On Wednesday night, leading multimodal transportation provider J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ: JBHT) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced a multiyear strategic alliance intended to combine J.B. Hunt’s vast transportation and logistics data lake, built during a yearslong digital transformation, and Google’s expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“J.B. Hunt has the largest digital freight platform in North America, and Google’s AI and machine learning resources and expertise are certainly significant,” said Shelley Simpson, J.B. Hunt’s chief commercial officer and executive vice president. “It’s time to start doing something different with our data instead of leaving it in a static environment.”
The strategic alliance is much deeper and potentially transformative than simply selecting a cloud provider, Simpson explained. Implementing Google Cloud technologies, including Anthos, across Hunt’s organization is only the first step. Google’s engineers will collaborate with Hunt on next-generation visibility and price prediction models that aim to go live this year, Simpson said. Beyond that, J.B. Hunt and Google will “co-innovate” on entirely new products and services.
Hunt, especially through its investment in J.B. Hunt 360, its digital platform, has used multiple cloud providers for years. And while Google Cloud’s commitment to the “open cloud” and consistent operating environments across clouds was important to J.B. Hunt, Google’s knack for understanding the commercial side of the equation was equally valuable.
“Google is great for the cloud, but for us, all this other work commercially and throughout our organization is what led to the strategic alliance,” Simpson said. “Google’s tech leads got what we were trying to do from a commercial perspective — they understood our big strategy from the beginning.”
That strategy is to leverage J.B. Hunt’s leadership in freight transportation and logistics and data resources in pursuit of becoming the most efficient transportation network in North America. The road map outlined by Simpson starts with cloud services and moves through data science models into new commercial products. One of the linchpins of the data science partnership is an ambitious, advanced visibility model to be launched later this year.
“If our objective is to track every carrier and every piece of equipment in North America, what do we need technologically and how do we use the data to create more efficiency?” Simpson asked. Simpson said that Hunt wants to attack the one-third of the trucking industry’s capacity that is wasted and be able to record, analyze and report how much waste has been eliminated for stakeholders in its network.
A new prediction model will also drive value for J.B. Hunt’s customers. Shippers want access to predictive capacity tools to understand the likelihood of successful pickups and deliveries and service failures, but they also want more robust price predictions. Forecasting national average linehaul rates for dry van carriers is one thing, but offering a particular shipper all-in cost predictions based on fuel, specific equipment requirements, facility characteristics and external market conditions is a different kettle of fish. Providing predictive estimates even for the cost of unplanned events will be part of the model, Simpson said.
Success in the first year of the J.B. Hunt-Google strategic alliance will depend on introducing the new visibility and prediction models, Simpson said, but she’s already thinking about ways to commercialize those new capabilities. She was impressed by Google’s “ideation” and ability to solve problems from a commercial perspective.
“We’ve been continually pleasantly surprised by the cultural alignment between our two companies,” Simpson said.