PLENTY of ideas are floated about smart cities and smart logistics, yet there are those within the container trucking industry who feel the sector remains as inefficient today as it was 20 years ago.
That's a problem Singapore's largest digital trucking platform, Haulio, seeks to solve, said co-founder and chief executive Alvin Ea.
"Your supply chain is only as strong as your weakest link. And more often than not the weakest link today has always been the transporters," he said in an interview with The Business Times.
"We want to use technology to enable the transporters such that the entire supply chain in Singapore can be ready for Industry 4.0."
In Singapore, some 230 haulage companies own 2,800 prime movers that go in and out of the port every day.
Efficiency is poor, said Mr Ea. According to one study, out of every 100km that a truck runs on a road, he's making money only 55km of the time. "It's usually an empty trailer going in (to the port) to pick up a box, or an empty trailer coming out to pick up a box," said Mr Ea. "Only 20 per cent of the time the truck goes in with a container and comes out of the port with a container."
"So our business is in the optimal matching, of ensuring that the truck - which is the driver inside and the metal behind - can always be with a container."
Haulio started off as a digital jobs board, which now transacts close to a thousand jobs or close to 10,000 containers per month. Each job can involve moving one or many containers. The jobs are put up by anyone who requires a container to be moved. This includes depot operators, freight forwarders, or even trucking companies that do not have enough trucks or drivers to get a job done.
Other trucking companies can log on for free to see what jobs are available, and pick and choose jobs based on their availability. Jobs are dispatched to drivers over the Haulio app, instead of through an operator.
Mr Ea said: "After going on Haulio, the top 20 trucking companies (usually the smaller ones) that have been taking jobs from us have seen their revenues increase by 15 to 20 per cent."
To be sure, the concept of sharing resources is not new to the haulage industry, said Mr Ea. Trucking towkays typically form small alliances with each other to share jobs, a strategy that's helped them cope with the consolidation of the shipping industry.
"When you see consolidation upstream, when the ships are getting bigger in size, we have the concept of mega vessels. That leads to the problem where peaks and troughs (in demand for container trucks) are getting more intense," said Mr Ea.
As such, trucking companies have always pooled resources. "What we're trying to do here is to provide that digital element to allow them to share even more seamlessly," he said.
Over 85 per cent of all trucking companies in Singapore are within Haulio's network, and Haulio has done over S$5 million in gross bookings since the platform was launched two years ago. That's S$5 million worth of bookings that might otherwise have resulted in a failure in delivery, said Mr Ea.
Haulio takes a cut off the platform for every job transacted. This year, revenue is on course to triple from last year, he added.
Two free features have recently been added to the Haulio drivers' app.
The first is an in-app navigation map that drivers, especially those who are foreigners, will find useful. Truck routing is different from routing lighter vehicles because there are height restrictions to enter the Marina Coastal Expressway, for example.
The second function is an Electronic Proof of Delivery (ePOD) that Haulio hopes will replace the manual pen and paperwork that drivers do to keep track of how many trips they make each day. Geostamping and timestamping will also reduce arguments about late deliveries, said Mr Ea.
In his eyes, the sun hasn't set on the container shipping industry just yet.
"Ninety per cent of global trade is still done via ships because that is the most economical way to ship stuff. In fact, the more that e-commerce booms, the more containers they will use because air freight is always more expensive.
"Alibaba is partnering with shipping lines directly, for Taobao to ship via containers. With the likes of platforms aggregating demand, my vision of the supply chain of the future is really different platforms inter-operating with one another."
Haulio was founded in 2017 when Mr Ea, a second-generation logistics business owner, met Sebastian Shen, a technopreneur who does consultancy work for traditional logistics companies.
The startup just raised pre-series A funds at the end of May this year, with ComfortDelGro as a new investor. A year ago, Haulio raised S$1 million in seed funding.
Mr Ea said: "We definitely will always be on the lookout for strategic partners. Beyond those who can fund us, we have come to realise that localisation (the ability to localise a product in the local market) is going to be our biggest challenge.
"A lot of startups like Grab, it's pretty much plug and play. But logistics, because it's fragmented, there are different parties involved and the level of complexity even within Singapore is really complex."
By the end of 2019, Haulio hopes to do a soft launch of an app with the ePOD and navigation features in Thailand.
Mr Ea said: "As a PSA-backed startup, we are setting standards here in Singapore and we hope to be able to bring these standards to the rest of South-east Asia."