Intermodal Drayage: How “Business as Usual” is Killing Productivity and Profit at IMCs

IMCs and Shippers are both frustrated at the status quo of slow, manual processes.

IMCs and Shippers are both frustrated at the status quo of slow, manual processes.

Intermodal Marketing Companies (IMCs) are the coordinators of intermodal freight across the U.S., arranging rail moves and the truck transport at origin and destination – and keeping shippers updated every step of the way.

But there’s a dirty little secret that drains IMC productivity and erodes their ability to give shippers the accurate, real-time data they want on in-progress moves. That secret is the heavily manual nature used to source intermodal drayage capacity and provide status updates and paperwork.

As digital marketplaces and visibility platforms proliferate across every industry, including traditional OTR trucking, many IMCs are stuck in the 1980s, relying on phone calls and emails to manage all aspects of intermodal freight moves, including status updates. 

You don’t call your bank to find out your current account balance. You shouldn’t have to call a carrier to see if your truck met its ETA.

Newer, digital solutions do require change, but change has been slow to come to the intermodal freight space, where old habits die hard.  These entrenched, “business as usual” approaches have severe negative consequences that are simply not sustainable.

Manual processes for intermodal drayage suck the productivity and profit from IMC operations

Following are several processes that limit IMC’s productivity and profits.

Sourcing intermodal dray capacity

A large portion of intermodal dray moves are planned and operate under a contract. But for fall-offs and last-minute freight, dispatchers go “dialing for dollars” with dozens of carriers in search of a “yes,” which sucks up an enormous amount of time.  Digital capacity solutions, like DrayNow, can automate a highly manual process and free up time now spent chasing carriers and paperwork.

Providing status updates

  • Today, here’s what happens:

  • Shipper calls IMC asking about the status of a critical freight shipment

  • IMC calls carrier;

  • Shipper waits;

  • Carrier contacts driver (no answer);

  • Shipper waits;

  • Driver eventually calls carrier with status;

  • Shipper waits;

  • Carrier calls IMC;

  • Shipper waits;

  • IMC provides status update to the shipper

There’s a joke here somewhere about the number of calls, emails and people required to answer just one simple question.  Unfortunately, the impact of this inefficient process is no joking matter when you think about the poor customer experience and the massive productivity erosion for IMC operations.  With DrayNow, drivers use their cell phones to continually update their status on the app in real time which allows IMCs to provide an immediate and highly accurate status update to customers.

Hunting down documents

Today, paperwork accumulates on the driver’s passenger seat and documents are eventually sent to the IMC to process billing.  IMCs can wait 7 days or more for the paperwork loop to close. One larger broker actually has his carriers mail in paperwork daily and employs 18 clerks to process this paperwork for 1,700 daily loads.  The logical alternative, of course, is to capture electronic versions of the documents and place them within an always-available online portal – a solution that already exists.  

Old-School practices can slow IMC growth

By embracing digital marketplaces and platforms, IMCs can accelerate revenue growth by gaining access to new capacity.  Let’s say there is freight demand in Green Bay, WI but the IMC does not have coverage in that area.  Solutions exist that allow IMCs the ability to book this load and realize that added revenue. With DrayNow, for instance, the bulk of its intermodal drayage capacity is supplied by owner-operators and small trucking companies. This reliable segment of the carrier market is currently invisible to IMCs and freight brokers that don’t leverage freight marketplaces.

Sales growth also relies on excellent retention of existing customers. Increasingly, these shippers are demanding a greater level of transparency that is impossible without accurate, real-time data on freight movements.  They don’t want to wait on an important status update and they certainly don’t want to deal with conflicting reports – for example, where the destination location says the shipment is late but the driver says he delivered on time.  Such “he said, she said” moments are not uncommon today with intermodal freight moves.

With digital platforms like DrayNow, the data doesn’t lie – for better or worse. Driver updates are time-stamped so all parties know the exact time loads were picked up and delivered. 

Doing more, with less

Freight marketplaces have gained a firm foothold in the traditional OTR trucking space, but intermodal is a part of the logistics industry that has been slower to adopt the new wave of digital innovations. There is more good news here than bad because of the massive upside change can bring.

IMCs play an important role in intermodal supply chains, but today much of the work done by front-line dispatchers is manual and time-consuming.  By adopting collaborative, cloud-based work processes for managing intermodal drayage, IMCs can achieve a whole new level of operational efficiency – enabling them to manage more freight with fewer, more productive resources. 

Brad Frith