Freight forwarding networks are empowering and mobilising independent freight forwarders as they continue to challenge the power of some of the biggest worldwide operators. New opportunities for smaller freight forwarders as part of large international forwarder networks are also being aided as airlines increasingly upgrade and make their data networking and online platforms more accessible.
WCA, a global network of independent freight forwarders, tells Air Cargo Week (ACW) that many in the industry have been surprised by a trend that, according to it, has seen the top 20 multinational shippers slip backwards while independent, smaller freight forwarders have gained market share. “The independent freight forwarding sector is very healthy and networks are becoming ever more important because shippers really value the quality of service independents can provide,” he told ACW. “Large global operators are also increasingly using smaller independents for niche services, such as time critical deliveries. It is not always just about saving money, but also about the value of supply chains and ways of finding efficiencies across the chain.”
WCA says that independent forwarders have been criticised for not being at the vanguard of electronic ticketing and e-billing, but says this is unfair. “Airlines have been targeting multinationals first and it’s been a lot more complicated for us. We certainly realise its importance and many members are already using systems with some airlines. But, complexity and being able to cover all airlines and their different systems is the challenge, not a lack of will. The WCA has invested in the WIN [Worldwide Information Network] e-platform and we can now provide e-commerce and electronic airway bills (e-AWB) facilities for members. Airlines now need to work closely with the independent sector to bring them on board,” he says. E-commerce growth is a driver of e-cargo and WCA is holding its first e-commerce workshop in Miami (US) on 20 June. “The intention is to devise a solution by the end of this year, so WCA can offer members a full e-commerce programme. It is a major investment for us,” says WCA.
This month Etihad Cargo introduced an online platform for WCA members, offering instant pricing for all online Etihad destinations, e-booking, e-AWB and track and trace. The system applies to WCA members that are also members of its loyalty programme, CargoConnect and use the WIN e-platform. Speaking at the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) e-cargo conference in Switzerland earlier this month, John DeBenedette, managing director of WIN, challenged airfreight bosses to urgently adopt a, “technology manifesto for change”. He called on the industry to embrace change and says airfreight must abandon, “inefficient, expensive, out-of-date technology,” in favour of web-based solutions. “We need disruptive innovation and to look at a common platforms accessed by the web,” says DeBenedette. “If we continue relying on 1990s solutions, e-freight adoption is going to take forever.” DeBenedette urged the air cargo community to work towards adopting a common platform accessed by the web and collaborate to explore new technologies and business models for inter-operability.
Global independent freight network The WACO System also sees increased digitisation and e-commerce as key for the future. WACO executive director, Richard Charles, tells ACW that members were exploiting opportunities in emerging markets. “Volumes are holding up for our members, but margins continue to come under pressure. So far in 2015, we have added Kenya and four other countries to our network. Further expansion is targeting Kazakhstan, Angola, and potentially Iran, dependent on the lifting of economic sanctions.”
Charles says that another new development he’s seeing is acquisitions or shares being invested in specialised logistics, IT and e-commerce firms. He adds; “Well run independent logistics companies are on the shopping list of larger companies, especially those with unique geographical or customer portfolios.” Despite the challenges of declining margins and cash flow pressure as competition in the markets intensifies, Charles believes there are opportunities for independent freight forwarders to prosper.
A new independent freight forwarder network is the Cooperative Logistics Network (COOP) which attracted 141 delegates from 47 countries to its inaugural meeting in Thailand in May. COOP founder and managing director, Antonio Torres, saw demand for a capped non-exclusive network to offer agents, “quality partners,” and financial security, like an exclusive network. “Many freight forwarders like the autonomy that a non-exclusive network brings, but so often they don’t enjoy the same financial security and quality partners as they would in an exclusive one.” For forwarders that are small teams the challenges are clear, find an IT solution to meet the demands for the electronic systems customers want to use and find partners, exclusive and non-exclusive, to achieve that global reach.