The Singapore-based IT provider’s platform is aimed at mid-market forwarders who need modern IT applications and global partner connectivity to compete with major global forwarders.
September 16, 2015 By Eric Johnson
Freight forwarders have been forced to lean heavily on two cornerstones as their shipper customers’ supply chains have stretched farther across the globe: technology and agent networks.
The problem is that many mid-sized forwarders lack the IT expertise to provide competitive technology-based solutions, and others struggle with the legwork required to set up trusted partners across the world.
There are, of course, myriad IT solutions that forwarders can use to make their back office functions or rate and contract management more efficient. And there are forwarder partner networks that allow mid-market companies to quickly tap into a vetted array of partners in their chosen market.
But Centrolene, a Singapore-based startup, is aiming to bridge those two cornerstones through a single platform. The company’s network, set to launch Thursday, is a fee-based platform that concurrently provides users with modern internal and customer-facing solutions, as well as access to a network of like-minded forwarders in different countries.
Centrolene’s founder and Chief Executive Officer Alex Ruf said the goal of the company is to have 2,000 forwarders on its network by 2020. There are currently 80 signed up prior to the launch, with another 110 in the final vetting stages.
Ruf came upon the idea for the enterprise during a career that has spanned 12 years in various roles with the U.S.-based forwarder BDP International, and prior to that, running his own mid-sized forwarder.
“I started thinking, what does a mid-size freight forwarder need to manage their business, to compete with the big guys?” he told American Shipper in an interview.
The essence of Centrolene is marrying modern applications with a partner network that can help those companies offer service breadth and depth that resembles what they’d get from a larger forwarder. The name, incidentally, refers to the South American glass frog, who’s organs are visible through its translucent skin. The connection is that Ruf envisions Centrolene being a transparent provider of technology and hub for forwarders to connect.
The connection part, according to Ruf, is especially resource-consuming.
“If you’re a freight forwarder in the U.S., let’s say you need to connect to 20 key markets,” he said. “You’d have to establish this, and that’s hard work, but now we are the hub.”
Centrolene’s platform will provide communication solutions that enable forwarders to connect their offices with those of partner offices. A separate application allows discussions, whether by chat or email, to be automatically attached to the shipment to which those discussions pertain.
“You don’t only have an exception code, but also what has been talked about in the shipment,” said Ruf.
Those applications are part of what Centrolene is dubbing its C-Suite. Other applications include C-Tower, a configurable visibility tool that forwarders can tweak based on the needs of specific customers. Some customers, for example, may only need to see transportation milestones, while others may want to integrate alerts from their enterprise resource planning system around order placement or raw material procurement.
“Each shipper is different and forwarders need to have an answer to each shipper,” Ruf said.
The data generated by the system is also intended to help forwarders run their business better, similar to tools provided by contract and rate management software providers like Catapult International, CargoSphere, and Info-X.
Along with a customer relationship management application, data from applications with the C-Suite can be scrutinized to determine whether, for example, a markup strategy is working for a particular customer, or whether sales staff are spending too much time chasing requests for quotes from customers that never actually book.
Interestingly, the platform can also help forwarders parse transactional customers from more strategic ones. During the procurement process, as a shipper requests a rate, the system will examine the shipper based on characteristic thresholds pre-configured by the forwarder. The system may suggest the forwarder quote a small, occasional shipper according to the contract in the system. But a quote request from a bigger shipper could trigger an alert that for the forwarder to manage that relationship.
Ruf said forwarders already in the network account for an estimated 30 countries, and there won’t be exclusive rights for one partner per country.
“Different agents have different strengths,” he said. “Some have strengths in different verticals, or in procurement of different modes.”
Another application, C-Link, allows users to, as Ruf put it, “design your own network within the network.”
Pricing for the Centrolene system is based on monthly fees, depending on the number of modules and services a forwarder wants to use, its geographic location, and the number of offices using the platform. There’s also a monthly membership fee – to access the network – that cuts the cost of the software applications. User fees for applications rise on a per-month basis for lower membership levels.
The goal, Ruf said, is to present affordable, easy-to-integrate options that forwarders can layer on top of existing legacy systems if necessary. C-Line is included with membership and is designed to allow forwarders to avoid rekeying information to its network of partners.