Oct. 28, 2020

Takeaways from FORWARD20: Velocity, Transport Mode Mixes, and New Trade Tech

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On October 14, FORWARD20 by Flexport gathered supply chain industry leaders to discuss the trends and insights shaping freight forwarding now and into 2021. This year’s digital summit included a live keynote session, plus six breakout presentations, hosted by global trade and supply chain experts from the US, Europe, and Asia.

Event themes focused on clarity over chaos and forward planning—after a year of major changes due to COVID-19 and other trade disruptions. Here are a few key takeaways.

Velocity

The keynote presentation highlighted a driving premise for businesses emerging from COVID-19 turmoil: velocity.

Speakers Ryan Petersen, Flexport CEO, and Phil Levy, Flexport Chief Economist, discussed how agility factors more now than ever in supply chain management.

Even before COVID-19, a host of factors challenged global trade. US-China trade war, IMO 2020 regulations, and the looming impact of Brexit required that logistics leaders be prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice. But the onset of COVID-19 accelerated the need for agility, while creating an additional demand for velocity—speed in the right direction.

The two speakers highlighted why analytics must be part of the picture to achieve velocity, especially as businesses forge a path to economic recovery after COVID-19. Using relevant, real-time data helps ensure trade and shipping strategies are as strong as possible.

That concept was illustrated with a look at businesses that have recently faltered or thrived. For instance, the so-called Retail Apocalypse has seen legacy brands close stores in droves because they weren’t able to move fast enough to shift to e-commerce or to different distribution models. These businesses are unlikely to be replaced once gone—adding to the scarification resulting from economic change.

By contrast, start-up Cloud Paper pivoted immediately once COVID hit, demonstrating true agility. The tech-driven company transformed its business from B2B to include direct-to-consumer during a spike in toilet paper demand—and realized a 600% boost in sales.

Trade Tech

Velocity like Cloud Paper’s is easier to attain with technology designed for logistics. An automated supply chain frees leaders to enhance and integrate winning strategies. Most importantly, in a volatile trade landscape, businesses can take meaningful action to create advantages as new information arises.

Throughout the event, Flexport and guest speakers showcased various aspects of digitization that enhance supply chain strategy and management. One breakout session offered a glimpse into coming platform functionality—and spotlighted a number of feature reveals that customers can use right now.

Transport Modes

Adopting tech-driven supply chain agility demands a leading-edge understanding of the freight forwarding market. During a year of swift and intense change, carriers have adjusted offerings to maintain the flow of goods—including the urgent supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The shifts across transport modes have been numerous, from blank sailings and reduced airfreight capacity to erratic rates, increases in rolled cargo, equipment shortages, contract changes, and sustainability measures.

Sanne Manders, Flexport COO, presented the contours of recent changes with guest Camille Egloff, Senior Partner and Managing Director at Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Taking a deep dive into transport-mode mixes and trade lanes, the experts declared volatility the new normal. The companies that will succeed in a post-COVID economy are making ambitious moves now—and integrating digitization and sustainability as they grow.

A simple solution Manders recommends is premium services. With demand as volatile as supply, timely arrival of goods capitalizes on opportunity and mitigates risk, reaffirming that velocity is critical.

In a separate session, Nerijus Poskus, Flexport VP of Ocean Strategy, and Dharshini Shegran, Flexport Senior Manager of Ocean Procurement, dug into how COVID-19 impacts ocean transport. The talk centered on diversification of sourcing, after factory shutdowns followed tariff increases, and gave specific advice for the coming year.

Neel Jones Shah, Flexport Global Head of Airfreight, provided insights on the return of air capacity. With IATA predicting that air won’t perform at pre-COVID levels until 2024, the discourse concentrated on how to analyze, forecast, and plan. One holistic tip: get creative with solutions, like updated forecast tools or transport mode mixes, and challenge teams to do the same.

Additional sessions included a broad discussion with experts in Europe on challenges the continent faces now and next year, plus a fireside chat with guest speakers in Asia. During the Europe talk, Brexit remained central with planning tips to optimize border transitions and protocols for shippers. From Asia, supply chain leaders at two retailers revealed the grit of their respective decision making processes. Both arrived at similar conclusions: narrowing shipment lead times to get inventory where demand exists—in other words, velocity.

Learn more about expert insights and advice for 2021 by watching the on-demand sessions of FORWARD20 by Flexport now.

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