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We deliver efficient and reliable freight process using technology – Sola-Usidame

For decades, the freight forwarding industry in Nigeria has relied on outdated system that compels importers and exporters to deal with over 20 touch points scattered across the country, just to complete a single transaction.

In this interview, Hio Sola-Usidame, lead partner, Oneport 365, shared how the company is leveraging on one-stop-shop technology to simplify shipping and freight forwarding business in Nigeria. AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE captures his thoughts. Excerpt.

You are about to launch a revolutionary freight forwarding solution. Tell us about it.

The freight forwarding industry has been a traditional one and has endured considerable inefficiencies for decades. These inefficiencies include drawn-out quotation times, wasting productive hours on keeping track of contracts, emails and cargo location. There are layers of complexity added by various industry players on what should be a simple and transparent process.

Another challenge that has a direct and measurable impact on the business bottom line is the additional or hidden charges that result in significant difference between initial quote received and final invoice.

The OnePort 365 platform is optimised for ease and powered by technology. Through the digitalisation of processes, we deliver a transparent, efficient, profitable and reliable freight process.

On the platform, exporters, importers and local traders can compare multiple competitive freight transport rates; book ocean shipping and inland transportation vendors; secure cargo insurance and customs brokerage services; manage all freight documentation and access an extensive network of short and long-term warehousing. It was built to simplify the unique challenges faced by importers/exporters from the African continent.

We optimise trade operations for African businesses and ensure they attain success. We do this by facilitating improved freight planning and providing them with 100 percent visibility, optimal freight process automation and real-time monitoring of their cargo’s progress.

Our solution is cloud-based and can be accessed anywhere which is a great advantage in the current work-from-home era.

How long did it take to put this together and how reliable is the system?

Prior to OnePort 365, we provided freight forwarding services to a wide range of businesses as Logigrains. Logigrains has become a B2B brokerage firm. During that period, we experienced first-hand, inefficiencies of the traditional freight forwarding process.

This formed the business and technical foundation of our platform. As a result, constructing a detailed product roadmap that streamlines and optimises the freight process was concluded in only a couple of months while building the platform took a quarter. We began operations as OnePort 365 in the fourth quarter of 2019.

We are driven by the challenges of our clients. Our solution was designed and is backed by the technology to deliver on the promise of an optimised, profitable and reliable freight management process. In addition to tech, we have a dedicated team of experts that support clients at every stage of the shipment process. The system itself is reliable. However, traders and vendors alike will need to embrace a fundamental cultural transformation from manual practices to digital processes in order to apply the full potential of our solution.

How diverse is your vendor base? Are you looking to include more?

Vendors on the platform cut across various touch points of the freight process. We have partnered with various trucking companies across the country; we offer full container load ocean shipping on all ocean vessel carriers; short- and long-term warehousing for storage and cargo consolidation.

In line with our customer experience optimisation model, we will consistently look to include more vendors to deliver competitive rates and superior service.

In terms of coverage, where does your strength lie?

A significant proportion of our clients’ shipments of agro-allied raw materials and solid minerals originate from Northern Nigeria. We have a strong network of truckers and warehouses from the North down to the Southern region where we utilise the two major ports for cargo departure.

Your service is built around technology. How do you intend to achieve this considering the fact that Nigerians are still used to manual ways of doing things?

The freight forwarding industry remained a traditional one globally for a very long time, I daresay for centuries. It remained so even in the midst of a radical digitalisation of almost every other sector. This is a relevant query and it speaks to the need for a cultural shift; a transformation of the freight forwarding culture that will be facilitated by a host of benefits.

At OnePort 365, we have digitalised the customer process to provide a better customer experience including seamless quotation and booking processes with comprehensive online documentation. The platform also includes a dashboard with a holistic view of shipment locations and other shipment information. With these, customers gain competitive advantage by saving associated freight transaction costs and time; being able to track live data for better freight planning and quicker decision making.

Automated processes also provide profitable growth opportunities for vendors. These benefits, we believe, will play a fundamental role in compelling the players in the sector to adapt quicker to a digitalised system.

In India, a similar market, the industry is adapting to digital transformation at a very fast rate. We have faith in the ability of Nigeria and the rest of Africa to do the same, maybe at an even faster rate.

How can you compare your product with what is being used in other continents?

Our platform addresses inefficiencies common to the global freight forwarding industry as well as the unique process and infrastructure challenges we face in Africa.

Example is our real-time cargo tracking system. When freight is being transported, especially via road, you would have to rely on the driver to know the location of the cargo. In a number of cases, the trucker provides inaccurate information on location and arrives at destination days later than expected. In worst case scenarios, the cargo and driver go missing. With our tracker, our clients can monitor shipments from anywhere in the world.

Another example is lack of short-term warehousing arrangements. The standard rental agreement for warehouses in Nigeria still remains yearly rent. A number of our clients are commodity traders, and seasonality is a key factor for them. An exporter trading, let’s say, sesame seeds four months a year and requires a consolidation warehouse in Kano. The question is why does he need to pay a year’s rent for a warehouse he only uses for four months? Our platform offers our clients access to over 40 warehouses across Nigeria, all on a pay as you use basis. Traders can rent these warehouses for short periods, even as short as a week.

The competitive live rates we offer on the platform are very similar to what is offered globally. Except in our case, beyond convenience, the all-inclusive pricing helps thwart “hidden” charges.

What impact, in your opinion, will the challenge of persistent traffic gridlock within Apapa and Tin-Can Island seaports have on your operation?

A key issue remains that at least 80 percent of cargo in and out of Apapa is transported via road. This is one major contributing factor to the congestion. In order to manage the delay caused by the traffic gridlock, we offer intermodal inland logistics of cargo (by road, rail and barge) into the Lagos seaports. This helps us remain agile and provide the most efficient mode available to our clients.

We are also optimistic about the Nigerian’s Shippers’ Council measures to enhance the efficiency of service delivery at the ports through digitalisation.

How competitive are your charges?

Inefficiencies, lack of proper structure and infrastructure challenges are some of the major bottlenecks that contribute to spike in prices.

Speaking of structure, only about three in 10 truckers are what you can call corporate truckers and they tend to operate professionally. Outside of these, truckers tend to set prices at whatever rate they want to. The Nigerian Shippers Council introduced a rate guide for shipments via trucks with destinations within Lagos earlier this year. Unfortunately, this guide is not being followed by many truckers.

In addition, in other climes, there are on average three intermodal entry/exit options for seaports. In ours, about 80-85 percent of shipment in and out of the ports is moved via road. Until alternative transport modes are fully explored, rates would remain on the high side.

At OnePort 365, we do provide our clients with competitive market rates. Our in-house analytics using historical and seasonal trends serves as a guide to ensure fair pricing.

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