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August 29, 2016 2:30 AM, EDT

Brokers Offer Smartphone Apps for Truckers to Make It Easier to Find Available Freight

C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.

This story appears in the Aug. 29 print edition of Transport Topics.

Sifting through load boards can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but new apps are helping small carriers and owner-operators sort through the clutter using GPS to identify nearby freight.

Freight brokers and industry analysts believe smartphone technology will increase productivity for everyone, although the companies are not releasing information about how many loads are booked exclusively through apps.

“For brokers, the more electronic the process becomes, the more it frees up their employees for marketing and garnering more freight,” said Todd Fowler, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets.

C.H. Robinson Worldwide, which ranks No. 4 on the Transport Topics Top 50 list of the largest North American logistics companies and tops the freight broker list, is the newest player on the market. It announced the launch of the Navisphere Carrier app Aug. 11 for Apple and Android smartphones.

Bob Biesterfeld, president of North American surface transportation at C.H. Robinson, said the app helps small carriers manage their fleets, accept loads and assign them to drivers based on their current location.

“Half of the companies in the trucking industry are single-truck owner-operators,” he said. Their office is the cab of the truck. More often than not, they’re working off a tablet or smartphone.”

Other brokers capitalizing on mobile technology are: Total Quality Logistics, Echo Global Logistics, Landstar System and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. They all have, or are about to release, load board apps.

Total Quality Logistics, which ranks No. 27 on the TT logistics 50 and second on the list of freight brokers, offers a GPS-enabled app called TQL Carrier Dashboard.

“There are really good drivers out there who will probably never use the app,” said TQL President Kerry Byrne. “They prefer to look for loads the way they always have and that’s OK. We just want to introduce productivity improvements and allow the whole network to run more efficiently and effectively through technology.”

There is also a feature that helps drivers find loads with a destination close to their home to reduce deadhead miles, Byrne said.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services, which ranks No. 3 on the TT logistics 50 and ninth among freight brokers, launched an app in May called J.B. Hunt 360. It also allows approved owner- operators to find nearby loads and accept offers.

Other brokerage firms prefer to focus on big data to predict which loads the small carrier and owner-operator will find the most attractive.

Landstar System, No. 34 on the TT logistics 50 and sixth among freight brokers, offers alerts for drivers to identify and book loads at their destination.

“If you are in Chicago, but you’re heading to Charlotte, the app sends you loads that are available in Charlotte because you don’t really care what’s available in Chicago,” said Joe Beacom, chief safety and operations officer at Landstar. “If you’re waiting until you get to your destination to look for a load, it’s already too late.”

He added that load board apps level the playing field for the owner-operators.

“Drivers can’t wait for the 10-hour break to check their laptops for what freight is out there. Putting the information in a mobile platform allows small-truck owners to compete with a dispatcher,” Beacom said.

XPO Logistics, No. 2 on the TT logistics 50 and third among freight brokers, assigns loads using e-mail. But a company official said it uses advanced analytics to suggest personalized loads on a web-based system.

“The algorithms take into account the preferences of the carrier: Is it a preferred lane that they’ve identified in the past? Will it get them to an attractive market, either closer to their home base or to an area where they’re likely to pick up another load quickly?” said Greg Ritter, chief customer officer at XPO.

Echo Global Logistics, No. 35 on the TT logistics 50 and fourth among freight brokers, plans to launch a new app in the coming months, although a spokeswoman could not provide a list of new features or launch date.

It’s not clear whether mobile offerings are generating more business or how many brokered transactions are conducted solely through an app. C.H. Robinson has 6 million web and mobile interactions with customers and carriers monthly and 15,000 active app users, according to the company. TQL claims 10,000 active app users.

None of the freight brokers could provide revenue figures or other metrics to track app-based transactions.