With changes in customer demands and increased volatility in logistics, there continues to be strong interest, investment and results from implementing real-time freight visibility solutions. Our customers are leveraging Descartes MacroPoint™ to reduce internal costs, improve how they serve customers, and cut detention and chargebacks. Furthermore, customers are tapping into the wealth of visibility data to improve their network and carrier relationships.

Visibility means different things to different people, and there is a tremendous amount of confusion about what is available and how this varies across providers, modes and geographies. Below are 5 critical questions to help you cut through the noise.

1. How many carriers have tracked a full truckload in the last 12 months?

We often get the question: “How big is your network?” While Descartes MacroPoint has the largest network, which has been built organically over the last eight years, network size can be measured in multiple ways. Some vendors will count “network reach” versus the actual number of carriers that have tracked a load. In this case, “network reach” is calculated as all the carriers using electronic logging devices (ELDs) that are connected to the network. This can be misleading, since, beyond the ELD data, carriers need to have a process for confirming tracking sessions.

By asking a more focused question, you will get a more accurate answer that will tie directly to carrier participation and compliance, increasing the value and payback of the solution. Of course, you should focus on the modes with the most volume and the greatest impact on your business.

2. What success have you had with small carriers?

The ELD mandate has certainly created a new source of location data that is critical for real-time tracking. We continue to see the ELD as one of the fastest-growing connection methods and are constantly adding new ELD vendors and carriers to the Descartes MacroPoint network. In addition, connecting to the carrier dispatch system or transportation management system (TMS) is also a very common approach to getting data. With the large and fragmented carrier network that exists in truckload, however, it is critical that a provider has a successful mobile application program.

Many smaller carriers may not invest in network-connected ELDs, may not have the IT resources to integrate to their dispatch systems or, for many owner-operators, may not even have a dispatch system. In our experience, however, long tail carriers are critical for shippers as they often provide important niche services. As a result, successful carrier adoption of a mobile application is important. Simply having a mobile application is not enough. Do carriers download it? What are the number of reviews from Google Play or the Apple App Store? Network size directly impacts carrier adoption and compliance with using the mobile application, as drivers would be more familiar with the brand and more willing to install and use the application. The Descartes “MacroPoint for Truckers” application tracks hundreds of thousands of loads every month in addition to the ELD and carrier dispatch options.

3. How do Predictive ETAs vary across modes you support?

Predictive ETAs for full truckload are very sophisticated. They take into account traffic, weather, hours of service, multi-stop routes, and more. Knowing 1 day out that a shipment can be a 2- or 3-day transit can be critical, the algorithms and the physical transportation planning align to provide insight.

I recently reviewed an RFP from a customer that included the following question: “How often are location data and updated ETA's transmitted to Shippers and Customers from your system for LTL shipments?”. With such requests, we want to make sure the customer fully understands what is practical and realistic. The network for LTL carriers is more complex than it is for truckload shipments. With truckload, a 2- or 3-day delivery gets planned out and executed knowing the route and stops from the very beginning whereas, with LTL shipments, carriers typically do not know what routes and trucks will handle a particular shipment until late the night before or even, in some cases, early in the morning of the shipment. Because carriers have multiple customers’ freight on a truck and may be delivering those shipments to customers close to each other, leveraging GPS and geofencing data could be misleading. In our experience, it is more common to get pick-up, terminal arrival and departure events, which can be used to provide visibility and highlight which shipments are at risk if one of these milestones is missed.

4. What are the biggest factors that could impact carrier compliance?

One of the most common questions we get is: “What sort of carrier compliance should we expect?” In other words, if you want to track 1,000 loads across multiple carriers, what percentage of those loads will the carriers provide visibility into? While carrier compliance can vary by connection method (i.e., ELD, carrier dispatch integration, mobile application), the biggest single factor is not technology but the business relationship with the carrier. We see a range of compliance from the same carrier based on the customers they are serving. Questions to ask to assess whether you are a shipper of choice and, as a result, will see higher compliance include: (1) Do you pay your carriers in a timely way or are there issues with the process? (2) Do you unload shipments rapidly or are your facilities congested? (3) Do you drive your carriers on their rates and re-bid every year or do you try to collaborate and eliminate waste? (4) How much business do you provide the carrier?

With good carrier relationships, we also see high compliance rates. There are always some gaps based on issues such as data quality (i.e. the carrier provides an incorrect truck number or an invalid cell phone number).

5. What are the resources and best practices we should use to maximize success?

Recently, a customer told me they simply wanted a “plug and play” visibility provider. While technology advances have greatly simplified the ability to get real-time visibility, it is critical to note that it is still a significant business process change that involves planning and coordinating with stakeholders. Carriers are likely to be the most critical, but you must also make sure to include key internal stakeholders and customers.

From a resource perspective, our most successful customers assemble a team that includes a project manager, a carrier analyst, and an IT representative. They start from the business perspective and ensure the initiative aligns with their stakeholders. Carrier analysts are key to ensuring carriers understand the mandate and invest the appropriate resources based on the business relationship.

Understand the Details Based on Your Needs

While we field many questions from prospects and in RFPs, the above represent the top questions we see where answers from vendors can get distorted and add to the confusion in the marketplace. What are the top questions and answers that have helped you?

Written by Brian Hodgson

Senior Vice President, Industry Strategy Product Management