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Why automation alone won’t kill the freight forwarder says BIFA
Mar 09, 2017



BIFA director general, Robert Keen

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) has reacted to speculation that Amazon and Uber may be about to launch their own global freight brokerage businesses.

BIFA director general Robert Keen underlined “the vastly challenging and circuitous landscape” that traditional freight forwarders and brokers operate in on a daily basis.

The trade association for UK freight forwarders notes that while Amazon is yet to confirm its plans, Uber has already soft-launched Uber Freight, according to a report from Business Insider UK.

BIFA said that the San Francisco based company has "ambitions to cut out freight intermediaries by introducing load matching apps which would provide real-time pricing", while smaller start-ups such as Cargomatic, Convoy and CargoX also have the same idea".

Amazon has unveiled plans to build a worldwide services hub in the America mid-west, and has also acquired thousands of its own trucks, which BIFA said has been perceived as "a firm signal of its ambition to take on brokers and forwarders".

But Keen believes that BIFA members have nothing to fear and he outlined three reasons why they will remain largely unaffected:“I have been working in the industry for over 40 years and have watched the naysayers and doom mongers in the media, and the wider industry, predict the demise of forwarders and brokers, only for them to have been proven wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. We have more forwarders now than ever before.”

“Freight industry supply chains are highly complex and multi-layered. I find it hard to believe that there is an algorithm out there which can successfully absorb, understand and counter all the challenges that our members face on a daily basis. How, for example, does an app react to freak weather and negotiate customs issues?"

Keen continued: “Freight forwarders are often described as the ‘architects of the supply chain’ and for good reason too. They understand the intricacies of the mosaic-like supply chain frameworks that exist, and most importantly, many of our members, over several decades, have acquired knowledge, experience and agility that the tech-startups will find almost impossible to match.

"How will they cope, for instance, when a truck carrying expensive and time-sensitive cargo breaks down? Who will arrange for a replacement truck? And who will guarantee the load? Many of these questions cannot be suitably solved by an app alone.”


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