Takeaways from Shipper-Carrier Roundtable at Momentum 2013

What happens when you bring together a large group of shippers and carriers and put them in a conference room? At the Manhattan Associates Momentum 2013 conference last month, the answer was a great conversation about transportation trends, challenges, and opportunities.

I had the privilege of moderating this year’s Shipper-Carrier Roundtable, which included the following executives from the industry:

  • Joshua Dolan, Senior Director, Transportation at Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • Arne Gonzales, Director, Supply Chain at C&S Wholesale Grocer
  • Brett Suma, Vice President of Operations at Knight Transportation
  • Dan Strong, CEO and President at Super Service LLC
  • Ron Lazo, Vice President of Transportation Practice at Manhattan Associates

Although I had prepared many questions to drive the conversation, we only got through about half of them because we received a lot of great questions and comments from the 100+ people in the audience. Summarizing a 75-minute conversation into a few words is impossible, but here are some of my key takeaways from the session:

  • You can’t have a shipper-carrier panel discussion without talking about rates, fuel, and capacity. Although these three factors are interrelated, the one that concerns shippers and carriers the most today is capacity — specifically, what will happen to capacity and carrier productivity when the new Hours of Service rules go into effect July 1, 2013 (barring any legal maneuvers), coupled with the impact CSA is having on driver hiring and retention? The big test will come in Q4 when shipping volumes increase for the holidays. Of course, a lot also depends on what happens with the economy in the months ahead too.

  • The ability for carriers to provide shippers with timely and accurate information is becoming a critical success factor. Simply put, a carrier’s IT capabilities matter. This is a key reason why non-asset based providers are attracting so much attention these days, especially from investors. As one panelist put it, many of these non-asset based providers are first and foremost technology companies, and they are outperforming asset-based carriers in this area. But as I wrote about in a recent blog posting, somebody has to own the trucks and other assets that make logistics — and the whole non-asset 3PL industry — possible. The bottom line to shippers: you need to partner with asset-based providers too, especially those that continue to invest in new equipment and technology.

  • A growing number of carriers are starting to scorecard their shipper clients, using solutions such as Manhattan Associates’ Profit Analyzer. Not all freight or shippers are created equal. Scorecarding helps carriers quantify the value of lanes and shippers, allowing them to make smarter business decisions about pricing and which lanes and shippers to keep and which ones to get rid of. Most carriers use scorecards for internal purposes only, but a few are starting to share their scorecards with shippers as a way to talk more openly about how they can work together more collaboratively.

My advice to shippers is the same as it’s been the past few years: stay focused on the long-term trends, which point to tighter trucking capacity and higher fuel costs, and look for cost-saving opportunities that make sense to implement regardless of market conditions (see here and here, for example).

While at the conference, I also attended a session about Manhattan’s Transportation Management solution and its new features and functions. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Manhattan redesigned the user interface to make the app more elegant and easier to use. The “Webtop” user interface uses tiles and portlets, and it has a similar “look and feel” to Windows 8. This is yet another example of how software vendors are starting to compete on design.

  • The solution can communicate short-term, lane-level forecasts to carriers. The idea is to give carriers a “heads up” about significant changes expected in shipment volumes on specific lanes, which would allow carriers to reposition equipment to support surges (or maximize their load acceptance rate) or seek alternative freight if volumes are expected to decrease. At the moment, the solution doesn’t generate the transportation forecast, it just communicates it to carriers in a template format, but Manhattan is looking to add this capability in the future. For additional insights on this topic, watch the recent episode of Talking Logistics, “Revisiting Transportation Forecasting.”

  • The solution supports the new Hours of Service rules that are expected to go into effect on July 1, including support for the newly mandated break and changes to the 34-hour reset rules. It also enables shippers to use Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) scores to influence load assignments.

I also had a chance to sit down with Eddie Capel, Manhattan Associates’ President and CEO, to discuss a variety of topics, including the meaning and importance of Supply Chain Commerce; the roles social, mobile, cloud computing, and BI/analytics are playing in Manhattan’s strategy and product roadmap; Manhattan’s brand perception as a WMS company; his thoughts on business networks and trading partner connectivity; and the importance of talent acquisition and retention at the company. You can watch my conversation with Eddie below.