Today J.B. Hunt Transport Services (NASDAQ: JBHT) announced that Shipper 360, the portal through which its customers access Hunt's multimodal digital freight marketplace, will implement new features to improve the efficiency of North American transportation networks.
Shipper 360 offers access to multiple modes of transportation including truckload, less-than-truckload, and intermodal. Hunt is adding predictive truckload pricing (up to 13 days in advance) and real-time visibility into load statuses and available capacity through project44. Hunt's 360 platform aggregates data about performance and shipping and receiving facilities to make freight markets more transparent for all participants.
In our view, with Shipper 360, Hunt has taken another big step toward becoming a truly mode-agnostic transportation provider. In 1989, J.B. Hunt began offering intermodal service through what was then the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe Railroad (now BNSF); the business now accounts for a majority of Hunt's revenues. Since 2017, Hunt has been digitizing its freight brokerage business. Shipper 360 ties all of Hunt's service offerings together, allowing customers to shop for transportation capacity and make decisions based on cost, transit time, and performance.
Part of Hunt's thesis is that intermodal service has improved in the past few years — both in terms of visibility and velocity — and that when its customers can compare intermodal prices and performance alongside truckload, even more freight will end up moving over the rail. Class I railroads implementing versions of Precision Scheduled Railroading have largely finished demarketing low margin lanes and are in many cases looking to grow intermodal volumes again, but this time on faster, more accurate schedules.
"There are somewhere between 7 and 11 million shipments on the nation's highways that we believe we can move into intermodal," said Shelley Simpson, executive vice president, chief commercial officer, and president of Highway Services at Hunt. "The more data we feed into the platform, the more information we can leverage to know how goods can move most efficiently. With our operational infrastructure and industry knowledge, we can deliver on customer needs while improving the overall experience for carriers."
The rollout of the various 360 platform tools — which include a digital marketplace, a carrier app, a shipper portal (soon to be a mobile app in December), and a drop trailer program — has played out according to Hunt's innovation cycle of disrupting, adapting, and accelerating. New offerings change customer and carrier behavior in sometimes unpredictable ways; Hunt studies the data, pivots to emerging opportunities, and then doubles down to accelerate the rate of change.
In particular, Hunt believes that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have been under-served by the technological transformation of the logistics industry, because many digital brokerages and other logistics providers have focused on growing wallet share at Fortune 100 and 500 companies. Hunt sees an opportunity to offer SMB shippers access to the same kinds of market data and transportation options that the largest companies enjoy, which can add density to Hunt's network and lower costs to the shipper.
"The work is really just beginning," Simpson added. "As we've been building the platform, we've been collecting data. In 2018, we really started diving into machine learning capabilities – how we can take our billions of data points to create a better system for matching the right truck with the right load at the right time."
As Hunt drives more of its business onto its digital platform, more transaction, visibility, and facility data makes its freight-matching solution smarter and faster.
"We've seen a 400% increase in the level of data moving through the platform, which adds up to about 5 billion sets of data points, which encompass lane information, pricing trends, carrier interest, and more than 590,000 ratings for more than 50,000 shipping and receiving facilities," Simpson said.
The data from J.B. Hunt's vast North American transportation network, and especially the company's insight into how different modes compete with and affect each other, forms an important competitive advantage. There are many use cases for machine learning and automation in transportation and logistics, but we have found that the barrier further progress tends to be not so much in developing never-before-seen technology or writing new algorithms as in the quality and quantity of data feeding the model.
In other words, some technology startups have written beautiful code that is nonetheless starved of data because of a lack of scale. J.B. Hunt doesn't have that problem. Beyond scale, what makes Shipper 360 unique is how Hunt has focused on leveraging its data for the benefit of its partners, shippers and carriers, wagering that customer loyalty and user stickiness will make the flywheel spin even faster.
Hunt has been a force for innovation in the transportation industry for decades, imagining how things could work differently and offering new services to its customers. We believe that Shipper 360 represents a similar paradigm shift in the way that transportation providers think about customer experience. By aggregating more data, analyzing it, and ultimately giving the shipper prescriptive recommendations based on their own criteria, Hunt empowers shippers to make the best decisions for their business.