Erica Phillips from The Wall Street Journal brought the news that DB Schenker has entered into an agreement with uShip to use its technology in the European market as digital freight-booking platform.
Companies like XPO Logistics Inc. are spending millions of dollars to develop in-house platforms. Others have pursued acquisitions, including United Parcel Service Inc., which last year bought Coyote Logistics, a freight technology firm, for $1.8 billion. Deutsche Post AG took a €345 million ($383 million) write-off on a failed effort to create its own global freight forwarding technology platform.
These efforts by traditional 3PLs to “become a technology company” through massive investment in IT can make sense from a business perspective but will not create transformative innovation. Take XPO for example, which has focused on a great number of M&A deals to grow quickly and consolidate part of the industry. The number of different systems, competing softwares, conflicting APIs and isolated data is staggering. Combine that with the the fact that breaking down is not an option for them: there are thousands of shipments being moved every day and investors looking at revenues and profits constantly.
Therefore technology investment write-offs like the $383 million mentioned in the article should not be surprising at all. The reality is that incumbent 3PLs don’t have the risk appetite or the incentive to be aggressive on technology adoption, as still have to deal with legacy systems arising from decades of operations and recent acquisitions. Big technology spending disclosed by traditional players are more a PR stunt than an actual willingness to disrupt the industry. Coyote is another good example: it operates in an extremely similar manner to any other big 3PL: based on phone calls, an army of salespeople and a traditional brokerage model.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the uShip – DB Schenker deal. The european market has its own peculiarities, and uShip model looks more like a B2C than a B2B. But more importantly, uShip is focused on matchmaking freight with carriers and does not actually operate the shipment movement from point A to point B.
It looks like DB Schenker is looking more for a platform to manage its partner carriers and tender loads electronically than introducing an innovative business model on the shipper side.
Felipe Capella is co-founder of Loadsmart and Chief Product Officer.