Things are changing a lot in the trucking industry. Technology startups have flocked to tackle big and small problems in the supply chain. Venture capital funds are backing different solutions excited about the size of the market and historical inefficiencies. Meanwhile, traditional players are pledging hundreds of millions of dollars to improve existing processes to avoid being dethroned.
Surprisingly, very little has changed in the actual movement of freight, at least in outward appearance. There are a number of reasons for this, but chief among them is the industry’s complexity, which together with historical distrust of technology has lengthened the adoption cycle of new features among more traditional players. And where technology has in fact been adopted, it’s impact has been undercut by the sheer size and fragmentation of the industry; technology is only materially felt once a substantial number of players adopts it.
But timid technology penetration and slow adoption should not discredit or downplay the impact that technology and automation will have, playing a fundamental role in shaping the future of the trucking and freight brokerage industry. And what’s coming is really exciting.
There is a clear downturn tendency in freight brokerage margins. As they continue to shrink, the historical value proposition of freight brokers—selling and pricing each load and finding its truck—will decline heavily. Soon, brokers won’t need thousands of employees to power their operations; instead, new technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence, ubiquitous data sharing, more secure and available chain of ownership (ie via blockchain technology) and real-time, over-the-air telematics will serve as potent force multipliers. All of this will dramatically reduce the actual cost of brokering freight and increase consolidation of small- and medium-sized brokers.
In the long run, things will change more dramatically. Several states will clear autonomous trucks for specific lanes (hub-to-hub). Carrier operational costs will drop significantly and drivers may move from carrier-based to warehouse-based. Huge consolidation on the carrier side will probably follow. Small companies will likely struggle to compete in this new environment, displaced, swallowed up, or put out of business by large enterprises with massive fleets of autonomous vehicles, where few carriers will be moving a very large portion of the total FTL shipments. The exact role original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will play in creating this new trucking reality is, for the moment, less clear, but it will likely be important as they too want to become software and service providers. Some big enterprises shippers will end up running their own autonomous trucks fleet, but most companies will rely on third party autonomous truck providers.
Of course, down the road, brokers as we currently know them will all but disappear, crippled by the continued advance of technology and growing use of automation across the industry, which only debase a broker’s value as they become more popular, lowering or removing thresholds that were once gatekeepers. Once this happens, the age of logistics technology platforms will truly begin.
Loadsmart is positioning itself for this upcoming future: a future based on data, artificial intelligence, and automation of load movements. We have nurtured good relationships with logistics players across Asia, Europe, Latin and North America, and are sharing knowledge with these trusted partners to transform the logistics business.
Felipe Capella is co-founder and Chief of Product at Loadsmart