How freight visibility shifted from ‘check calls’ to robust mapping platforms with ETAs

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Updated Sep 21, 2020

Freight brokers and third-party logistics providers are giving shippers the same, if not better, load tracking data than motor carriers without needing to invest in asset tracking systems.

FourKites gives brokers and carriers insights into shipment visibility.FourKites gives brokers and carriers insights into shipment visibility.

Many are using freight visibility platforms that capture load tracking data from motor carriers using real-time integrations from their mobile and back-office systems. One of the largest visibility providers, FourKites, recently hosted an online event that drew attendees worldwide to learn about how the latest developments are connecting supply chains at a deeper level.

Prior to the event, CCJ spoke with a FourKites customer, Odyssey Logistics, about its experience using the platform.

Jessica Goddard was introduced to freight visibility technology soon after she began working for Odyssey Logistics in May 2019. At the time, she and other logistics coordinators were calling carriers whenever clients needed load tracking information.

As a global company, Odyssey manages more than $3 billion in freight spend. Its logistics coordinators were making a lot of “check calls” every day, she said.

In September 2019, a customer asked Odyssey to provide it with greater shipment visibility.

The customer, GCP Applied Technologies, sells chemicals and materials for construction and developed a new e-commerce platform, GCP Plus. It needed Odyssey to provide shipment tracking URLs to give its own customers visibility of shipment locations, arrival and departure times and predictive ETAs on a map display.

Odyssey was given a one-month deadline to meet this request. Goddard was assigned to lead the project and began working with FourKites to satisfy the customer request.

FourKites obtains load tracking data from carriers by using integrations with their mobile and back-office software systems, and quickly on-boarded the carriers that do business with Odyssey and its customer, she said.

After successfully leading the project, Goddard was promoted to an operations strategy manager, and now trains new hires at Odyssey on how to use the company’s technology as well as implements new technologies.

Odyssey continues to get requests from customers for greater shipment visibility. It can set up any customer to receive automatic tracking data, and when it assigns their loads to carriers in Odyssey’s transportation management system (TMS) the integration with FourKites takes care of the rest.

Currently, Odyssey Logistics is tracking truckload and bulk shipments with FourKites but is looking to expand with tracking air cargo and ocean containers, she said.

Building a more ‘adaptive’ platform

FourKites tracked more than 3.6 billion miles across every transport mode in 2019, Matt Elenjickal, FourKites founder and chief executive officer, said during a virtual user conference Sept. 10.

“Customers are looking for a single pane of glass from the origin to destination,” he said. FourKites’ technology does this by “stitching together multiple modes, and ETAs for each mode, and for the final destination.”

During the conference, he described a new, “adaptive” software platform that FourKites is currently developing from the ground up. The platform will go beyond tracking freight to helping its customers transact business in the supply chain, he said.

As its freight visibility platform has grown, FourKites is “now at place where we can apply visibility to other parts of the supply chain — to warehousing, fleet management, yard management, and transportation management,” he said.

The next step is to “connect all of these pieces together by using real-time data,” he explained. FourKites will be investing “hundreds of millions” of dollars in product development and acquisitions.

FourKites recently acquired a yard management platform that shippers can use to streamline the check in and check out process based on ETAs of truck arrivals. The company also has software that its customers use to manage appointments and digitize shipping documents.

“This is all possible when you have an integrated solution,” he said.

During his keynote address, Elenjickal played two pre-recorded interviews with large shipper clients.

Joshua Jewett, chief information officer of Dollar Tree, said that prior to using FourKites the company’s retail stores lacked visibility of when their deliveries would arrive. Today, store managers receive notifications with accurate ETAs that help them effectively plan labor.

Thomas Morton, vice president of global supply chain and quality for Eastman, a chemical manufacturer, said the company has seen major disruptions in its supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company recently began using FourKites, he said, and the “level of enthusiasm for the value and potential that can come from it just continues to build.”

“We knew we couldn’t have a single mode or a single region solution. We needed to identify a technology and partner in that technology space that we would have ability to work with to build a true global solution,” he said.