Tech accelerates freight movement visibility

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Updated Mar 8, 2017

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One aspect of mobile technology gaining traction among brokerages and shippers is greater freight visibility. While larger fleets have used trailer-tracking systems for years, more brokers and shippers are relying on mobile tech in the driver’s pocket to do the same.

“Shippers are hearing from companies about the ability to see all loads in transit,” said Jim Nicholson, in carrier sales and operations with Schneider’s brokerage wing, speaking at Truckstop.com’s Connected 2016 conference in November. “Customers are expecting that now.”

Such technology is available from many sources. Truckstop.com offers load-tracking functionality within its Truckstop.com Mobile app for carriers and via its tools for brokers.

Bob Christ, owner of small fleet Cayenne Express, based near St. Louis, ticks off a list of brokers his company solicits in addition to direct customers, and all of them use Macropoint or Badger tracking. “Tons of people are forcing you to do it,” Christ said. “They won’t give you the freight” if you don’t.

The Convoy brokerage’s on-demand freight platform’s tools are mobile-centric for carriers. Company founder Dan Lewis said a desktop-/laptop-suitable administration program for small fleets is in development.The Convoy brokerage’s on-demand freight platform’s tools are mobile-centric for
carriers. Company founder Dan Lewis said a desktop-/laptop-suitable administration program for small fleets is in development.

Visibility into load progress has helped Sergio Marin, owner of Custom Carrier, a small fleet outside of Los Angeles with six company trucks and 10 owner-operators. Marin got a cold call in June from Seattle-based tech brokerage Convoy that launched with the intention of providing a high-visibility service to more local shippers on lower margins than what a traditional brokerage would net on a load. A year after Convoy debuted its app in late 2015, it was moving loads in local markets and on some longer-haul lanes, said Dan Lewis, chief executive officer.

A deal with Unilever to move some of its freight with a network of more than 3,000 carriers onboarded in the platform would represent “millions in freight revenue flowing through the service,” Lewis said late last year. Hundreds of loads a week were moving through Convoy’s system, and deals with other large shippers held promise for more.

Marin lauds aspects of using Convoy’s mobile system, chief among them the visibility it gives not just the shipper but also himself into drivers’ progress. He’s using it primarily for local loads in and around Los Angeles.

Another “cool thing about using the app – there is no paperwork,” he said. “It has a built-in GPS. When we arrive at the shipper, it triggers the GPS to alert both myself and Convoy that my driver has arrived.” When the driver completes the pickup, he hits a button, and tracking begins. Convoy and Marin can watch the load’s progress across the map and help deal with issues along the way.

At delivery, the driver photographs the proof of delivery. Marin describes the communication within the app and occasionally over the phone as being exactly “the opposite of typical pushy brokers.”

Drivers appreciate the app’s built-in birds-eye view of shipping/receiving locations, which helps in locating entry points to docks in Los Angeles. Detention also is made easy because the app documents arrival time, Marin said. A standard hourly rate is paid after two hours.

The Loadsmart tech brokerage provides carriers similar functionality within its system for free. Along with participation in Loadsmart’s applications that deliver partially automated load offers, carriers get what Diego Urrutia, the company’s chief commercial officer, calls “a free fleet-management platform” that maps live locations of trucks and more. As with Convoy, Loadsmart speeds up payment, within 48 hours after delivery with direct deposit.

Marin, on his Convoy-brokered loads, remains on a paper-check basis for payment, but check delivery comes quicker than with the traditional brokers he uses for longer-haul loads back into California.

Because the smartphone- and tablet-based tracking being used by so many brokers technically tracks the device itself and not the freight, problems can arise, as Cayenne’s Christ can attest. Tracking usually begins when a driver clicks on a link sent to his smartphone, harnessing its GPS capabilities.

More than once, when a driver has run out of hours and Cayenne has dispatched a replacement to meet a deadline, the original driver got intrusive wake-up calls from the broker during his 10-hour break.

“It’s a privacy issue,” Christ said. “The regs say these guys have to have uninterrupted off-duty time.” The system doesn’t know that they’re on break, but Cayenne does. “Does the broker want to cross that line where they have that relationship with a driver, where you’re more of an employer than a broker? That opens up a whole Pandora’s box of lines you don’t want to cross.”

A broker’s point of contact with any carrier, Christ said, should be with company dispatch and not the driver.

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