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Scalable Growth Starts with the Back Office

Freight Waves, Jack Glenn, September 23, 2020


The transportation and logistics landscape of today looks a lot different than it did just a few short years ago. An industry once overflowing with paperwork, manual data-logging and pencil-pushing has come to embrace new technologies to track and move freight as well as streamline manual processes.

A top priority for brokers, carriers and logistics providers alike has become automating back-office processes to simplify invoicing and other freight management tasks. Early adopters have gained a competitive advantage over those still clinging to the old ways of doing business. 

Back-office automation is an attainable goal for companies of all sizes thanks to innovative platforms such as HubTran. Through the utilization of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the cloud-based Software-as-a-Service-based (SaaS) platform has eliminated numerous tedious manual processes for transportation companies, enabling users to instead dedicate more time and resources toward enabling users to instead dedicate more time and resources toward activities that will grow their business such as carrier onboarding.

Every transportation company will experience growing pains at some point; however, the feeling is multiplied when a company’s outdated technological infrastructure inhibits it from expanding to meet demand. This was the case for HubTran customer Integrity Express Logistics (IEL), as it realized it was growing beyond what its systems were capable of handling.

The Cincinnati-based third-party logistics (3PL) service provider contracted with around 35,000 unique carriers in 2019, handling roughly 4,000 loads per week. As it neared the 500-employee mark, IEL was unsure if its cradle-to-grave business model could keep up with the fast-growing pace of the company.

IEL Director of Operations Eric Arling detailed the specifics that led the full-truckload brokerage to consider an automation solution, “Reviewing our back office, we concluded that too many of our manual-touch processes were inefficient and holding us back from scaling effectively to reach our $1 billion annual sales goal. It came down to a business decision: Are our systems scalable for us to continue to grow?”

IEL leaders understood that greater success would be achieved if the workforce operated as service-oriented problem-solvers rather than data crunchers. Arling credited the company for immediately beginning its search for an automation solution — a search that led IEL to HubTran.

“With the current capacity crunch in addition to overall market uncertainty, we see tremendous value in HubTran for the opportunity to repurpose some of our internal roles to strengthen our carrier and customer relationships,” Arling said. “Using HubTran for every load, we knew that we’d immediately gain greater efficiency and reap the benefits regarding the elimination of human error as well as improving our ability to bill customers and carriers accurately and without payment gaps.”

HubTran’s cloud-based platform automatically processes invoices, bills customers, manages documents and factors funds. The platform gains an increased understanding of your system with each unique document it processes using optical character recognition (OCR), machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

With HubTran, brokers, 3PLs, forwarders, and factors, can reduce back-office work by up to 80% and process paperwork four times faster than what manual processes can achieve at an error-free rate of over 99%, according to the company. 

What also makes HubTran an attractive back-office automation solution is that it’s pre-integrated with major transportation management systems (TMS) and factoring applications. Additionally, HubTran also integrates with the customer’s proprietary systems. For example, IEL integrated HubTran with its proprietary TMS in August and has already realized the benefits of faster billing, among other efficiencies. Arling said, “Anytime you integrate with a third party, there’s a lot of risks involved, but HubTran has been a wonderful partner. The integration was a collaborative effort.”

Confidence is key to attracting bigger customers. As HubTran Vice President Joshua Asbury explained, “3PLs never walk away from big deals. Large shippers will thoroughly make sure the 3PLs they work withs have the operational capabilities to handle the increase in loads. It’s crucial for 3PLs to know both the capabilities and limits of their current operations and be able to prove they have the ability to absorb the additional workload required to support them. As IEL has proven, an automated back office is a competitive advantage for 3PLs and brokers.“

In today’s fast-paced freight environment, shippers have very little patience for brokerages with back-office glitches; they expect your processes to be seamless. Arling suggested that it’s quite easy for a profitable customer to become unprofitable if you handle volumes inefficiently.

“Shippers expect more from their brokers now than they ever have. They want to see brokers articulate efficiencies that they can provide them as well,” Arling said. “With HubTran, our customers can see that we’re capable of scaling a greater amount of volume for their business without needing both parties to add headcount; that’s a value that we weren’t able to provide shippers with before.”

Asbury understands that some in the industry consider it a risk to even think about disrupting their back-office practices — especially those workforces that have achieved moderate success by operating the same way for decades. However, he encourages the entire freight and logistics sector to consider the potential for even greater success by embracing the disruption that accompanies freight-tech innovations.

“Our forward-thinking customers like IEL understand the value in automating the back office,” Asbury said. “They realize that it can add to their bottom line, strengthen customer relationships, and overall enable them to grow the business.”

Unveiling the 2020 Top 100 Private Carriers List

www.ttnews.com, Seth Clevenger, August 29th, 2020, 8:00 AM

The global coronavirus pandemic has tested the mettle of the largest private carriers in North America.

This historic public health crisis has disrupted supply chains and upended freight projections, forcing fleets to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions.

But through all of these financial and logistical challenges, the companies on this year’s Transport Topics Top 100 Private Carriers list have been finding ways to navigate this turbulent time while ensuring that shipments continue to reach their destinations.

The implications of the pandemic have varied from one sector of the economy to the next.

Grocery retailers saw a surge in demand, especially during the early days of the outbreak when consumers rushed to stores to stock up on necessities.

In contrast, some food distributors saw business levels drop precipitously as restaurants closed their doors or converted to takeout service only.

The energy sector also has been hit hard, with the pandemic-induced slowdown combining with already depressed oil prices.

Meanwhile, many retailers experience a spike in e-commerce activity as consumers ordered more goods online from the safety of their homes rather than visiting brick-and-mortar locations. People who had been slow to embrace e-commerce became more willing to purchase a broader range of products online, including groceries and large and bulky items such as appliances. This expansion of e-commerce likely will remain even after the COVID-19 outbreak has subsided.

And across all industry sectors, private fleets implemented new business processes and safety protocols to reduce physical contact and help protect employees and customers from the virus.

Amid the disruption wrought by the pandemic, some private carriers expanded their fleets while others shed equipment.

The Top 100 list, which ranks private carriers on the basis of total tractors in operation, reflects several interesting changes this year.

At the top of the rankings, Walmart Inc. climbed back into the top 3, right behind No. 1 PepsiCo Inc. and No. 2 Sysco.

Checking in at No. 10 is a new name on the list, NexTier Oilfield Solutions. The Houston-based oil field services company formed in October 2019 through the merger of C&J Energy Services and Keane Group. In March, the combined company went on to sell its well services business unit to Basic Energy Services, which ranks No. 13 on the Top 100.

Several private carriers made noteworthy moves up the rankings.

Equipment rental firm Sunbelt Rentals, based in Fort Mill, S.C., rose to No. 16, from No. 24 a year ago, with its fleet of 1,589 tractors.

Univar Solutions, a chemical and ingredient distributor, also made a significant move up the list. The Downers Grove, Ill.-based company climbed to No. 21, from No. 36 last year, with a fleet of 1,372 heavy-duty trucks.

And Medline Inc., a provider of medical supplies based in Northfield, Ill., jumped to No. 49, from No. 85 a year ago, with its fleet of 791 tractors.

Newcomers to the Top 100 this year include No. 84 Stallion Oilfield Services, a Houston-based provider of auxiliary rentals and services for oil and gas operations. The company’s fleet includes 502 tractors.

Warehouse store operator Costco Wholesale Corp. enters the rankings at No. 87. The Issaquah, Wash.-based company operates 484 tractors.

Also joining the Top 100 this year are arts-and-crafts store chain Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., which ranks No. 98 with 415 tractors, and auto parts provider O’Reilly Auto Enterprises, which checks in at No. 99 with 413 heavy-duty trucks.

Another newcomer, No. 100 Dunkin’ Brands Group, rounds out the list with its fleet of 397 tractors, which help supply franchise locations serving coffee, baked goods and ice cream.