In the next few weeks, we’ll look at some recent technology trends, and how they might affect the logistics industry. We’ll go out on a limb and predict if and when these new technologies might have a big impact.  This week, we’ll look at bots and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Specifically, we’re talking about the possibility that some software could take a human’s place in providing customer service for a logistics transaction. AI technologies have been around for some time, but advances in computer processing power, and the commoditization of the software needed to create a bot has made bots viable. In fact you can create a demo bot in just a few minutes, although it’s not going to be terribly useful.

UPS and Fedex have created customer service bots, but these are mainly just toys right now. If you haven’t tried them out, give them a shot. They can’t really do anything complicated, and if you want to look up your shipment status, it will probably be quicker to just type your tracking number into a web page.  

Still, think about freight forwarders and freight brokers.  They aren’t going to go away any time soon, but let’s break down (in a simplistic way) what a freight broker does and consider if a bot could do some of the work:

  1. Take a call from a shipper with a new order. Sometimes orders are placed electronically, but plenty still start with a phone call, or an email plus phone call. The broker needs to ask the origin, destination, pickup date, and some info about the cargo. These are tasks that a bot could do.
  2. Find a carrier. This can occur by calling various carriers for a rate. A bot could do that, although the broker may use a TMS to find a carrier who will accept the load, in which case a bot isn’t needed.
  3. Contact the shipper with their options and get their agreement to proceed. This typically needs some kind of sign-off from the customer, so you could imagine a bot getting a verbal go-ahead and recording this, or offering to send the sign-off document by email or some electronic signature platform.
  4. Confirm the shipment with the carrier. This step could go via a bot calling the carrier, but could also occur via a TMS, without a bot.
  5. Check calls with the carrier. Here, the broker makes periodic phone calls to the carrier to “bird dog” the shipment through the delivery process. Some automation via a TMS and the carrier’s system is certainly preferred, here, but many brokers still make manually-placed phone calls to carriers, so you could easily replace those with bot calls.

I’m not sure which of these steps are most likely to become bot-enabled, but clearly some steps are ripe for bots and AI. You don’t really need humans to perform these steps, so you could cut cost by combining bots and humans, as appropriate. So while it’s unlikely that brokers will be totally replaced by bots any time soon, I think we can certainly imaging bots chipping away at portions of the broker work process within, say, 3 years. On the other hand, most brokers are not known for being aggressive on new technology utilization, so we’ll see what happens.


Mike Sadowski,
CEO, CayugaSoft Technologies LLC