-code automation.
“By using LLMs such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT for communications, freight optimization strategies employing the use of pooling, and the automation of repetitive processes using the variety of no-code options available on the market, there has never been a better time revisit and reevaluate the way organizations operate,” Ratzki said.
“While some processes may be tried and true, a bearish market is vitally important to the growth of the economy, helping driving innovation and finding new, untapped opportunities in a more constrained environment. All three of these technologies have the power to radically transform the way businesses perform.”
He said LLMs can help companies automate certain roles or parts of roles, freeing up people for more important human tasks. Anywhere information has to be deciphered, and then a human would normally have had to interact is an opportunity to use an LLM, he said.
Using LLMs, Ratzki said, can streamline any situation that calls for person-to-person interaction and communication with even some of the subtleties of human nature intact. This could be everything from routinely reaching out to partners to obtain status updates to providing responses to frequently asked or data-driven questions.
Chatbots aren’t new; companies have used this artificial intelligence for some time on their websites to field questions and direct users to information, but it has gotten smarter and more sophisticated. And since ChatGPT burst onto the scene, a larger group of people have been made aware of this type of technology.
Mainly medium to large carriers and logistics organizations are investing in this type of technology, but it is becoming more accessible for smaller carriers with off-the-shelf LLM products available on the market that can be dropped onto a carrier’s website.
Ratzki said carriers can address repetitive processes with the myriad of low-code to no-code automation platform choices that have recently appeared on the market. These platforms – like Google Workflows or Microsoft Power Automate – allow carriers to take a process and connect the systems used in that process to perform a certain set of actions without the need for any programming knowledge. Basically, it takes all the information from your company that comes from things like emails or forms and build easy automations without knowing how to code.
He said this conversation is similar to LLM.
“You’re looking at it from the perspective of here’s what I have to do, and I end up doing it many times over and over again every single day,” Ratzki said. “How do I streamline that? How do I automate that so that someone can be freed up to go do something that is more important or even more profitable? Any process that involves computers in your organization is now an ideal candidate for automation through these platforms.”
Ratzki said for any organization that plays a role in the freight lifecycle, optimization platforms provide a unique avenue for exponential gains by allowing you to pool freight and subsequently reduce overall time and expense.
Integrating with 3PL platforms that automatically feed loads to a carrier is one of the most cost-effective measures a carrier can take. He said it can be as simple as signing up for apps that allow a fleet to be tracked and effectively counted as additional volume of other networks.
“You want to reduce as much friction as possible, and what I mean by friction, if you’re looking at it from a carrier perspective, you want those volumes to come to you, especially in this sort of economy. You want all barriers for potential customers of your services to be removed,” Ratzki said.
And this is easy from a technology perspective and cheap for smaller carriers, too, he said, adding that it can be a great insulator against a down economy because it eliminates the need to solicit business.
“Whether you realize it or not, if you’re that smaller carrier, when an integration is in place, business is transacting without your intervention in any way, shape or form,” he said. “It’s basically doing business without even having to really talk about it, so you’re just becoming part of a larger broader feeder network.”
Smaller carriers, Ratzki said, don’t have to start big in order to reap the benefits. He said carriers of any size can jump in easily and relatively inexpensively with these three technologies.
Most of these technologies are software as a service, offered in a subscription model in which cost comes with scale. Ratzki said carriers should experiment with a free trial or sign up for a low-cost monthly subscription to test the benefits before diving in.
“You don’t have to be a software engineer or technologist to really leverage these things. But once you once you start experimenting with them, you can quickly see the value,” he said. “I think if you’re small to medium, you’re still a very blank canvas from a technology perspective so there should be relatively no barriers.
“The smaller you are, the less capital you have to work with obviously, but in terms of non-capital-related barriers for small and medium business, you should be pretty free and clear to experiment with some of these things,” he added. “I think with the larger carriers, the conversation changes because typically you already have a large amount of technology infrastructure, so then it becomes a discovery of how do I weave this into my current technology stack; that becomes the barrier to entry.”