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The Covid-19 pandemic has not been a disruptor for Uber Freight.
Thanks to the digital brokerage’s cloud-based set-up, switching from office to home-based work has not impacted operations, according to Bill Driegert, co-founder and head of global operations.
“I think we have weathered the storm fairly well,” he said. “Overall freight is up. We’ve seen continued growth in our volumes.”
The turbulence in the wake of the lockdown has actually boosted demand for digital brokerage, he said.
First and foremost, volatility in the market requires a fast response, which has intensified the need for real-time capacity and pricing visibility, he explained.
Moreover, swings in traffic, such as the surge in flows to grocery stores – flows to restaurants imploded in the early stage of lockdown – tended to drive increased booking activity, he added.
He said: “The pandemic will change how we operate. It has accelerated our journey towards automation and our investment in technology.”
Uber Freight championed instant pricing from its early days. According to Mr Driegert, it is key for a real-time freight environment.
Over the past year, the company has teamed up with several transport management service (TMS) providers, most recently BluJay Solutions. Uber Freight’s pricing and tendering functionality is linked, through an API, to BluJay’s TMS platform, allowing the software firm’s clients to pull instant quotes and book shipments.
Partnering with TMS providers is a key strategy to expand Uber Freight’s reach in the shipping community, said Mr Driegert, who expects the alignment to continue, describing the development as a core industry trend. Within two years, 99% of TMS providers will have instant pricing and booking capabilities, he predicts.
How many of a TMS provider’s customers can reap the full benefits of such a tie-up is another matter. To support the full capability of Uber Freight’s technology, users need the latest system of their TMS provider’s set-up. Upgrades cost money and the logistics sector is not a market that has historically attracted a lot of technology investment, said Mr Driegert.
Alongside TMS providers, Uber Freight will continue to invest and develop new products, he said. Recently much effort has focused on tools for carriers, such as a recent one giving them visibility of multiple loads and allowing them to book these in one go.
Barely a month ago, things looked less bright for Uber Freight. Faced with a drastic downturn in its core business, parent Uber Technologies was closing offices, laying-off staff and re-evaluating non-core businesses.
Loss-maker Uber Freight, which in the past quarter showed red ink of $64m in adjusted ebitda, was also under scrutiny, resulting in lay-offs and some internal adjustments. But speculation about more dramatic steps, such as selling the digital freight brokerage, has not materialised.
“We’re comfortable with where we are; we’re comfortable with where Uber Freight stands within Uber and we continue to invest heavily in technology,” Mr Driegert said. Besides instant pricing and capacity visibility, the push for greater transparency will be an ongoing trend, he added.
On that front, Uber Freight has been pushing facility reviews that give drivers a better idea what to expect at any location. It is an area that sees a lot of friction with drivers due to a current low level of visibility, he said.