Demand for real-time freight visibility has been growing over the past few years, but as with many other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the importance of deploying this capability. Is real-time freight visibility mission critical today? Has its value proposition or business case changed? What capabilities will separate the leaders from the laggards in the months and years to come? Those are some of the key questions I discussed with Mark Christos, Vice President of Transportation for Matson Logistics, and Prasad Gollapalli, Founder and CEO of Trucker Tools, during a recent episode of Talking Logistics.
Real-Time Freight Visibility: Mission Critical
Most of our readers are likely familiar with Matson Logistics and its truckload, LTL, intermodal, and freight brokerage business (among other services). Since Mark is responsible for this critical business unit, I started our conversation by asking him if freight visibility is indeed as mission critical during the COVID-19 pandemic as it would appear, and if so, why.
Mark agrees that it is mission critical and explains that during the pandemic his staff has been working from home, but their need to serve their customers and interact with their carriers hasn’t changed. “Technology across the board made it possible to be successful in our ‘work from home’ environment, but in particular our ability to get access to load information and be able to share it quickly with our customers is critical,” says Mark. “You can’t do that effectively with email or chat or IM. So, we found freight visibility was an enabler for us to be successful while we were working from home.”
Mark also points out that many of their customers needed to shift modes, between truckload and intermodal, for example, to speed up deliveries of inventory. “Our ability to communicate with them was critical in keeping them informed of where shipments were so they could keep their customers informed.”
What’s Changed with COVID?
Since the desire for freight visibility is nothing new, I asked Prasad to discuss what might have changed in that regard with the COVID-19 pandemic. Prasad sees two key changes happening. “A year ago there was no goal or standard for real-time freight visibility. Customers were just happy to have their freight tracked. Now shippers are demanding almost 100% visibility to their shipments. But more importantly, they want consistency in getting that information on all their shipments, not just here and there. That has become the standard.
“The second change is that both brokers and shippers are working from home. They need to know when shipments will arrive so they can schedule the right number of dock workers to unload. They also can’t have too many drivers waiting to load or unload due to COVID distancing requirements. This requires proper planning and scheduling, which has accelerated the need for real-time visibility to shipments.”
I asked Mark how they get compliance from their carriers in providing real-time visibility data. He notes that they work with about 30,000 carriers annually so compliance has to come naturally. “We tell them we need the information in order to communicate it to our customers and that we won’t use it for other purposes. We also let them know it will make their operations more efficient because we won’t have to bother them with emails or phone calls. We also tell them it enables our customers to better schedule dock time so their drivers aren’t sitting around waiting.”
Prasad agrees that finding technology that helps the carriers to be more efficient and improve their business is critical to adoption. He points out the 80% of freight is moved by small carriers who typically use widely disparate technology, if any at all. Providing them with simple-to-use technology on their smartphones that helps them to identify loads, expedite payments, save on fuel costs and be more efficient is important to show the value to the carriers in order to gain compliance.
Mark notes that technology enables Matson Logistics to be more effective with their team, their carriers and their customers. “We’re in the information management business and we focus on that. It’s about efficiency for all of our stakeholders. We’re not afraid to step up to new technology [like real-time freight visibility] that we fundamentally believe will move our business forward.”
Prasad concurs in this approach and advises, “Be hungry for innovation.” Both Mark and Prasad had many more insights into how to evaluate new technologies and vendors, as well as how to position your business going forward to be a leader in your industry. Therefore, I encourage you to watch the full episode for all of their insights and advice. Then keep the conversation going by posting a comment and sharing your own thoughts and experiences on this topic.