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Freight forwarding, like every other link in the supply chain, has had to change with the times. It has evolved into a complex, global responsibility that relies on value-added services for its livelihood. At the same time, the industry has undergone extensive consolidation, leading to a collection of global giants that threaten the small, often family-owned businesses of the past. But there's still a place for mid-sized forwarders that are willing to adjust to the realities of the marketplace, says Marcia Dorer, director of operations with Silver Bullet Technologies. The secret lies in understanding just how radically the business has changed. "Fifteen years ago," says Dorer, "freight forwarding was all about cargo. Today, the service that forwarders provide has all to do with information." It's no longer sufficient to process a sheaf of customs documents and keep rough tabs on the location of a shipper's cargo. Forwarders today are required to manage complex, multi-partner supply chains, while delivering an unprecedented level of customer service. And while that scenario appears to favor the largest forwarders, with their deep resources, the opposite is true, Dorer claims. The big global entities often are burdened by multiple information systems, cobbled together through a series of acquisitions. As a result, systems in place at origin and destination ports can't necessarily "talk" to each other. The mid-sized forwarder, with less complexity in its I.T. structure, can more easily monitor the progress of freight from port to ship to ground carrier, all the way to destination. With the help of technology designed specially for their needs, these smaller entities can minimize the need for customer service representatives. And the CSRs they do employ can spend more time dealing directly with customers, reporting shipment status on a regular basis. The key, says Dorer, lies in having a good supply chain event management system, which can monitor the various milestones of an international shipment and alert the forwarder when something goes awry. Dorer says mid-sized players are increasingly being driven to adopt such technology in the face of growing competition from multinational providers, and the rising cost of large workforces. "If you can automate (the CSR's) job as much as possible," she says, "you're ahead of the game."
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