J.B. Hunt Enlists Google to Match Carriers With Shippers

J.B. Hunt.

Transport Services Inc. competes with the digital leaders in freight brokerage, using Google’s AI to improve the match between shippers and carriers.

The freight and logistics company will work with Google to develop machine learning models to make better matches between shippers and carriers, using its J.B. Hunt 360 to help shippers see supply and demand days in the future and carriers to estimate future fuel and other transportation costs.

In Lowell, Ark launched its 360 platform in 2017, while exclusively digital players have entered the trucking market, including

Uber Technologies Inc.

It’s an arms race, says Evan Armstrong, president of the research and consulting firm Armstrong & Associates, about the freight market.

Digital leaps and technological innovations from traditional players have accelerated the pace of change, he said. The market has been disrupted, he said, and companies that don’t continue to invest in technology risk falling behind.

Stuart Scott, JB Hunt’s head of information.

Photo:

J.B. Hunt.

Shelly Simpson,

J.B. Hunt’s business manager agreed that the industry is being disrupted as consumers demand better access to real-time information. She said the alliance with Google will allow J.B. Hunt to accelerate his digital transformation.

It started in 1961 with a handful of trucks and trailers and today has grown to nearly $10 billion with 30,000 employees. According to SJ Consulting Group, the company is the second largest trucking company in the U.S. market by revenue.

Freight forwarding services have long been a part of the freight brokerage market, which has become increasingly digital over the years. Enhanced, application-based selection services have only recently begun to emerge, partly as a result of new digital players, Armstrong said.

Digital platforms collect the available data and information on what shippers want to transport and automatically link shipments to carriers.

In addition to D.B. Hunt, other traditional third-party logistics providers such as.

C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.

have developed digital platforms. And technology companies like Convoy, Parade and Uber Freight have also entered this field, Armstrong said.

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The investments are going to digital players. According to the latest data from Armstrong & Associates, US digital freight startups have raised $1.37 billion in funding between 2011 and 2019.

In the fourth quarter, Uber Freight’s gross tonnage increased 43 percent from the previous year, which the company says is an indicator of positive momentum in 2021. In the third quarter of 2020, the company announced a $500 million financing led by Greenbriar Equity Group LP.

Total cargo volume carried by the J.B. Hunt 360 in 2020 increased to $1.4 billion from $1 billion the year before, the company said in a press release. J.B. Hunt works with the owners of approximately 700,000 trucks. The number of shippers the company works with is not disclosed. In addition to shippers and carriers signing up to use 360, J.B. Hunt offers to use the platform itself.

J.B. Hunt and Google will work together to collect data from 360 and other industry data sources and develop machine learning technologies to improve supply chain visibility.

Shelly Simpson, JB Hunt Business manager

Photo:

J.B. Hunt.

As part of the agreement with Google, J.B. Hunt will migrate its 360 platform from Microsoft’s Azure platform to Google Cloud, Google’s cloud computing business, to gain easier access to Google’s expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence.

One of the first projects the companies say they want to work on is a real-time monitoring and forecasting model. According to Stuart Scott, Chief Information Officer at J.B. Hunt, the model is being built to enable more accurate receipt times, delivery forecasts and pricing data for shippers and carriers.

Part of the current problem is that the motorcycle market is fragmented. Most of the country’s more than 3 million drivers work for small transportation companies that don’t invest much in technology, Simpson said. Truck and driver information is not shared, so many drivers spend part of the day waiting for their next shipment, while shippers in the immediate area may be looking for a carrier.

J.B. Hunt will work with Google to analyze the 360-degree data in Google’s data warehouse and build machine learning models that take into account overall market demand, truck capacity and truck location, destinations and loads.

J.B. Hunt hopes that the first models resulting from this collaboration will be available in the second half of this year.

Email John McCormick at john.mccormick@wsj.com.

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