Kapow hammers together manual connections to different systems in the supply chain.
Wrangler Jeans has a shipment that needs to go to Walmart, and as a customer service employee for one of the leading trucking companies in the country, your job is to get the jeans from point A to Z.
Once the electronic-data-interchange request is sent to your system, you start checking your company’s web-based portal to link up the request with an available pick-up time, enter the schedule into your transportation management system, and finally, go to Wrangler’s web portal and enter in the shipment information. To complete all these tasks, you might be juggling your time between two computers, one showing your company’s green-screen TMS, the other, a web portal to check rates and availability. If a keystroke is missed in this 30-minute process, you have to get on the phone to correct the error.
Sounds exhausting. But for Stefan Andreasen, founder and chief technology officer of Kapow, a big data integration company, this complicated, circuitous route presented an interesting challenge. After a bit of work, he struck upon an automated solution.
The IT firm counts among its clients Audi, C.H. Robinson, DHL, J.B. Hunt and Swift, but Andreasen admitted the transportation sector is still a somewhat new field for the company. It has experienced great success working with truckers, primarily, but even some third-party logistics firms, shippers and railroads.
Kofax, which acquired Kapow in July, saw a huge growth potential with the firm. It agreed to spend $46.1 million on the company, which at the time boasted 72 employees and a 2013 revenue of $15.9 million. Andreasen said the acquisition has provided Kapow with a substantial increase in resources to make a broader push into the transportation industry.
He added the customer service example that takes 30 minutes to complete, without follow up, was being repeated at companies that have signed up with Kapow 2,500 times per month. With automation, Kapow has completely eliminated this work-time expenditure. The only thing customer service representatives have to do is monitor the system, which, he said, can be built in less than a day, and follow up on the rare errors.
“There’s a shift in thinking here that… I need less people, and I need to do this in an automated way. It’s something that, honestly, most of the companies never even imagined could be automated because they were just seeing this person sitting there opening up email, opening up excel, going into a green screen — how could you possibly automate that?” he said.
Andreasen added that if he asked nearly any transportation company in the industry how it submits bids, gives out quotes and tracks orders, it would say it’s done manually.
“The potential is definitely there [for automation growth],” he said, adding Kapow will step up its sales effort. To that end, the firm has just doubled the number of sales people committed to spreading the technology to transportation companies. Andreasen is also attending a number of conferences around the country to drum up interest in the technology.
“I think we can multiply the business we get from this industry several times,” he said.
While automation of these customer service processes is nothing new, Andreasen still sometimes finds that carriers aren’t familiar with the concept.
“We’re getting to the stage that it’s getting close to mainstream but still very unknown by many of the companies,” he said. “Obviously, this is not a traditional way of solving a problem.”
Kapow also helps companies develop web portals that allow customers who do not have EDI interface with carriers that require it. The IT firm does this by implementing EDI “behind the scenes” on the portal.
While this is an important part of Kapow’s business, and transportation companies are asking for this service, Andreasen has his doubts about the viability of EDI moving forward. He said it’s an aging protocol that doesn’t often transmit all the information needed for daily business and has “a lot of weaknesses.” EDI inefficiency is leading companies to simply build web portals by themselves and move away from a pure EDI environment, he added.
“The smart companies are altering or expanding their scope with web-based processes because it gives them more opportunities and more possibilities,” he said, adding this doesn’t mean EDI is on its way out anytime soon. “I think it’s being supplemented by the modern way of interaction.”
Regardless of what happens with EDI and automation, Andreasen said transportation companies have started making the inexorable charge toward using more technology-based methods of doing business. This trend, he said, will only benefit the industry in the end and help an increasingly widening geographic scope get a little more focused.
“What we’re seeing in this industry is what we’re seeing in many other industries — the world is getting bigger,” he said. “There are more and more players that you have to deal with because of globalization, and the Internet makes it easier to interact with more and more partners.”