Currently, 79% of the U.S. population uses a smartphone. Digital freight-matching (DFM) platforms see the upward momentum of smartphone adoption as potential capacity growth on their platforms and a real opportunity to fuel efficiency as cargo moves from point A to point B. DFM has revolutionized how carriers find loads — supporting the national economy’s dependence on trucks to deliver 70% of all freight transported within the U.S.
But a staggering 97% of carriers in the U.S. that own 20 or fewer trucks have historically resisted incorporating advanced technology, some out of financial necessity. As carrier adoption of technology catches up to societal use, it’s imperative that DFM platforms help ease the transition so that carriers and shippers truly absorb the platform’s value.
“For both carriers and shippers, operating in a digital environment challenges the way business has been conducted for decades,” said Clint Elcan, senior vice president of J.B. Hunt 360 at J.B. Hunt. “Lack of experience with digital platforms can inhibit adoption, so it’s important that we make the transition seamless and easy to implement. These tools aren’t just replacing current ones, they’re enhancing the entire process when used effectively.”
J.B. Hunt noticed the potential for DFM several years ago and developed much of its technology platform, J.B Hunt 360°®, around precisely matching capacity demand with available trucks. Today, J.B. Hunt 360 averages more than 30 million carrier load searches annually and facilitates access to more than 750,000 trucks. And, as it continues to build out its platform, the company has focused on adding multiple shipping modes, which may lead to the next iteration of DFM technology.
A mode-neutral approach to DFM would create a much more agile supply chain for shippers, extending beyond digitizing the traditional freight brokerage and encompassing all possible modes. As observed during the massive and pervasive disruption of COVID-19, moving freight in today’s environment requires agility and efficiency, broadening the focus to be more solutions-driven and less mode-dependent.
“Without being limited to the modes of a particular carrier or their own private fleet, a business can access more available capacity in the market, which can reduce transportation costs, optimize delivery timing based on demand and enhance their customers’ experience,” said Elcan.
As shippers move to a mode-neutral approach, freight opportunities that better align with a carrier’s services and availability will become accessible. And as with all increases in data visibility, there will be a sharpened awareness of shippers’ needs and how to improve efficiency on both the operational and facility level.
“The more visibility we have into shippers’ needs and carrier availability, the better we can match the right truck with the right load at the right time,” said Elcan. “Improving efficiency on an industrywide scale would have huge benefits for both operations and sustainability. Rates would reflect a truer market value, optimizing cost based on capacity demand. Carriers could better utilize their assets to meet shipper needs, flexing their operations to accommodate.”
Mode-neutral DFM would also help the industry greatly reduce its carbon footprint by eliminating wasteful and empty miles and utilizing intermodal services as an alternative to OTR when possible. For perspective, in 2020, J.B. Hunt estimates that by moving freight utilizing rail providers through its intermodal service offering, the equivalent of approximately 3.4 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions were avoided (versus the movement of the same freight by truck alone).
For companies with sustainability and efficiency goals like J.B. Hunt, enhancing their DFM platforms to provide mode flexibility will ultimately be the next-level solution to address the supply chain needs of customers.