Logistics software integration specialist Chain.io in recent months has aided three rate management systems providers on their path to helping forwarders provide instant quotes to shippers.
Chain.io’s burgeoning commercial relationships with Catapult International, Portrix Logistics Software and, most recently, WebCargo, are part of a larger evolution in how software providers are helping forwarders navigate increased customer experience expectations from cargo owners by better connecting existing systems.
Catapult, Portrix, and WebCargo all help forwarders manage their databases of contract and spot rates from container lines and air freight carriers (WebCargo, a subsidiary of Freightos, specializes in air freight). The systems allow forwarders to more accurately and profitably quote rates to their shipper customers, particularly forwarders procuring rates from multiple different carrier systems.
“Almost every conversation we have with forwarders is circling back to them needing to manage one or more rate management tools,” Chain.io CEO Brian Glick told JOC.com. “There is an explosion in our customers needing this capability.”
As a systems integration provider, Chain.io works primarily with forwarders that need help tying together existing and new systems, or software providers that cater to the third-party logistics provider (3PL) market.
Glick said the work his company is doing with rate management systems providers is a foundational step in the container shipping industry’s journey from static quotes to instant, and eventually, to so-called dynamic instant quotes. The industry is largely still in the static-to-instant quote transition, but customer expectations for how — and how quickly — shippers expect to receive quotes have already changed.
“The missing link is that [beneficial cargo owners] have suddenly caught up to the fact that they just expect real-time quoting now,” Glick said. “That has just happened. The embedded capabilities on the freight management software is not where they need it to be. They need third-party tools, but they need it to be as pleasant internally as it is for the customer.”
An ‘inversion of power’
According to Glick, the forwarding industry as a whole is in a period of reflection as it adjusts from dictating the terms of engagement with customers to meeting the customers on their terms.
“Digital forwarding is not your website,” he said. “It’s every client interaction. Your customer gets to decide how they want to interact with you, and that was not the case when I got into the business.” Prior to founding Chain.io, Glick served as a technology executive at Vandergrift, a customs broker acquired by Maersk Line in 2019, and before that forwarder OHL, which was acquired by Geodis in 2015.
Glick described the new rate provision environment in container shipping as an “inversion of power” that’s analogous to the way customers have imposed new expectations in retail transactions. “The carriers used to tell the forwarders, ‘This is how you interact with us,’” he said. “Then the forwarders went to the shippers, and said, ‘Give me the information as I need it.’ Then the shipper told the customer, ‘It arrives when it arrives.’ Every part of that has undergone an inversion.”
He added that “handling things outside of the ‘normal process’ is a really hard thing for a forwarder.” In other words, if a shipper wants a rate quote via an online quoting tool, but prefers to receive the confirmation by email, a forwarder has to account for those preferences while still being able to capture all those processes in its reporting tools.
Considering that the number of systems through which a shipper might request a quote and receive a confirmation might include phone, email, application programming interface (API), electronic data interchange (EDI), WhatsApp, WeChat, or text message, it’s a complicated picture.
“There are all these ways to interact and get information,” Glick said. “But you have to think about this like omnichannel, where if it’s coming in through a non-traditional quoting tool, that the whole thing doesn’t break apart. And rate management is the center of this universe.”
Glick said the change in the customer landscape has shifted the impetus to rate management providers that supply to forwarders to connect more effectively to the transportation management systems (TMSs) that their forwarder customers use. That includes providers such as Descartes, BluJay Solutions, WiseTech Global, and SAP, among others.
In specific terms, those integrations include the ability to tie the instant availability of base freight costs and any additional associated fees, as well as capacity availability, to a forwarder’s workflow in Portrix’s Global Price Management (GPM) product, Henning Voss, CEO of Portrix, told JOC.com.
Rate management providers have told JOC.com that a sticking point in helping customers manage instant quoting in the context of their other contract rates is that the validity of instant rate quotes often expires before a system can capture it and allow a forwarder to convey it to a customer. For instance, rates in Maersk Spot, the container carrier’s instant quoting tool that is predominantly used by forwarders, expire in 20 minutes.
Prior to its engagement with Chain.io, Portrix’s GPM system wasn't directly connected to a TMS that its forwarder customers could use, so any improvements the firm made to its rate management tool would have to be applied by the forwarder itself or through an ad hoc system integration. Now, the GPM platform is pre-configured to integrate with most of the widely used forwarder TMSs.
“Implementing the GPM-to-TMS connection through Chain.io means that we can roll out new features and improvements of our [API] suite to the customer with little to no need for changes on the customer side, resulting in earlier adoption at significantly lower overall costs,” Voss said.
Chain.io similarly provides an integration between Catapult’s QMS rate data product and the multiple TMSs with which Chain.io is already integrated.
“You can search and compare all rates in QMS, prepare a quote using QMS custom-built forms, and push the data into those TMS systems,” Virgil Ferreira, CEO of Catapult, told JOC.com.
The operational benefits of those integrations, Ferreira said, are that forwarders can more easily turn accepted quotes into bookings, they can auto-rate bills of lading, and perform carrier invoice audits and verifications.
“Interoperability is key to bringing efficiencies and benefits in the downstream processes that come after properly managing and quoting rates,” he said.