Bridging the supply chain gap

Tech startup TraMes aims to simplify operations and provide supply chain visibility for its clients; lack of resources like talent is a pressing challenge for it

SUPPLY chain logistics is one of the most fragmented businesses in the world, and Toby Koh, chairman of tech start-up TraMes, believes that the company's supply chain management tool will revolutionise the way things are done in the coming years.

There are many different parties involved in a supply chain - from carriers and freight forwarders to customs brokers - all of which may operate on different systems and even languages.

In the case where a shipment somehow goes missing, tracking it down can be a cumbersome and expensive process.

"One of the key things in supplier chain logistics is that it's all very fragmented. Everyone is operating on their own. There isn't any one system - even today - that links everyone together," said Mr Koh in a recent interview with The Business Times.

This is where TraMes enters the picture. It consolidates data on parties in the supply chain from various sources, such as blockchain platforms like TradeLens, as well as satellite providers, into a single platform, said chief executive officer Kevin Lim.

The aim is to simplify operations and provide supply chain visibility for its clients, who include multinational corporations.

Mr Lim was first bitten by the start-up bug in 2015. Working as a business analyst then, he leveraged his knowledge on logistics and co-founded Fresh Turf in 2016, a startup that provides last-mile solutions based on blockchain technology.

Encouraged by a friend to look further into the logistics problems that some MNCs were grappling with across borders, it soon became apparent that their supply chains were fraught with various visibility gaps. And from there, an opportunity presented itself.

Alok Rajiv, the company's chief technology officer, chimed in: "Individually, all kinds of data are available to a multinational corporation (MNC), but how to make sense of all of it - that's where we come in."

Mr Koh added: "We started to do a detailed market study to see what the gaps were. We spoke to industry experts in airline freight, sea freight, freight forwarders and customs clearance. And finally, in the fourth quarter last year, we started to lobby some MNCs."

TraMes was founded in January 2019 when it secured a proof-of-concept with an MNC that saw promise in their solution. Just four months into its operations, TraMes was already tracking more than 50 per cent of that MNC's global shipments.

"For a large Fortune 500 Company to open up their enterprise resource planning system for us to get data and integrate with, that's a big validation. The solution that TraMes is providing is going to help them increase visibility, efficiency and cut costs," said Mr Koh.

TraMes has been supported by about S$500,000 in funding from several angel investors, including Ademco Security Group, which Mr Koh is the group managing director of.

One of the pressing challenges TraMes faces, however, is the lack of resources like talent. In particular, Mr Koh spoke of how many Singaporeans these days prefer to work for established MNCs rather than for startups.

"The competition is tough. If you are really good in computer science, you will (work at places like) Facebook or Google. That's a fact of life. But at the end of the day, it's a cost to our own entrepreneur ecosystem," he added.

Coupled with issues in bringing in foreign talent to the company, the reality is that most boot-strapped startups here are constantly walking on thin ice, added Mr Koh.

Currently, TraMes is in the second phase of its proof-of-concept with the early adopter, which will run until October this year. The next iteration will include booking, analytical and communications modules, featuring a chat application that would allow parties in the supply chain - many of whom speak different languages - to deliver translated messages.

Mr Koh added: "We are building something that seems to be first in the world. It's going to revolutionise a very traditional business, and it's going to change how the supply chain business is going to work in the future."