Carriers respond to greater customer demand for shipment visibility

Chris DeMillo, director of systems development at Leonard’s Express, says the company is getting more requests from customers to integrate with third-party shipment visibility platforms.Chris DeMillo, director of systems development at Leonard’s Express, says the company is getting more requests from customers to integrate with third-party shipment visibility platforms.

As if meeting on-time service requirements were not challenging enough, motor carriers are facing increased demands from customers for greater freight visibility information.

Building and maintaining all the right connections with shippers and third-party logistics (3PL) firms to meet these requirements can stretch thin a carrier’s IT resources.

Freight visibility has and continues to be a high-priority area for investment by supply chain professionals, but challenges in data governance could be causing the interest to wane, said Kristi Montgomery, vice president of innovation at Kenco Logistics, the largest privately held, female-owned third party logistics (3PL) provider in North America with more than 90 warehouses.

A 2019 Logistics State of Supply Chain Innovation Survey, commissioned by Kenco with more than 15,000 respondents, found that 43% of supply chain professionals noted visibility as a high-priority, down from a high of 64% in 2017.

“I think carriers and shippers are concerned with visibility,” Montgomery said. “There is a decline in optimism around its achievement.”

Simplifying integrations

Leonard’s Express, a 450-truck carrier with dry van, refrigerated and intermodal operations, has some customers that require tracking updates every hour. One customer wants information every 15 minutes, said Michael Riccio, chief marketing officer of the Farmington, N.Y.-based fleet.

The company integrates shipment tracking data from its Trimble Transportation enterprise system directly with shipper customers and with third-party freight visibility providers.

“We obviously have a responsibility to adhere to customer requirements, whether that’s developing something custom or partnering with a third-party platform,” said Christopher DeMillo, director of systems development at Leonard’s Express. “We are building those bridges one at a time, versus doing specialty integrations. But we have to do those, too.”

DeMillo said Leonard’s Express is making the integrations smarter and more “vanilla,” to avoid building specific customer solutions. For example, the company’s IT team has built integrations with mainstream visibility platforms used by shippers and 3PLs.

The integrations with customers that use the Trimble Visibility platform leverage direct APIs to the Trimble Cloud on a per customer, per load basis, DeMillo says.

Kenco Logistics will be investing in new IoT systems for its tractors and trailers to better ensure the safety and quality of product deliveries, said Kristi Montgomery, vice president of innovation.Kenco Logistics will be investing in new IoT systems for its tractors and trailers to better ensure the safety and quality of product deliveries, said Kristi Montgomery, vice president of innovation.

Even with many of the integrations already built, keeping up with new customer demands for freight visibility requires a lot of IT bandwidth.

“They want data and they want it yesterday,” DeMillo said. “Whether it’s the Amazon Effect or another form of consumer expectation, it is a standard that we have no choice but live up to.”

Trimble announced the Data Trust Center at its 2019 in.sight User Conference + Expo, which gives motor carriers and logistics companies a new option for simplifying freight visibility. The system is a secure, central hub that allows companies to control what, when and how they allow third-parties to access their data. The cloud-based product has simple switches that allow for integration with freight visibility providers and other connections.

Expanding visibility

Motor carriers are not the only party challenged by keeping up with new technology in the freight visibility arena. According to the 2019 Logistics State of Supply Chain Innovation Survey, 45% of supply chain professionals expect to co-invest with 3PLs, a steady rise from 38% in 2018 and 32% in 2017.

Investing with a 3PL partner reduces a shipper’s risk of wasting money on innovation projects, with 3PLs testing new technologies and establishing business use cases.

The survey also found that interest from supply chain professionals is increasing in Internet of Things (IoT) technology to capture more information about freight conditions such as temperature, door status of trailers (open/closed), vibration and to have more precision for tracking arrival and departure times at locations.

Kenco Logistics will be investing in new IoT systems for its tractors and trailers to better ensure the safety and quality of product deliveries, Montgomery said. The company has more than 150 drivers.

“We recognize not only the availability of different data, but how we can use that to make better decisions,” Montgomery said.

Keeping up with the expectations of shipper customers, especially with each customer having unique information needs, will continue adding to the workload for IT departments.

“For a midsize carrier, we are fairly sophisticated,” Riccio said, but noted that it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine which technologies in the market to plug into without losing focus of “what we’ve already got in house that is not being utilized to the full extent right now.”

To meet the diverse information needs of customers, and to create value with unique offerings, Riccio said motor carriers and logistics providers have to stay educated on new technologies and trends, “but not lose focus on what is important to customers as it pertains to the scope of our business.”

That could be a difficult balancing act, but “it’s going to continue to be that way with the amount of data the industry is generating,” DeMillo adds.