Opinion: The Value of Data From a Carrier’s Perspective

In the modern era of technology, one thing is certain: everyone wants your data.

Have you ever noticed how, after searching for something on Google, advertising on the web pages you subsequently visit seems to align with your search history? That’s no accident; your search history is being used by companies to re-market to you the products you’ve searched.



Most people willingly accept the terms of the data-sharing that makes this possible every time they download a new app. But there’s a reason they’re getting these apps free of charge; because they’re paying with a far more valuable currency: their data.

This thirst for data is just as real in the world of transportation. Greater supply chain visibility and integrated services are all the rage. Startup companies looking for ways to leverage and monetize carrier data promise single point of integration solutions for things like load tracking, build eye-catching reports and dashboards, and sell their concepts to the shipping community as a better way to get visibility across all shipments, spanning multiple carriers. They have found niche markets to address common integration problems shippers face every day, just as EDI once addressed the need for more standard, efficient communication methods.

Kudos to these startups — and even some of the larger technology providers — for recognizing a real need in the shipping community for integrated data visibility. Greater supply chain visibility through integrated data is a growing reality, and also a growing need.

However, in many cases, the position these providers take is that carriers need to integrate with them because shippers — the carrier’s customers — demand it. But, at the end of the day, these third parties are monetizing data produced by carriers, managed by carrier resources, and of enough monetary value for these startups to thrive on aggregating and selling data to those same carrier’s customers.

If data is the new currency, as demonstrated by consumers’ willingness to trade data for applications and services, then data has real value. The transportation industry needs solutions to create better supply chain visibility, and most ROI in a supply chain comes from process change. But how do you know what to change without the data?

If you are a carrier, you both generate and own much of the data needed to solve logistics challenges. That data is very valuable. Should you give it away for nothing in return? Are you getting paid for your data? If you’re not getting cash, are you getting a valued service as payment? Do you know how your data is being used, or if it is being resold?

A while back, our company got a wake-up call regarding data stewardship. One of our third-party data integrators was pulling far more data than we had authorized, and serving it up to a competitor. We audited the data and changed our policy on data access. To complicate matters further, our head of technology noted that we were devoting between one and two full-time technical resources on a regular basis to support these data integrations, and troubleshooting problems for them. We were doing all of this for nothing in return. And, as we learned, we were not the only carrier with these types of concerns. Needless to say, we have some new rules regarding data sharing.

First, we expect our partners, including third-party data integrators, to be good stewards of our data. Second, we expect them to be good stewards of our resources (i.e. personnel). Third, we expect something in return for the monetization of our data. It doesn’t have to be money; data in return can be just as valuable. Market intelligence, benchmarking, third-party analytics, or other valued services can be adequate payment for our data.

In order to accomplish our mutual stewardship objectives, we need to make sure data sharing agreements provide for both protections regarding the usage of our data and the ability to reasonably audit usage. Larger, more sophisticated carriers, 3PLs, load boards, and others are further down the road on the recognition of the true value of data. Some of them are even looking to aggregate and leverage other carrier data through their brokerages, power only, and technology solutions.

Everyone needs to wake up and realize that their data is truly valuable. We should welcome the new age of increasingly integrated data, as it offers great, untapped potential in data sharing and increased visibility. Just be sure to pick the right partners - those who recognize the importance of good stewardship of your data, and that it is worthy of something valuable in return.

James Langley has been in the transportation industry for 25 years and has benefited from experience earned at noteworthy organizations such as UPS, JB Hunt, U.S. Xpress and TMW Systems. His primary focus has centered on business analytics, optimization, and logistics engineering.