Automation helps brokerages move past 'tyranny of the urgent'

After partnering with Hubtek, Direct Expedite saw and 80% faster response time, 100% accuracy and a 30% increase in overall business

While all transportation modes feel pressure to move shipments quickly, it is particularly intense for expedited shipping companies. Beyond just getting cargo from point A to point B, speeding the process also requires streamlining the supportive tasks surrounding the process, such as rate quoting, booking and tracking. “For a shipment to be truly expedited, the entire process must also be expedited,” said Dale Prax, president and CEO of Direct Expedite. “I like to compare it to an ambulance. If I had a broken arm, I might take an Uber to the doctor to get it fixed, but if I have a brain aneurysm, I don’t want an Uber guy to pick me up, I want an ambulance. We try and apply that same kind of service to expedited freight.”

Established in 2019, Direct Expedite aims to revolutionize ground expedited freight transportation processes to provide best-in-class deliveries for time-sensitive, just-in-time and deferred freight.

To achieve that high level of service, Direct Expedite started looking for reliable and cost-effective solutions. It found what it was looking for in intelligent automation technology. The challenge then became how to apply this so-called “disruptive” technology to the business and fulfill its goals. “We knew that purchased transportation costs would remain constant and fuel prices would continue to rise, so our goal was to lower overhead while not reducing our employee count, especially at the onset of COVID-19 — RPA, AI and machine learning were the answer,” said Prax.

The company attempted internally to automate some of those rote tasks with robotic process automation (RPA). However, due to its complexity and cost, and knowing that developing this technology itself may take a long time and drive resources away from the main service as an expedited broker, the company decided to search for a partner that could help it develop this technology. That’s how Direct Expedite found Hubtek. During a webinar given by Hubtek, Prax learned that the company could deploy its bots into Direct Expedite’s transportation management system (TMS) within five weeks, providing a team of experts to help implement the technology and guide it through its implementation process. Plus, the bot was customizable, providing Direct Expedite control over any needed parameters. Direct Expedite requested a proposal and was happily surprised to receive a proposal from Hubtek two days later.

In a recent FreightWaves webinar, Hubtek Managing Director Joel McGinley and process improvement consultant Scott Hadley shared how Hubtek helped Direct Expedite gain efficiency in its business operations, but also took time to define digital brokerages, their advantages and how to stay competitive among them. “A digital broker can take what is normally handled over the phone through a voice interaction, or via text or email, and convert all that into a digital format so that the human doesn’t have to interact at that level,” said Hadley. “It doesn’t eliminate human interaction, but it changes fundamentally what a human does.”

Hubtek’s digital worker, TABi, enters a company’s TMS system as a user, scans documents, forms and emails for data, and transfers the data to the TMS. Direct Expedite started working with TABi in October.

By automating many of the mundane quoting, booking, tracking and accounting processes associated with each shipment, Direct Expedite has been able to provide faster service at a reasonable price and compete with digital freight brokers like Uber Freight or Convoy.

“We can now provide guaranteed capacity within four hours to any major metro area and six hours to any nonmajor metro area,” said Prax. “We only need a ZIP code of where it’s picking up, and TABi reads the email and sends back an email within 5 seconds saying, “We received it and are working on it.” Within 15 seconds, an email is sent with all the parameters for the type of vehicles that are available, the lane, the cost and a link for them to book the freight immediately. While the customers are waiting for other providers to respond, we’ve sometimes already got the rate booked in our system and a driver assigned.”

Because of TABi, Direct Expedite has seen a 30% increase in business, an 80% faster response time and 100% accuracy, which is huge for customer satisfaction and retention. But it’s not only customers that automation helps a company to retain. Because the mundane tasks are handled through automation, it allows employees to pursue more meaningful aspects of their jobs. In the 6 minutes that it used to take to provide a rate quote, Prax can do things like retrieve a picture of the 17 straps needed on the truck or a picture of the driver’s licenses to send to the customer so it can recognize the driver and eliminate potential fraud or theft of property.

Not only does Hubtek help small to midsized brokerages stay competitive with digital brokerages, it also offers nearshore staffing out of Colombia, as well as coaching services, since not all companies have an ideal mindset for the digital age. “We’re in a very reactive industry,” said McGinley. “It’s about ‘right now’ and making decisions immediately. I call that the ‘tyranny of the urgent,’ and it can be very demanding, but you have to be able to get control of that. If you’re going to move into this digital world, you’ve got to move out of reacting and into planning.”

About the Author

Corrie White Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.

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