Freight Forwarders Enhance Performance with Artificial Intelligence

January 5th, 2018

Transport and logistics specialists roll out smart apps like digital assistants to ease work and improve efficiency for staff and clients.

Businesses across the globe have been embracing technology and computing innovation to increase productivity by simplifying various internal processes and job tasks. Amid that, the expanding capabilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) have permitted companies to use smart software interfaces like chatbots to interact with clients in taking orders, answering questions or solving problems as human operators do. Such reactive, problem-solving applications are also being deployed by freight forwarding companies to simultaneously aid employees, enhance performance and service and lower costs to clients.

A good example of that innovation has been the development of digital assistants, whose AI functions facilitate work for employees while also benefitting outsiders they communicate with.

“The logic of the digital assistant is to do those things that everyone must deal with these days, but which aren’t central to our specific professional duties,” explains Vincent Levasseur, Head of Bolloré Transport & Logistics’ Innovation Unit in Paris. “These tasks are tangential to – and a distraction from – our real jobs. Allowing digital assistants perform them lets us recover that time for our core responsibilities.”

A case in point is Julie Desk: the appointment secretary bot Bolloré Logistics is testing company-wide. The application uses AI data analysis of email to detect requests for appointments, phone meetings, lunch invitations and other solicitations; then prompts the recipient for approval to set those up. After consulting the user’s online agenda, Julie Desk emails a proposed time and venue for the meeting, and automatically handles subsequent communications until details are finalized.

It will similarly detect different time zones of people involved in exchanges and stipulate respective local hours meetings will occur. When participants are all on site, it can identify and book available meeting rooms. All exchanges and arrangements using the app occur via email in normal language familiar to users.

“It takes an average of 20 minutes to arrange every appointment by yourself, so by letting a digital assistant handle that saves you an enormous amount of time for your real work over weeks, months, years,” says Mr. Levasseur -- noting the considerable time economized by managers whose work involves organizing and attending frequent meetings.

And that’s just the start. In November the company’s Information System Department initiated a help service called SmileBot using an AI chatbot to assist employees with problems like equipment malfunction, computer troubles or procurement queries. Beyond just registering assistance requests the way a traditional help desk would, the vast volume of data and analysis capacities of the Smile system will be tested and used to identify and propose possible trouble-shooting solutions to users in real time.

In cases where SmileBot won’t be able to resolve the problem itself, it will relay the complete, targeted help request it prompted from users to help desk technicians -- who can use the thorough information obtained to intervene and resolve glitches faster.

Another example of AI capabilities, Mr. Levasseur says, is an experimental application for use on PC and mobile devices providing a smart user manual for Bolloré Logistics employees encountering snags with equipment or software. Unlike standard online user guides for individual products, however, the help bot will dig out tailored solutions from a regrouped database of manuals for all equipment used. Simplicity, speed, solutions and progress are served at once.

“One objective of AI is to use data and analysis of it to make life and work easier for people -- and in doing so allow them to be more productive and valuable to their company and clients,” Mr. Levasseur explains. “It seems new but in a few years AI assistance will be so ubiquitous on connected devices we won’t even notice it’s there anymore.”

Key Figures
  • 20%

    More fuel-efficient for the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350

  • 70%

    of Urbanisation is expected by 2050

  • 27

    mega-cities are expected by 2050, with at least 10 million people, compared to 1...

  • +18,4%

    of growth for E-commerce retail market in Europe in 2015

  • 82%

    of goods are moved by road

  • 1 billion

    Population in Africa

  • 60%

    of Africa’s population will be urbanized by 2050

  • 7,5%

    of growth for Indian GDP in 2014

  • 4,9%

    of growth for African GDP in 2016

  • 6,1%

    of growth for East Asian GDP in 2015, the world’s fastest-growing region

  • 19 224 teus

    transported by the MSC Oscar, the largest container ship in the world

  • 396 m

    is the size of the MSC Oscar ship

  • 120 h

    is the Non-Stop Flight Record done by Solar Impulse

  • 4,5%

    of growth in 2015 for Global Airfreight demand