Meet The Expert - Multimodal 2023

Our Managing Partner James Blackman was interviewed at the largest logistics show Multimodal 2023 in June.  James spoke and introduced our new Demurrage & Detention Calculator and Transport Management System. 

Emma: Welcome to a very hot Multimodal exhibition in Birmingham. I'm here with James from CocoonFMS, and we're gonna be talking all things tech. So welcome, James. Good to see you.

James: Good to see you too.

Emma: I hear you've been in the industry for a little while now.

James: Yes, I've been in the industry for just over 13 years. I used to work for Kuehne+Nagel and since then I've launched a software company called CocoonFMS.

Emma: Okay. So, you're investing in and producing tech for the freight industry. Do you think that they're very receptive to that, or is the logistics industry a bit stuck in the past when it comes to technology?

James: My view is they're stuck in the past. They're still working off spreadsheets. They're still working off old tech, not using the technology which is available out there. And a lot of systems are slow and hard to operate and I think they're definitely behind the times.

Emma: Do you not feel like the two years that we had when everything shut down, did that not accelerate it a little bit, pick up?

James: I think it did in a way, it highlighted issues in particularly giving visibility to their clients. But I think a lot of the bandwidth was taken about managing the day-to-day with Covid. But a lot more people realized that they needed to go into new tech using stuff like Zoom and Teams, etc., and remote working as well.

Emma: So is it a case it money issues or is it a change management problem, or what's the reluctance, do you think?

James: I think it's the old "If the world isn't broken, why change it?" It's the fear of changing to something new, which they don't understand, which is often the case. And also, it's again, a cost issue. They don't understand really what it's gonna cost, but the long term benefits actually weigh out, because if you've got the more modern technology, you can optimize the processes and improve efficiency.

Emma: Yeah. Okay. So with that in mind, what sort of technologies should forwarders be investing in?

James: They should look at cloud-based solutions, stuff which is off-prem. Also look at potentially AI, blockchain and other technology which can help improve security automation and processes.

Emma: So you used some interesting buzzwords there, AI, blockchain. Do you feel that people are a little bit scared of those terminologies, they maybe don't understand...

James: Yes, completely.

Emma: ...what it can do.

James: Blockchain particularly that one often gets confused with cryptocurrencies. But there are some added advantages for freight forwarding particularly on transfer a title of bill of ladings, for example, and documentation...

Emma: Secure contracts, that sort of thing.

James: Yeah, smart contracts. But with AI, which is quite new, ChatGPT was only just released six months ago and has taken the world by storm. There's a real sort of opportunity for AI to help with logistics.

Emma: Is there?

James: But not run logistics.

Emma: Yeah, okay.

James: Which I think a lot of people get afraid of.

Emma: Well, we're worried about the robots coming and taking over.

James: Yeah, basically.

Emma: So, what role has AI got for the freight forwarder, how can it help?

James: So from an AI point of view, you can automate tasks. So checking data, invoicing, data quality checking, all kinds of stuff to help manage the data, even modeling data. So looking at what you've done in the past versus what you're doing now. So there's plenty of scope for AI in logistics.

Emma: Okay. To make everything more efficient potentially.

James: Yeah, exactly.

Emma: Is there a reluctance with that because of people worried about losing jobs? I mean, that's kind of topical, isn't it?

James: Again, it comes back to the fear factor of the unknown, and also what it can be capable of. It's sometimes a lot of freight forwarders are still stuck in...and logistics, in a particular way of doing stuff and putting in AI, it's like, well, where do you fit that into the process? If you've got it mapped out correctly and organized correctly, you can work out and use it really, really well. And it can grow and actually improve a lot.

Emma: So it's not a case to downloading GP and doing your biography. It's more tailoring what AI can do for your situation.

James: Yeah. So vessels scheduling or checking if something's had a proof of delivery, checking accuracy of container numbers. All sorts of things.

Emma: Presumably it can crunch through a lot more data faster than us.

James: Yeah. I mean if you took a spreadsheet, trying to manage a spreadsheet, put it through AI or a cloud-based solution, it'll do it instantly or in a couple of seconds.

Emma: Okay. No robots involved.

James: No robots involved.

Emma: Okay. Good. So tell me a little bit about CocoonFMS then.

James: So CocoonFMS, we started August 2020 when we officially started. We've developed four pieces of software to help the logistics industry. Our first product was a track and trace system which bolts onto other TMSs, transport management systems, which gives clients full visibility of their supply chain. That includes real-time vessel tracking, document uploads, booking shipments, etc., and reporting as well. So we've got a whole reporting suite. We've also got a carbon calculator, which can calculate the carbon emissions for a shipment from the place it's collected to the place it's delivered and everything in between.

Emma: Which is becoming more important with legislation changing obviously.

James: Massively important. And again, the logistics industry are slightly behind. Obviously, some of the big players have got their own technology to manage this, but particularly for small companies who will be a supplier of a larger company, will be asked this to supply this information, which is known as Scope 3. And our tool helps them do that with actionable information.

Emma: Because it feels daunting if you haven't got a plug and play solution.

James: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it will be really hard to do the calculation. So this we can calculate one shipment or hundreds almost instantly with an actionable result and a cost if you wanted to do the offsetting. We've got a demurrage and detention calculator which, again, helps with the automation of calculating the costs for demurrage and detention, which is a massive problem which is often not talked about. And it's our system designed to give one version of the truth, so the customer of the freight forwarder can see exactly where the container is, what the cost is, and not suddenly get a bill further down the line...

Emma: Nasty surprise. Yeah.

James: Yeah, nasty surprise. But it also helps the freight forwarder manage their time better and manage their planning and deliveries better as well. Delivering collections from port. And our final product is our operation system, CocoonOPS, which is a transport management system, 100% cloud-based. It will incorporate all of our other systems to enable freight forwarders to manage their system...

Emma: With one solution effectively.

James: Yeah, one solution, which takes care of it all, all online, don't need any special software, easy to use.

Emma: Okay. Cost effective presumably because it's scalable.

James: Completely. Yeah. It will have a bit of AI in there. And the aim is to make it so that ops are 100% efficient all the way through.

Emma: Okay. So why Cocoon?

James: It's a bit of a story around that is a cocoon is where the birth of something great, and FMS is freight management. So we just combined the two. We've got something great. And what we want to do is do things better. Be better, do things better.

Emma: Okay. So obviously the environment is very important to the industry and to companies everywhere at the moment. What's Cocoon doing?

James: Cocoon's very, very active in this area. We're a carbon neutral company. We've been doing it since we concepted, all our servers are offset by our providers. We also do additional offsetting off the back of that. As a company we're quite light on carbon, but to date we've done over 80 tons of offsetting. Planted close to nearly 3000 trees. So we are very focused on that. Absolutely everything we've got, we try and do carbon neutral.

Emma: Okay. So it as close to your heart as a company?

James: Yeah, it's part of the core.

Emma: Part of the core. Brilliant. Okay. Well James, it's been great meeting you and speaking to you today. Thank you very much for your time.

James: Likewise. Thank you very much. Thank you.


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