In an industry as complex and dynamic as freight forwarding, streamlining operations and improving efficiency are paramount for success. Raft, a technology-driven company, is making significant strides in transforming the shipping landscape. By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), Raft aims to automate and optimise operations for freight forwarders, customs brokers, and other stakeholders in the shipping ecosystem.
With a focus on document extraction, data integration, and workflow automation, Raft offers tailor-made solutions that alleviate manual processes and empower organisations to enhance their productivity and customer service.
Lionel van der Walt, Raft’s Chief Growth Officer, said, “Establishing workflows that can automate processes and tackle, not only data entry, but all the manual time-consuming processes, really saves a lot of time.”
Raft’s product offerings span the entire shipping lifecycle, encompassing areas such as finance, operations, sales, and customer service. Their foundational element lies in document extraction, enabling seamless data extraction from various documents critical to shipping operations. By integrating this extracted data into transportation management systems (TMS), Raft establishes efficient workflows that automate processes and minimise manual data entry.
One of the standout benefits of Raft’s technology is its ability to address pain points within the industry. For instance, in the accounts payable realm, Raft’s platform enables instant access to the job costing owner when discrepancies arise, eliminating the need for time-consuming searches. By connecting stakeholders directly through their system, Raft reduces response times and saves valuable resources.
Raft’s technology not only streamlines operations but also caters to the growing demand for sustainability and digitisation within the freight forwarding industry. The market’s increasing competitiveness and the need to stay ahead of regulatory requirements are driving companies to adopt digital strategies.
“I think there’s a lot of companies that are being very responsible and they want to position themselves as such. There are others that don’t, who are going to be forced by those external pressures to adopt sustainable practices,” he said.
Raft recognises that technology should complement human efforts rather than replace them. They embrace a human-in-the-loop approach to AI and ML, empowering staff to focus on core activities and customer service while leveraging technology to automate time-consuming tasks. By utilising technology to scale operations and improve efficiency, companies can lower costs, drive sustainability initiatives, and attract young talent to the industry.
“Especially with the market where it is today. The market is depressed and getting tougher for freight forwarders,” van der Walt added. “What we’re trying to do is use the technology to assist staff to be able to focus on their core activities versus just data entry.”
Sustainability has emerged as a significant focus area for the freight forwarding industry. While progress has been slow, companies like Raft are witnessing a shift towards a more sustainable approach. European corporate sustainability reporting directives set to take effect in 2024 will impact freight forwarders, requiring verifiable data on logistics upstream and downstream.
“I think the thing that’s going to catch people out is the new European corporate sustainability reporting directive. That is going to impact some forwarders directly, especially if they’re listed in Europe,” van der Walt highlighted.
The compliance requirements from major listed companies will cascade down to forwarders globally. To avoid being caught off guard, companies must start implementing the right technology now to gather and report the necessary data. Sustainability initiatives are becoming a critical aspect of a company’s reputation, investor relations, and partnerships, driving the adoption of digital solutions that facilitate sustainability reporting.
“If you do not start looking at it now and getting the right technology in place to be able to have that data and report it in the right manner, you’re going to be in hot water,” van der Walt warned.
Freight forwarding has traditionally exhibited resistance to technology adoption, often due to concerns surrounding change and the unfamiliarity of technological solutions. However, Raft’s experience suggests that resistance diminishes when the value proposition is clear.
“People are looking at us and saying ‘if we’re going to grow our business, we’re in a tough market, how do we do that without adding additional cost’,” van der Walt explained. “You can start using technology to do that. It’s about helping people to scale and lower costs, driving more efficiency.”
“With Covid came a big push,” van der Walt continued. “Everybody’s looking at technological solutions that can help them to digitalise, so that really accelerated things.”
By offering user-friendly platforms with intuitive interfaces and providing education about the benefits, Raft ensures that their technology adds value to users’ daily routines. Furthermore, the influx of younger generations into the industry, attracted by the advancements in technology, is bridging the gap and facilitating the adoption of innovative solutions.
“The technology is there. It’s not something for the future. It’s there today and people are using it,” van der Walt stated. “All the major players are using it, and a lot of smaller guys are now starting to use it. So, it’s right across the spectrum.”
In an industry where supply chains are intricate and involve multiple stakeholders, digital strategy plays a crucial role in ensuring transparency and efficiency throughout the entire process. Raft emphasises the need for a comprehensive digital strategy to meet upcoming regulatory requirements and enable transparent reporting. From verifiable data collection to detailed reporting, companies must adopt technology platforms that facilitate accurate and meaningful reporting to align with evolving regulations and investor expectations.
“Our strength being a company that works around data is that we can help and really find all the data points as required,” van der Walt said. “It’s about getting the data in the right sequence, with nothing missing, in the format that’s required for the emissions calculation companies.”
As the digital landscape in freight forwarding becomes increasingly competitive, Raft maintains its edge through continuous learning and collaboration with customers. By listening to customer feedback and tailoring solutions to their specific needs, Raft ensures that its platform remains unique in the market.
“We are continuously learning and evolving as a company. We spend a lot of time listening to our customers to learn about the key challenges they are facing,” van der Walt added. “We have the right team in place to support our growth and the growth of our customers.”