Freight.Tech 25: DAT celebrates 40 years of innovation

Back in the day, brokers seeking truck drivers used to post index cards describing available loads on bulletin boards at truck stops around the country. It was a messy and inefficient system, but in 1978, a Portland, OR., company called Dial-a-Truck, or DAT, thought there must be a better way.

So the founders automated the load board (so called because notes were left on boards) — automation at the time meaning the information was now available on TV terminals installed in hundreds of truck stops. Technology continued to evolve, and the terminals eventually gave way to online and mobile portals. Today DAT — No. 19 on the Freight.Tech 25 —  is the country’s leading freight exchange marketplace, with 279 million freight matches taking place in 2018.

“DAT was there in the beginning when people were doing it the manual way in the physical world, and it evolved into a mobile platform in the virtual world,” said president and CEO Claude Pumilia. “It’s been an incredible journey.”

The company, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, continues to reinvest in the business with market and software innovations.

“Our larger mission is to make our customers lives easier,” Pumilia said. “Embedded in that is to make our network smarter, faster, more intelligent.”

A notable example on the business side is DAT’s partnership with FreightWaves on the first ever Trucking Freight Futures market, scheduled to launch on March 29, 2019. DAT’s RateView database provides real-time spot market and current contract freight rates based on $57 billion of actual annual freight transactions. Using that mountain of information, DAT will provide the index for final-day cash settlement on the futures market.

“The notion that DAT would supply the rate information for a new futures exchange validates our willingness to do things that are very different than what we did in the past,” Pumilia said.

On the technology front, DAT is ramping up its efforts in artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide customers with real-time insights about loads and trucks.

Earlier this year DAT launched its OnTime load tracking service, in which brokers can monitor the location and status of their managed freight using an app installed on the truck driver’s smartphone. 

Another new service is a predictive rating capability, to be introduced market-wide in 2019.

In the 1990s, DAT used satellite technology to allow customers to access data, observed Eileen Hart, DAT’s vice president of marketing and communications. RateView debuted in 2010 and a mobile portal a few years later.

“At every point in time, where there has been an evolution in technology, DAT has reimagined the process of moving freight, of matching loads and trucks,” Hart said. “At at every step we’ve [used] new information to make the system another degree of faster and better.”

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Linda Baker, Staff Writer

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves staff reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes early-stage VC, freight-tech, mobility and West Coast emissions regulations.