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Streamlining the Freight Procurement Process: A Q&A with Kelly Williams

The freight procurement process: a drawn-out, labor-intensive affair that involves emails, spreadsheets, phone calls, and a lot of time. All while, your network is changing. Ever thought about making it better?

That’s exactly what Trimble’s new Engage Lane solution aims to do: assist shippers and carriers in uncovering better ways of moving contracted freight together.

We sat down with Kelly Williams, Engage Lane product manager for Trimble Transportation, to get caught up on the Engage Lane solution and how it enables deeper collaboration between carriers and shippers to create a more connected supply chain.

Tell us about your career path and experience in the supply chain.

I spent 20 years at Schneider National Carriers where I held all sorts of different roles including customer-facing and operational roles, but my favorite roles were when I was working with drivers.

I also spent some time at Breakthrough Fuel, which does fuel-related energy management for shippers. It was really interesting, because in that role, I sat right in the middle between the shipper and the carrier – I got to see both sides of things. It really opened my eyes to where the challenges and opportunities were in that relationship.

Something I think is so cool is that nowadays it’s not uncommon to see a supply chain “track” in college. That’s something that wasn’t the case when I got into the industry – supply chain was kind of something that people just fell into.

Don Schneider used to say, “At the end of the day, when you go home and you put food on your table, it's there because a truck driver made it possible.” That has really stuck with me – and it is a constant reminder about why it  is important to make sure that the carrier side is represented in technologies like Engage Lane.

What’s your day-to-day role like?

As a product person, there is no better experience than doing a demo for a shipper or a carrier and getting their candid feedback. If you’ve done bids for years and years, this improved workflow resonates.  More often than not, the carriers are  immediately ready to sign up – the value of this solution is so clear from the get-go, which means we built it right! I’ve never experienced getting to “yes” so quickly.

Given my “trucker” background, I’m particularly proud that carriers are so interested and supportive of this solution. After the demo, we frequently get questions like, “Have you thought of this?” and “What about using it like that?” – that’s what tells me they not only think this platform is useful and valuable in its current form, but they’re already planning ahead for what the next thing is that they might want to use it for. And we’re excited to help make those things happen!

We’ve also recently started working more closely with the Trimble Maps team to leverage our broader portfolio of industry standard data and location APIs to accelerate our ability to do more on the product strategy front. We are fortunate to be able to bring together things like Connected Locations from our Maps business, so an Engage Lane user can see driver dwell time at a location, toll costs and greenhouse gas emissions at the time of bidding. I’m very excited to see what workflow we can improve next.

Tell us more about Trimble’s Engage Lane solution. What does it enable?

At a high level, Engage Lane aims to impact where the shipper and carrier first have the opportunity to start their business relationship, which is most often in the bid process. There is, of course, a large spectrum of how companies go to market and bid, so where we’re currently focused is changing the freight procurement dynamic around contracted freight.

Engage Lane goes beyond a contracted  procurement platform. We’ve impacted three major areas of bidding. The first is streamlining the bid workflow, the second is connecting both the shipper and the carrier TMS to our Trimble Transportation Cloud to create an EDI connection so freight tenders can happen right away, and finally, holding both the shipper and the carrier accountable to the lane agreement with scorecards.

For example, a shipper may have a lane with 5 loads a week from Chicago to Dallas. Engage Lane can provide visibility to this lane for all qualified carriers within the solution, kicking off that streamlined bid workflow. Once the shipper and carrier agree to do business together, they can start tendering freight as soon as they are both aligned.

It really shortens up the process – a shipper could put a lane out to bid on Monday, request responses by Wednesday, and be tendering freight by Friday.

Engage Lane also ties the procurement process to the operational side. Both shippers and carriers are scorecarded, holding both accountable to the agreement they signed. This helps both shippers and carriers make more informed decisions about the organizations they’re interested in doing business with.

What does the typical procurement lifecycle look like and how does Engage Lane improve that experience?

Traditionally, the bid process involves a shipper sending thousands of lanes to the same group of carriers year after year. In a lot of ways, it is like playing “52 Card Pickup” with both the shipper and the carriers’ networks. After doing so many of these bids, I knew there could be a better way. So, our goal is really to clean up the bid process, starting with bidding the lane when a lane is impacted by cost, service, or capacity issues.

Another benefit of Engage Lane is many of the small and mid-size carriers would never typically get access to the shippers we are staring with in Engage Lane. This means new business and capacity opportunities for the carriers. No need to go door-knocking or spending precious resources to get on the right list. On the flip side, shippers can access capacity from carriers that they may not have known about previously. It’s a bid platform that comes with capacity!

Why is collaboration between shippers and carriers so important?

Transportation is such a fragmented industry – there are hundreds of thousands of carriers out there, and it is hard for shippers and carriers to find each other. With Engage Lane, the first goal is to find that shipper, or that niche carrier, who they never would have otherwise met.

For years we have focused on the capacity crisis in the supply chain – that there’s not enough truck drivers to haul all the available freight. Something that occurred to me as we were developing Engage Lane is that while it may not solve the entire crisis, it helps mitigate that challenge by helping freight creators (shippers) and freight movers (carriers) find each other so freight can get moving.

You can learn more about Engage Lane here.