LTL Summer School: C.H. Robinson exec talks pandemic challenges, evolving supply chain technology

This month, SMC³ will offer an exclusive version of its LTL fundamentals supply chain education course complete with live lectures from industry experts.

By the middle of August, students will have learned the ins and outs of LTL operations, how LTL carriers make money, the biggest challenges to the industry, and more. The special summer edition of SMC³’s supply chain education course begins July 15.

Greg West, vice president of LTL at C.H. Robinson, will participate in a conversation with students about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on logistics operations.

How has your business been impacted by the pandemic? 

As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, hundreds of companies have and continue to rework supply chains. During this supply chain disruption, we remained fully operational around the globe, continuing to offer all global and domestic transportation while adhering to government and health regulations.

During this time of unrest, C.H. Robinson has moved thousands of shipments of essential supplies, leveraging our entire global suite of services, including air, ocean, customs brokerage, and surface transportation to meet the growing needs and demanding deadlines. Our team of experts has also been involved in helping states navigate the challenges brought on by COVID-19. To date, C.H. Robinson has helped saved the State of Minnesota more than $1 million in transportation costs associated with procuring more than 72 million pieces of PPE, including face masks, eye protection, gloves, gowns and N95 respirators.

Our scale, technology, and single multimodal global transportation management system, Navisphere®, enable us to continue to support our network of nearly 200,000 customers and contract carriers worldwide.

Has the coronavirus pandemic sped up the adoption of proven technologies in the supply chain arena?

This is not the first or the last event to disrupt global supply chains, and we continue to see the rapid advancement of technology, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence playing a role in how we build supply chain solutions.

More than ever, both shippers and carriers are focused on increasing efficiency, visibility, reliability, and most importantly staying safe—all of which are critical areas that our global network of 1,000 data scientists, engineers, and developers remain focused on.

Are the changes LTL companies are now embracing due to safety requirements brought on by the pandemic permanent? Will any of these initiatives outlast the pandemic?

Technology is constantly evolving for supply chains. The unprecedented times we are facing due to COVID-19 have accelerated adoption of the digital bill of lading in the LTL space. The idea of touchless pick and delivery is not new, but due to the pandemic, more companies in the industry are forced to leverage this automation to maintain safety requirements. This change seems to be something that will outlast the current event disrupting supply chains and will evolve and improve as needed in the future.

How can the LTL industry prepare for the next major disruption?  

For the LTL marketplace and supply chains overall, the key is preparedness and establishing contingency plans both internally and with your 3PL or 4PL provider. While global events such as the coronavirus pandemic are impossible to predict, it is possible to mitigate the impact by increasing supply chain preparedness. Improved visibility, automation and optimization are all factors to building a more resilient supply chain. A global transportation management system should be a key part of your supply chain technology strategy. TMS technology—arguably one of the most important logistics management tools available to companies—can make a major contribution toward creating and enabling a responsive, adaptable and intelligent global supply chain.

Other than the lasting effects of the pandemic, are there one or two big challenges on the horizon for LTL carriers? Shippers?

The challenge that both LTL carriers and shippers continue to face now and into the future is the exponential growth of ecommerce. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity to the industry. 

For carriers, the opportunity of increased volumes and frequency brings the challenge of meeting shipment visibility expectations that consumers and shippers have grown accustomed to. E-commerce also brings the challenge of not only delivering on time, in full, but it also delivers a logistical challenge in making sure carriers have liftgate equipment to physically deliver freight. Shippers continue to move smaller quantities at a more frequent pace, while still needing to comply with retailer requirements. Working with a provider like C.H. Robinson allows shippers and carriers to leverage our scale, expertise and technology built by and for supply chain experts to meet the changing ecommerce demands.

How can they use technology to overcome these challenges?

Improved technology, data and tracking are beneficial to shippers, the end-recipient and LTL carriers through the optimization of pickup/delivery times, routing, and cost savings strategies. Working with a third party logistics provider with technology built by and for supply chain experts can also help to establish a clear picture of your LTL shipping patterns and can provide visibility to additional capacity, faster, when consumers are demanding goods sooner than ever.

At C.H. Robinson, our goal for customers is to help them move shipments smarter with improved savings and reliability. This core driving principle is how we help our customers navigate through supply chain disruptions now and into the future.

Spend the summer learning about the intricacies of LTL with SMC³. Sign up by July 15 for a 25-percent discount on the registration fee. Register for the exclusive supply chain education offering today!

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