Democratizing supply chain data: Takeaways from FreightWaves 2019
If one is going to leave three kids (and a husband) at home, voluntarily wake up at 3 am to catch a flight to Chicago and land in 11-degree weather, it better be worth it, right? Well, the 2019 FreightWaves conference did not disappoint. The conference brought together more than 1500 logistics professionals from all over the US: many brokers, a whole host of tech companies, and some carriers. At the conference I took in various presentations and fireside chats and even saw the “Wolf of Wall Street” speak live. But what stood out most of all were the 51 companies that presented rapid-fire demos. In the context of CMDTY’s overall mission to streamline the commodities supply chain, several companies stood out among an impressive crowd. Below I highlight four companies with the potential to disrupt the $16 trillion dollar logistics industry.
While many people that I have spoken to agree that Uber in general may still need to figure out how to get their business model right, I would argue that nevertheless Uber could disrupt the freight market in a similar way to how they transformed the market for personal transport (just ask any black car or taxi in NYC for their opinion). According to Uber Freight, they are focused on providing transparency, flexibility, reliability and a superior user experience via the intuitive app that we have all grown accustomed to. They are also providing access to more information than I had even realized, such as dwell times, detention, carrier ratings, and facility assessments. The idea is that data will drive transparency for shippers and everyone else involved in the ecosystem, and I couldn’t agree more.
Uber Freight also wants to provide additional flexibility to the freight market. Bill Driegert (co-founder and head of Ops for Uber) gave a good example of the flexibility that Uber’s platform provides. He explained a scenario where freight needed to be picked up at 12:30 am, but the truck broke down on the way. This truck just cancelled the pickup via the app and within 20 minutes another truck was on the way to pick up the cargo. Traditionally, that cargo would have had to wait until the morning when someone came into work to re-schedule the pickup.
Overall, Uber freight’s goal is not only to match supply and demand via an efficient marketplace, but also to increase transparency by making all the information they have access to via their platform available to as many participants as possible.
Koi Reader (KR)
KR is an interesting startup that has recently launched a suite of document automation application programming interfaces (APIs) for logistics operations. The technology uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to read documents, recognize unstructured data points in documents, and convert the information to structured data. Anyone who has spent one day in logistics, especially in the physical commodities market, knows the value of avoiding the manual process of sifting through emails for documents and inputting data. According to KR, approx. 55% of processes are not yet automated in logistics. Data comes in various formats (emails, pdf documents, videos, etc.) and even in different languages sometimes; this data needs to be sanitized and organized.
Koi Reader is “democratizing artificial intelligence”, making it relatively simple for any logistics company to leverage KR’s AI capabilities in order to automate data capture from a variety of different formats and channels. With an estimated processing cost of $2.50 per document and millions and millions of documents, this capability could prove to be invaluable!
Project 44 (P44)
Many companies at the FreightWaves conference discussed the importance of tracking. Several argued that tracking will become a standard requirement in the very near term. P44 is currently the only 100% digital supply chain visibility platform. Project 44 can provide real-time tracking for shippers and logistics providers by connecting to 92% of all ELDs (electronic logging devices) and other telematics devices. They also receive tracking data via API or from their mobile application (when ELD connectivity is not available).
P44 has created a “collaborative visibility” platform that goes beyond real-time tracking. P44’s platform promotes data sharing for suppliers, customers and logistics providers and offers visibility to the entire supply chain so that all participants can operate off the same information. More than 9 million shipments have been tracked via their platform so far, and they are adding approximately 1,000 new carriers a week via their semi-automated on-boarding process. One of the biggest challenges with tracking is piecing together a variety of tracking providers in order to get coverage for all carriers/shipments in the hyper-fragmented trucking industry. P44’s extensive coverage and simple on-boarding process are compelling differentiators versus the competition. They have also found a way to earn the respect and trust of carriers that may otherwise be resistant to signing up with different tech platforms. In a nutshell, Project 44 is making tracking and visibility into the logistics supply chain broadly accessible to all participants and creating a central source of truth regarding shipments.
With a variety of tech solutions popping up and no one size fits all solution, the reality is that companies will likely be integrating a variety of different Transportation Management Systems (TMS), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, freight booking, tracking, scheduling and other systems into their technology infrastructure. Integrations are poised to become some of the biggest challenges in the space. Redwood is providing promising tech to facilitate connectivity and further streamline the data supply chain. Redwood Connect represents an enterprise grade “integration platform as service” that can be easily integrated into any internal system. With over 800 data-led integrations already, Redwood Connect can accept data in any form from anywhere, sanitize the data and connect the data into a data supply chain. Customers can take advantage of this without needing to write a single line of code.
Redwood Connect provides customers with the flexibility to tailor how information is received, digested and displayed. In other words, Redwood is empowering its customers with the ability to manage and connect data and streamline integrations.
This was my first FreightWaves conference and will certainly not be my last. I was impressed with the caliber of the companies in attendance, the level of professionalism with which the conference was organized, and the breadth of insights shared.
It dawned on me as I was organizing my takeaways from the conference that the logistics technology companies of the future are not the ones that are creating unique IP (intellectual property) and keeping this private for themselves to use and sell as customizable off-the-shelf solutions. The companies of the future are the ones that are realizing that it is more powerful to sell the capabilities they have developed and to empower customers to adopt the functionality for their specific needs. As many of these forward-thinking companies stated during their presentations, they are “democratizing” their technology and allowing all participants in the logistics supply chain to benefit from their innovations. The four companies highlighted above have exactly that in common. More specifically, they are providing widespread access to data, analytics, insight, tracking and even (AI) artificial intelligence. At CMDTY, we are excited to partner with pioneering providers such as the ones mentioned above and to integrate their capabilities into an end-to-end platform tailored to the specific needs of the physical commodities industry.