FreightWaves, University of Tennessee Chattanooga discuss the value of data in freight markets

 FreightWaves/Josh Roden.
FreightWaves/Josh Roden.

Industry and higher education professionals gathered on March 8 for a presentation on the value of market data in the freight and shipping business at a Lunch and Learn event, co-hosted by FreightWaves and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Zach Strickland, Director of Freight Market Intelligence for FreightWaves, demonstrated market and environmental variables that can be traced through data to better operate the highly “volatile” trucking industry.

“FreightWaves has a huge media presence but the main purpose of FreightWaves is to provide data analytics through SONAR and also its upcoming Trucking Freight Futures,” Strickland said. FreightWaves SONAR is the company’s exclusive data tool. “So we’re basically trying to empower the people involved in freight and transportation with the information necessary to make their day-to-day decisions with actionable items.”

According to Strickland, the massive and fragmented freight industry in the United States  consists of 500 truck companies with $20 million in revenue annually, about 20,000 shippers who spend more that $10 million to ship freight annually, and about 1,600 freight brokers who generate more than $10 million in annual revenue. All potentially could use SONAR’s extensive database to plan for the sheer number of variables in the market.

“The problem is nobody could actually tell you what’s happening in the greater U.S. freight market,” Strickland, FreightWaves’ “Sultan of SONAR,” said. “That’s kind of what we have started to really uncover with a lot of our SONAR data, which is the base point of why we created what we did.”

According to Strickland, SONAR uses a broad array of data (including previously ignored data accrued by individual companies and organizations) to predict changes in the market. Examples of changes are the availability of carriers, the price of fuel, as well as weather and traffic that impact shipping speeds.

“One of the reasons we are able to aggregate this data now is that technology has progressed to the point where everybody involved in the space of transportation, trucking specifically, they have all these Internet of Things and devices on the trucks,” Strickland said. “These devices have come into the space and capture all of this information… all of these devices are overlaid on top of the industry. SONAR aggregates billions of individual data points and we are able to mine the data and develop intelligence from it that is useful to the industry.”

While the industry’s operations and mass are not new, the data sets and understanding of their impact have helped SONAR explain the “erratic” day-to-day changes in the supply chain market. With SONAR, FreightWaves is helping mature businesses that used to rely on anecdotal evidence to predict changes in cost and demand.

“Many carriers don’t realize that the market conditions themselves kind of pull them into what takes place day-to-day,” Strickland said. “This is where SONAR helps its subscribers navigate the difference between contracts and spot market.”

In addition to helping companies prepare for factors that affect their operations, SONAR’s data also helps predict the trajectory of geographic markets.

“The interactions between markets is actually the key to figuring out where the next emerging market is going to be,” Strickland said. “Other data shows us unique facts that validate some of our perceptions and some data allows us to uncover things that we guessed at, but didn’t actually know.”

According to Strickland, SONAR’s primary function is to find and make sense of data to help companies navigate the freight industry.

“We can actually help truckers and shippers prepare for change before it happens,” Strickland said after the presentation to about two dozen attendees. “SONAR data effectively gives you the ability to adjust on the fly,” he concluded.

The next Lunch and Learn event will take place on April 12 at Freight Alley, FreightWaves’ event space and future headquarters, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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