FreightWaves’s annual conference, Transparency, focuses on disruption and innovation in the freight industry. We headed down to Atlanta this week to join the discussion, where we shared challenges facing the logistics industry and trends we are watching. Read on for a breakdown of hot topics everyone was talking about.
FreightWaves, a media platform covering the freight market, hosted its annual conference, Transparency19, in Atlanta last week. Now in its second year, the event brought together over 1000 people in the freight and logistics industry to discuss disruption and digitization in freight innovation.
ARTA is enthusiastic about the possibilities for technology to streamline processes and help make the industry more efficient, so our team headed South to take part in the conversation.
Keynote speakers included Gary Vaynerchuk, Investor and CEO of VaynerMedia, David Rowan, Editor-at-Large & Founding Editor-in-Chief, WIRED, and XPO Logistics CEO Brad Jacobs. But outside of these keynotes, panelists dug into important topics facing the freight and logistics industry today. Below, our summary of the top three most talked-about topics both on and off the stage:
Amazon’s announcement of 1-day prime delivery
The recent announcement had many questioning Amazon’s next move in the logistics space, especially given the recent beta launch of Amazon Freight. Brad Stone, Author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, spoke about the history of Amazon and it’s rise to become the e-commerce giant it is today. Stone shared how Amazon got into the logistics space in the first place: after a disastrous Christmas in 2013, Amazon came to realize that existing carriers they had partnered with simply couldn’t keep up with their demand. So the company decided that being in control of the entire supply chain was the only way to ensure they delivered (pun intended) on their delivery promises to customers.
It was a mixed bag as to what the announcement of 1-day delivery means for the industry. For one, it could be a big opportunity for small, agile carriers to get more business. It also meant that other companies were likely to follow suit, putting more pressure on shippers and carriers to speed up processes. Either way, Amazon is certainly the one everyone is watching.
Technology innovation and adoption
Though some attendees questioned technology’s future impact on the industry, general consensus was that technology was not the enemy, and adoption was a must if a business is to survive in the ever evolving logistics landscape.
It was interesting to hear industry leaders talk about how they are jumping on the tech band wagon. Brad Jacobs said that XPO Logistics will spend about $550 million this year on all forms of IT; they employ a 1700 person technology team with about 100 data scientists. Jacobs said, more specifically, that XPO Logistics was investing in data analytics and any technology that frees up employee time. When asked by a conference attendee if robots would take over jobs done today by humans, he brushed off the thought, extolling a huge value in investing in robots. Robots would not replace humans; instead, he insisted robots would make humans more efficient by taking over time-intensive tasks, freeing up humans to be more efficient and allow for better resourcing.
Many of the companies at the conference agreed that adopting new technologies today offers a competitive advantage, but that being first in line will not be an advantage for long. However, those that are slow to adopt might eventually find themselves too behind to catch up, so it’s now or never.
The future of freight brokers
Another reoccurring topic: whether freight brokers would eventually become obsolete, especially given the rise of digital load matching apps and other similar technologies. Moreover, with Amazon building out their own logistics operations and opening that up to third party customers, and other big tech giants like Uber getting into the freight space, the future of freight brokers was highly debated.
Some industry veterans, like C.H. Robinson (North America’s largest truck brokerage) CEO Andrew Clarke, were optimistic about the future of freight brokers due to increasing complexity of supply chains. He predicted that the number of freight brokers would only continue to rise in the next few years. Clarke asserted that there will always be a need for humans, and that technology developments would simply make them more efficient, not obsolete.
Brad Jacobs echoed the sentiment that human intervention would always be required for complex issues. But there was definitely a sense of unsurety amongst attendees, who continued to pose the question to relevant speakers throughout the conference.