January 15, 2016 4:01 PM, EST

Brokers, 3PLs Turn to Technology to Track Loads

This story appears in the Jan. 11 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.

Freight brokers and third-party logistics providers have traditionally relied on manual check calls to update the status of a shipment, but are increasingly turning to tracking technology to satisfy shippers’ demands for greater visibility.

In today’s supply chain environment, timely information is crucial, said Steve Covey, executive vice president of Choptank Transport Inc., a 3PL based in Preston, Maryland.

“This isn’t the trucking business. This is the information business,” he said. “If you’re a transportation service provider and don’t have a mastery of data and information, you’re behind the curve.”

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Choptank tracks shipments with technology from MacroPoint, one of several suppliers that are part of an emerging niche in the technology sector focused on helping shippers and brokers monitor freight, regardless of the carrier.

“Brokered loads have historically had no active technical support for tracking,” said Glynn Spangenberg, a senior vice president at MacroPoint. “This generic concept of tracking a brokered load regardless of the technology in the truck is revolutionary.”

MacroPoint’s technology uses drivers’ mobile phones or electronic logging devices to automate check calls.

“It simply pings the driver’s phone and triangulates where the phone is based on the communication tower it is pinging,” Spangenberg said. “It essentially is like the broker itself that is calling, but it is happening in the background.”

MacroPoint can be used with any device that can send and receive a phone call and understands where it is geographically, he said.

FourKites also offers technology that uses drivers’ phones to assess their locations. The technology supplier has a mobile application for iPhones and Android devices, as well as technology to track flip phones. In addition, FourKites integrates with more than 35 electronic logging device providers in North America to generate location information.

“What is important for brokers is to track all these drivers in real time so they can provide better customer service,” said Mathew Elenjickal, CEO of FourKites.

Automated tracking technology can save time for all parties in the supply chain, he said.

“Imagine a broker working with hundreds of carriers. In the current setup, the broker has to make thousands of phone calls or log in to hundreds of carrier websites to retrieve location information,” Elenjickal said. “With the implementation of FourKites, brokers can log into one portal for all the information.”

Brokers can see all of their loads on an interactive map, on a load list sorted by their estimated time of arrival, or in their transportation management system through FourKites’ integrations with Aljex Software and MercuryGate International Inc. FourKites also integrates with major dispatch systems used by brokers so they can see tracking updates in the software they already use.

In May, MacroPoint charged FourKites with infringing a number of its patents, but a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit in November. MacroPoint, however, has said it plans to appeal the decision.

Another mobile technology supplier, uFollowit, tracks freight using GPS data from a smartphone and connects it with a user’s TMS software.

Danny Dever, vice president of sales for the company, said brokers typically have the greatest problem with visibility.

“Some brokers don’t talk to drivers; others do,” he said, adding that brokers have less of an ability to influence the driver to do something.

Matt Carlson, director of pricing and operations for Atlas Logistics, agreed that today’s shippers expect more information about their shipments.

“They want accurate information on demand, and they want updates daily,” he said. “We need to know our third-party carriers are running on schedule and where they are.”

Atlas, based in Evansville, Indiana, takes a multipronged approach to tracking carriers, including obtaining a driver’s cellphone number, calling the driver the day of pickup and delivery and using the driver’s phone to track the load.

“We need to be able to speak to the driver. We don’t want to speak to a dispatcher or someone in an office. We want to speak to the person hauling the load,” Carlson said.

Atlas also uses tracking technology from MacroPoint to ping the location of the driver’s cellphone every four hours.

“If we need to know where a truck is right now, we can ping it on the spot,” Carlson said.

While there are a number of benefits to tracking technology, some drivers push back at the thought of having it on their phone. Atlas uses tracking technology on every load and, in many cases, will avoid using drivers that aren’t willing to allow it.

“If it is a difficult lane we may not have that option, but 95% of the time we’ll find another carrier willing to work with it,” Carlson said.

Covey said that driver pushback at Choptank has been minimal.

“We have some very good relationships with the carriers we use over the road, and they understand why we do it,” he said. “On the surface it sounds like ‘Big Brother,’ but when you explain that it minimizes check calls and increases visibility, they understand we’re adding value to the supply chain.”

Technology from Telogis also leverages information from smartphones, as well as telematics systems embedded in trucks.

Some truck manufacturers have teamed up with Telogis to share the GPS position of the vehicle and the freight, said Kelly Frey, vice president of product marketing for Telogis,

“We realize not every vehicle has a black box, but smart devices have GPS receivers so we leverage that capability . . . to give us its location,” Frey said.

TTS, a 3PL based in Frisco, Texas, uses several tracking methods to improve its service.

Jeff Vielhaber, chief operating officer at TTS, said the company gathers electronic data from carriers that can provide it. TTS also utilizes satellite tracking of a driver’s smartphone through Pegasus TransTech’s Transflo Load Track system.

Transflo Load Track pinpoints the location and status of a load based on GPS data from a driver’s smartphone and displays the information on a map. TTS’ customers can determine how often they want updates and who should get them.

“Everybody who is shipping freight at some time has ordered from Amazon and gotten a notification that their item has shipped and they like that. We try to do the same thing,” Vielhaber said.

To start the tracking, TTS adds a driver’s phone number to its TMS, then texts the driver to get permission to ping the location of his or her phone.

“As long as he says yes, our system tracks the location of the phone. That information goes into our TMS and at the regular-scheduled intervals we’re able to reply back to our customers,” Vielhaber said.

Sunset Transportation Inc., in St. Louis, uses automated tracking technology on some loads, depending on its value and the type of commodity, but secures most updates via manual check calls.

To manage the information, the company updates the status of shipments in its TMS from McLeod Software, said Lindsey Graves, vice president of operations at Sunset.

“We talk to the carrier the day before the load is possible to make sure they are available, and we talk to them hours before the load is picked up,” she said. “For every four sales people we have one tracker and tracer.”

Kem Wallace, a senior solutions architect for McLeod, said the company’s TMS can provide an automated sequence to remind brokers when a check call is due. McLeod also allows users to conduct a check call via text. When the driver is able to, he or she can respond to the text and the information is automatically updated in the system. McLeod integrates with automatic tracking technology, such as that from MacroPoint or uFollowit, so users can have a single portal for all of their tracking information.

Sunset said it eventually plans to roll out a mobile app from McLeod that drivers can download and update when it is convenient.

Software from TMW Systems also allows users to update load information over the phone, said Brad Young, industry principal for brokerage and asset-light solutions. TMW integrates with MacroPoint to pull in tracking information so users have the data in one place.

“This allows us to keep all of the load information in the native TMW tools, making it more efficient,” Young said.

Technology to manage location information is even more important for brokers, he said.

“Ultimately that broker is on the line,” Young said. “They’re responsible but that carrier is the one executing that load.”

Elenjickal said the real value comes not just from knowing a load’s current location, but from the added services technology providers can build on top of that tracking.

“FourKites uses geofencing that can notify users of a truck’s impending arrival so the warehouse team knows exactly when to get ready at the dock, shortening the carrier’s wait time,” Elenjickal said.

Telogis uses geofences to automate status updates and provide an up-to-date estimate for time of arrival, Frey said. Telogis can also include the name and photo of the driver if the company would like to share information on who is delivering a load.

“We are personalizing that experience more than ever before,” Frey said.

Transportation providers said increased insight allows them to take better care of their end customers.

Vielhaber, of TTS, said, “The ability to see that a driver has strayed from his course can provide you advance notice that you’re going to have a service failure, and getting out [in front] of a service failure ahead of time is always better than just finding out that a load didn’t show up.”