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Transportation, brokerage, and third-party-logistics (3PL) provider C.H. Robinson today unveiled a free tool that it says offers an alternative to the “one-size-fits-all” annual bidding approach for freight capacity, allowing truckload shippers to gain a custom analysis for each shipment.

This Procure IQ product was developed in the company’s “Robinson Labs” innovation incubator, in response to a June customer research study with over 1,000 of C.H. Robinson’s largest customers. According to the Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based firm, over 50% of those customers said they were looking for alternatives to the traditional, annual request for proposal (RFP) process, in order to increase savings and service reliability.

C.H. Robinson says the tool now provides an opportunity to analyze each specific freight lane through a comparative pricing, volume, and service analysis rather than solely purchasing transportation lanes in bulk during an annual bidding process. Procure IQ provides a personalized data visualization of each individual customer’s shipping lanes, or routes, integrated with C.H. Robinson’s large pool of freight marketplace data, the firm said.

The platform enters the transportation sector at a time when a new wave of digital freight matching (DFM) startups have been offering tools that automate the traditional relationship between shippers and carriers. Backed by healthy doses of venture capital, those firms—featuring names like Uber Freight, Transfix, and Convoy—have been streamlining the entrenched approach of freight brokering by applying artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics.

“Emerging tech companies have helped to drive the speed of freight matching,” C.H. Robinson CEO and President Bob Biesterfeld said in a briefing during the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) EDGE 2020 show this week. “Although there are nuances and differences between how they do those things, the line between digital upstart and progressive incumbent is getting harder and harder to discern.”

However, adding automation and digitalization is only one part of the puzzle, since a full solution also requires strong relationships between transportation partners, Biesterfeld said. Those relationships are particularly important because the modern freight market has been so volatile in rates and capacity, not only during the pandemic, but ever since “Snowmageddon 2017,” when winter conditions forced late deliveries of many parcels during the holiday peak shopping season.

“We’ve seen that the static approach of issuing an annual RFP creates risk and uncertainty, where our customers really need a more dynamic procurement environment to get optimal results,” he said. For example, Biesterfeld cites the market for patio furniture and garden hoses. “Those products typically sell just in the springtime, so having a 12-month contractual rate for something that only ships 90 days a year doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The launch of Procure IQ is the latest in a series of technology initiatives from C.H. Robinson, including: an integration with 19 TMS and ERP platforms; a link between its Navisphere TMS and Microsoft Corp.’s Azure IoT Central; a brokerage partnership with freight marketplace startup FleetOps; and a web-based shipping tool called Freightquote.

“People are looking for technology that gives them an improved way to purchase all kinds of things from airline tickets to car insurance,” Biesterfeld said in a release. “Why should buying freight transportation be any different?”



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