This year presented new challenges and literal roadblocks for the intermodal industry. From the blindsiding pandemic to the fluid political and regulatory climate, intermodal operations were tested without much of a warning. For some companies, the pandemic forced internal process changes, while proactive preparations proved beneficial for others. More importantly, the lessons taken from 2020’s unique disruptions will ultimately reveal which companies learned how to adapt for the future and which ones still have work to do post-pandemic.
Beyond adaption and predictions, collaboration for intermodalism is critical. Companies such as Consolidated Chassis Management continue to keep safe connectivity part of the foundation of its intermodal operations. Without this critical element, the success of any intermodal process is compromised.
“At the core, the entire intermodal system requires that we collaborate and connect,” explains Mike Wilson, CEO of Consolidated Chassis Management. “We witnessed the importance of working together at the onset of the coronavirus, but as the crisis levels off, we can see that organizations are moving back into their silos. This diminishes the impact that seamless, well-connected intermodalism can have on the supply chain.
“In chassis specifically, we look to optimize collaboration through interoperability, but the problem is systemic, and all supply chain stakeholders need to look to balance commercial interests with optimized supply chain fluidity.”
As all parts of the supply chain work to accommodate the “new normal” and future disruptions, Wilson further reiterates the importance of communication and sharing of information, particularly for upcoming peak seasons that require specific assets. This as well requires a proactive approach to gathering accurate and timely data and the specific needs of every part of the operation.
“Dislocation of assets becomes a significant challenge and some parts of the supply chain end up scrambling to source assets, whether it be containers or chassis, to accommodate surges or a new market demand,” Wilson says. “We must minimize inefficiencies and redundancies while maximizing utilization and availability for everyone operating in the supply chain. That means working together to meet the needs of the industry.”
He cites as an example of the timely sharing of data “so that logistics and equipment providers throughout the supply chain can plan accordingly, rearranging inventory and reallocating resources.”
Every part of the process is critical to the next step–whether that be the technology utilized to track or the equipment needed. When one part of the supply chain is delayed, every part of the supply chain feels it. Although it is difficult to predict every possible delay, there are more than enough resources and lessons from the past that all industry players can tap into and prepare with.
This means that last-minute changes must be prepared for before they happen. One example is revised schedules for ocean carriers. Wilson explained at the time when these schedules unexpectedly shifted, chassis and other equipment providers were forced to evaluate the state of their inventory. He cites the prompt notice of the changes for the success of planning initiatives.
“Open communication and sharing of information are great steps,” Wilson says. “Data sharing is critical to meticulously planning, minimizing waste, and streamlining processes. We must minimize inefficiencies and redundancies while maximizing utilization and availability for everyone operating in the supply chain.”
Technology goes together with collaboration and planning measures, especially in the current trading landscape. The important thing to keep in mind when utilizing the solutions offered by technology, however, is that the human element is equally important. Simply put, we need the combination of experienced team members and the appropriate technology to address the nuanced aspects of this business. To that end, identifying the right technology is critical. There is no “one-size-fits-all” technology approach.
“We still need to consistently look at our technological solutions to ensure they do not cause disruptions or generate new manual tasks that are solely performed to support a new function for the technology being adopted,” Wilson advises. “All stakeholders within the supply chain benefit from adopting technology that will integrate easily with other platforms whether it is an internal or external application. We need to pursue technologies that enhance and synergize with existing programs. Not only do we need experts with experience and knowledge to guide customers in a way that technology often can’t, but we also need to allow for ‘exceptions’ and swift, agile unexpected adjustments that cannot be left to technology alone.”
Automation is another factor intermodal players can tap into for successful navigation of fluid regulations and market dynamics. CCM offers intermodal providers a unique and effective solution for capturing unexpected costs while maximizing information available. When it comes to regulations, manual processes can hinder rather than help.
“When looking to navigate regulations and compliance issues, I would turn to automation as often as possible to take the manual process out of it wherever you can,” Wilson says. “CCM has a new M&R (MandR) system for intermodal equipment and one of the features we have built in addresses tax regulations. Vendors, mechanics and intermodal asset owners do not have to worry about tax rates. We have a process whereby we get automatic updates for each state, push to our system, and it automatically updates. Users never have to worry. Wherever you can apply a strategy like this, do it.”
To put this all together, communication and utilizing the right resources are the common themes found for successfully operating in the intermodal sector, regardless of the market challenges and level of disruption. From post-pandemic environments to the constantly changing regulatory system, strategizing to ensure all parts of the supply chain are considered will make or break operations. In some cases, this includes competitors and partners alike.
Wilson concludes the conversation by adding: “It is important to remember that often, your biggest competitor can also be your biggest collaborator, especially in this industry. Working in collaboration with your competitors as well as other stakeholders is, after all, what intermodalism is all about.”
Mike Wilson is the chief executive officer of Consolidated Chassis Management. Prior to joining CCM, he was senior vice president of Business Operations for Hamburg Süd, where he was responsible for all marine and terminal operations, equipment and intermodal, finance and accounting, information technology, human resources and administration. Mr. Wilson has 39 years of experience in international shipping, and his past duties have included senior positions in logistics, operations and customer service, covering a geographical scope that includes North America, Europe, Central America, the Caribbean and North Coast of South America. He received the 2018 Connie Award for his significant contributions to the evolution of containerized shipping and intermodalism.