Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

A Green Light for Learning

TMC's Client Forum Recap

“When you stop learning, you stop leading,” and there is no better way to avoid such paralysis than to get involved in an interactive community of your peers. That was the main purpose of TMC’s client forum held in Chicago on November 2nd, 2010. The result was a remarkable exchange of views and experiences.

Keynote speaker Adrian Gonzalez, Director, Logistics Viewpoints, at research firm ARC Advisory Group, set the tone with the above quote and some thought-provoking ideas on where the freight industry is headed. The discussions that followed between shippers from various industries answered a lot of questions and raised many new ones as the participants delved into performance issues and tried to plot a future course for the forum. 

Here are some highlights.

  • Capacity and infrastructure constraints top the list of issues likely to keep transportation professionals awake at night. The economic downturn masked the severity of these limitations, which have been exacerbated by the high number of trucking company bankruptcies and the export of equipment during the recession.
  • There is no shortage of forecasting experts in the freight industry, but do we have enough expertise in this department at the lane level? Maybe transportation management systems (TMS) can play a more active role here by providing product forecasting tools that project cargo flows by individual lane.
  • A silver lining is that the promise of more cross-industry collaboration might finally be realized as companies try to find ways around the gridlock on the ground. For instance, enterprises might start “walking the talk” by designing shared networks that eliminate costly assets and collaborating internally to improve environmental performance.
  • Market-leading providers of TMS services such as TMC address the “white spaces” in transportation management, but for many vendors these service gaps represent the next industry challenge. Creating rolling transportation capacity forecasts from demand forecasts, improving load optimization, and putting the link between inbound and outbound movements under the microscope, are some of the capabilities that the laggards have yet to adopt. They face a number of hurdles. One example is limitations on how much forward-looking information carriers can use; another is that internal groups – notably marketing and transportation – still don’t talk to each other.
  • Leaders such as TMC are also setting new standards in software plus managed services. This combination of software as a service (SaaS) technology and dedicated TMS teams is shaping the future of transportation management.
  • An ARC software vendor survey confirmed that when it comes to functionality, business intelligence and analytics heads shippers’ wish lists. Other favored features include freight financial auditing and payment modules, more granular spend management capabilities, and global trade management tools. Again, top-rated vendors such as TMC offer these options.
  • According to ARC’s research, companies don’t want to buy software they want to buy outcomes, a preference that is driving the continued evolution of SaaS-based transportation management models (for more on this see Transportation’s Next Iteration of SaaS blog, September 21, 2010). What SaaS developments are coming down the pike? How about the facility to download applications on-line at low cost, much like iPhone users download apps with a few keystrokes?
  • How to nurture tomorrow’2013-05-22 19:24:15’s leaders is one of those issues that might not be front of mind but is, nevertheless, critical to the future of the logistics profession. Take just one worrying flaw in the industry’s recruitment strategies: near-zero awareness of logistics as a career in high schools (see the Building a Pipeline for Talent blog, July 22, 2010).
  • The forum’s breakout sessions yielded a rich crop of issues for further exploration. For example, how can managers measure route guide depth and tender acceptance rates? Identifying the causes of expedited freight movements was another problem that surfaced during the breakouts; one shipper suggested that short lead times might be the chief culprit. A common observation was that companies use TMS technology in very different ways and more case study information is needed to help managers understand and use these disparate approaches.
  • There are many market performance indexes to choose from, but here’s one that is underused: truck order activity. The rate at which operators are replacing their fleets is a good indicator of future market activity. Currently this measure points to inadequate replacement rates and hence aging transportation fleets.
  • Do you include target freight rates in the bidding process? There were mixed views on this question. When rates were very low the need was less urgent, but including targets can help to keep the contract discussions on track and to cut to the chase when negotiating terms.

As can be seen from this sampling, the forum discussions were wide-ranging and delivered abundant opportunities to learn and lead. The event also showed how like-minded professionals can come together to give back to the broader community. The final session featured a visit from Greg Olsen of the Chicago Bears who talked about the annual Kicks for a Cure event, a kickball tournament created by TMC to raise money for the fight against cancer. The proceeds from this year’s event went to Receptions for Research, a charity founded by Greg Olsen and his family.

The challenge now is to channel all this creative energy into a permanent group of industry thought leaders. What form should such a community take, and how can its virtual component be compelling enough to persuade busy professionals to wade through the message traffic in their email inboxes and participate every week? Your ideas are welcome! Meanwhile, watch this space for announcements on our plans for the forum. One thing is certain – we will continue to tap into the power of community to stimulate new ideas and promote strong leadership.

- President, Managed Services
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