Oct 21, 2021Freightwaves
By Matt Bernstein, founder and CEO of BravoTran
On June 1, we launched BravoTran. Behind the scenes, inside HubTran, we had been preparing for over a year. This is the story of why we built BravoTran and where we’re taking the company.
When I founded HubTran in 2015, automating back-office and document workflows was not top of mind for transportation companies. But our powerful value proposition struck a chord in the U.S. 3PL industry, and the business grew rapidly, resulting in a $97 million acquisition by TriumphPay earlier this year.
We spun off BravoTran as an independent company because we knew that freight forwarders have acute document and back-office pain. And we also knew that succeeding in the freight-forwarding world would require a singular, laser-like focus. While truck brokerage and freight forwarding share many similarities, international freight forwarders are sophisticated, global 3PLs with unique and challenging business requirements.
And on a personal level I’m not ready to hang up the cleats yet. It’s exhilarating to lead a team of logistics and technology experts with an amazing track record in automation. This team has knowledge and experience but is unafraid to challenge the status quo.
We build products that automate the critically mundane for freight forwarders. And we believe that this automation does more than take out cost. Good automation accelerates business velocity. With transportation volatility and bottlenecks at all-time highs, freight forwarders need good automation more than ever to serve their customers, increase profitability and win in the marketplace.
Automating away the document morass
Every time a forwarder moves a shipment, documents flow in from customers, carriers and agents. Handling these emails and documents involves manual, repetitive and error-prone work. This is a mostly hidden cost because it’s buried inside the daily workload of operations and distributed across many teams and individuals. But document handling easily sucks up 20% of an operator’s day. Even worse, these emails create innumerable interruptions throughout the workday.
We solved this problem for brokers at HubTran, and at BravoTran we leveraged the same tech to build a killer solution for freight forwarders. Our tech stack relies on web-based optical character recognition (OCR), machine learning (ML) and robust integrations with forwarding applications to deliver real and practical results. For example, at BravoTran, our Document Routing module reads and identifies documents, then groups and routes them to their correct shipment or consolidation in the forwarding application — not some of the time, 100% of the time.
The product works because it’s fully automated. The last thing your operators need is another tool to be trained on. With Document Routing, the magic happens behind the scenes, meaning operators continue to handle business as they always have, minus the hassle of sorting and filing documents.
We estimate that this takes out $6 to $12 of cost per shipment. Even more importantly, operations teams can now focus on moving freight and taking care of customers without the constant distraction of dealing with incoming documents.
Because document costs are hidden, this problem may not be top of mind for freight forwarder CEOs. But once we describe what our automation technology can do, they get interested fast.
The secret sauce for payables
On the other hand, almost every freight forwarder we talk with is trying to solve the payables problem. Most freight forwarders have dedicated payables teams. And as everyone knows, payables do not generate revenues. Unlike document handling, the cost of handling payables is very visible — and very painful.
While the problem is readily apparent, the solution is actually quite surprising.
It’s actually not that hard to build an application that can automate “happy path” payables. In fact, several tech services can extract amounts from invoices and match them to accruals.
But what happens when these invoices don’t match the expected charges? Or when there are extra, unexpected charges?
If the answer is to kick out those invoices for manual resolution, then you’re back in the proverbial soup and missing the real value of automation. In freight forwarding, over 40% of invoices contain some kind of discrepancy that is out of tolerance and requires intervention. Even worse, many of these discrepancies are buried in large statement invoices that contain line-item charges for many shipments, sometimes hundreds at a time.
Today freight forwarders employ armies of staff to flag these issues and coordinate corrective actions. Operators get pummeled with questions about invoice discrepancies and make countless inquiries to their carriers and vendors. The whole process is a spider web of emails and is filled with delay, frustration and cost.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a process that streamlines how all these discrepancies get resolved? That takes this work out of individual inboxes? That allows for real-time transparency and accountability? This is where the secret sauce – workflow – kicks in. Good workflow understands how organizations communicate, make decisions and get work done and then makes it easier for the people in these organizations to do their jobs.
Where we’re going
In our experience, two key success factors are critical to delivering automation that really works.
The first is cutting-edge technology. We leverage advances in OCR, ML and robotic process automation to convert documents and manual processes into information that flows effortlessly throughout a company’s systems.
The second is understanding where human judgment reigns supreme. Good automation puts people at the center so they have the information and tools necessary to work quickly and accurately.
This dual approach requires deep tech expertise, but an even deeper appreciation for the details and nuances of freight forwarder operations and organizations.
We believe in the power of automation for freight forwarders, and we’re just getting started. We are excited to build out products that free documents and data from legacy workflows and manual processes. Ultimately, we want to make freight forwarding transactions effortless and instantaneous.
Matt Bernstein is the founder and CEO of BravoTran. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.