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Oct. 20, 2021

FWD21 Kicks Off with a Keynote on Empowering the Global Trade Ecosystem

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UPDATE: If you missed Forward 2021, you can still watch all the sessions here.

Forward 2021 by Flexport is happening this week. The three-day virtual conference brings together the industry’s top leaders in supply chain and logistics. We kicked off day one with a keynote address by Flexport Founder & CEO Ryan Petersen.

Here are a few of the highlights from his talk, Empowering the Ecosystem: How We Break Our Vicious Market Cycle.

Supply Chain in the Boardroom

Across a year of fundamental changes, global trade has experienced some of its highest highs and lowest lows. Demand for logistics capacity has been so extreme that executive teams and board members are getting involved in what used to be a logistics manager’s domain.


Even if you missed Ryan’s keynote, you can still register now to join FWD21.


If you’re wondering why, look at the US West Coast as an example. Mean dwell times are up to 12 days, a historic high. The pace restricts supply just when demand is hitting highs, too. The downstream impacts range from trucking tangles to overflowing warehouses. As a result, US inventory-to-sales ratios are reaching new lows.

A CEO who runs a lean operation might like hearing of a low inventory-to-sales ratio at first, but low inventory can limit growth, too. When companies begin to run out of goods to sell, it warrants immediate attention—even if problems can’t be solved immediately.

Predicting the Unpredictable

As one issue cascades into the next, executive teams try to figure out how they could possibly predict what’s ahead. But events that once seemed unpredictable aren’t as far-fetched as they may seem.

Ryan notes that since the early days of Flexport, a long list of supply chain disruptions have occurred: West Coast port strikes that dismantled the year-end holiday season, transportation prices bottoming out to historic lows, the sudden volleying of trade war tariffs.

A global pandemic followed by the highest transportation prices in history, only five years after the lowest, could eventually be seen as just another disruption.

Solving Supply Chain Mistrust

Part of what these events trigger is a bullwhip effect: when demand signals distort supply responses with increasing imbalance higher up the supply chain and over time.

Ryan points out that mistrust between the parties in global trade makes the bullwhip effect even harder to handle.

Mistrust isn’t a new phenomenon—keep in mind that merchant ships had cannons on them. In today’s ecosystem, it shows up as mixed signals becoming more mixed. It’s hard to know which data is accurate. Sometimes, crucial information is completely missing.

But if any of us expect supply chain and logistics to get easier, there needs to be better frameworks for trust. At Flexport, the solution involves better connectivity. Multiple sources of data with humans in the loop can create a single source of truth.

Greater visibility into the right data at the right time becomes a key driver of everyone in global trade taking the right action to keep supply chains moving.

If you missed Forward 2021, you can still watch all the sessions here. You'll find more than 20 hours of talks, presentations, and demos from supply chain and logistics experts as we unravel and start to solve the systemic issues facing us all.

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