At Transparency19 in Atlanta, FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller took the stage to announce the next release of FreightWaves’ freight markets SaaS product, SONAR 4.0.
“Last year at this time, at Transparency18, we launched the first version of SONAR,” Fuller began. “Reid Hoffman has a saying that if you’re not embarrassed by your first product, you actually waited too late to launch it. That defines the first version of SONAR, the world’s first freight market dashboard. Everything about SONAR is about speed; it’s about information and analytics, and I think it’s quite beautiful.”
Since the initial release in May 2018, SONAR has gone through 35 releases, nearly every week, as new tools, data sets, and methods of visualization have been added to the platform, all informed by feedback from users.
Traditional freight market data from government and industry sources was weeks and sometimes months old, Fuller explained, limited it to an interesting historical data source but rendering it useless for real- and near-time decision-making. SONAR’s innovation was to provide access to daily data points, such as tender volumes and rejections, to industry participants of all types.
One of the most important and visually compelling aspects of SONAR 4.0 is its enhanced weather displays, which can now be overlaid on our maps of all rail lines, canals, ports, and refineries, to understand the interaction of weather and all kinds of infrastructure (not just interstate highways).
Other layers include Department of Transportation cameras displaying realtime road conditions, the locations of truckstops, and, more importantly, the ability for users to upload and create their own geographical layers.
“But data without context is oftentimes meaningless, and one of the things that we have aspired to is real-time context of what’s happening in the freight market. And there’s no faster way to get access to information—context—than through Twitter,” Fuller said. SONAR now has an embedded Twitter feed, powered by Selerity, that displays a curated list of about 30,000 supply chain, freight, financial, business, and economic Twitter accounts to accelerate information flows to SONAR users.
Then Fuller transitioned to another feature: a color-coded Most Volatile Markets display.
“If you’re a freight broker,” Fuller said, “you make your money because volatility exists. You make your money because capacity is inconsistent in the market and you provide a service of identifying capacity. You also make money by managing your margins.” Fuller pointed out that carriers have the same opportunity to use the Most Volatile Markets table because it can tell them where freight volumes have exceeded capacity and where spot market opportunities may lie.
Another new feature breaks out wait times by shipper vertical. By geofencing shipper facilities and categorizing them, FreightWaves data scientists can now identify which industries and which types of freight have longer loading and unloading times, and track how those wait times change day to day and season to season.
“Of course freight is not just about trucking,” Fuller said as he introduced a new map of railroad lanes and intermodal pricing data. That feature can allow freight forwarders and shippers to compare trucking pricing to rail pricing.
Yet another new feature enables SONAR users to populate a line chart — like national tender rejection rates (OTRI.USA)—with call-outs to FreightWaves articles that mention that metric. That feature allows users to instantly see market commentary and historical context for moves in markets.
SONAR users have long wanted to have the ability to upload their own data—whether it’s the spot rates paid by a broker or the tender rejections experienced at a certain shipper’s facility—to benchmark themselves and see whether their organization is out-performing or under-performing the market. SONAR 4.0 gives uses the ability to create custom indices and upload their own data.
Messages and moderated chat rooms inside SONAR are coming soon.
Notably, Fuller announced that FreightWaves would soon launch FreightWaves TV, a streaming news service inside SONAR coming in August 2019.
“One of the other things we get asked to do a lot is to go beyond a 600 or 800 word article,” Fuller said. “It’s really good for realtime content, but a lot of people call us or reach out to us, whether they’re venture capitalists or hedge funds or freight participants and say ‘you guys have a lot of knowledge in the market, and I’m trying to understand more about the subject.’”
Fuller explained that FreightWaves has answered its customers’ call by creating a research arm that builds deep-dive research papers which are then made available to SONAR users.
One example of recent research released by that team is a white paper analyzing Amazon’s entrance into the digital freight brokerage space. The product included a sentiment survey of more than 800 carriers, brokers, and shippers, an equities market analysis that quantifies exactly what happens to stock prices when Amazon enters an industry, and a thorough lane analysis comparing dozens of DAT lanes to Amazon rates.
Despite Amazon’s protests to the contrary, our research arm confirmed that Amazon is significantly undercutting spot prices to the shipper, content to balance their network and create backhaul loads for their contracted carriers while taking little to no margin.