Visibility tracking has become the expectation in the supply chain, but even as carriers and shippers acknowledge the bottom-line benefits, they remain leery of the data-sharing required to make collaborative logistics platforms deliver on their promises of cost-savings and other efficiencies.
That tension – between enthusiasm and skepticism – was on display during this week's in.sight conference in Houston. Hosted by Trimble Transportation (NASDAQ: TRMB), the event featured an array of new technology solutions aimed at providing more connectivity and collaboration among shippers, carriers and third party logistics companies.
Rumblings of rebellion
Highlights included an "Ovation Awards" dinner honoring customers who leveraged Trimble's connectivity solutions to boost revenue, improve driver retention and drive higher utilization.
But the conference, which bore the theme, "The Power of Together," also featured the rumblings of rebellion.
"I'm pushing back against you," said a carrier during a presentation on Trimble's new visibility solution, which utilizes data pulled from the company's TMS and mobility offerings to give carriers access to real-time freight tracking.
The speaker wasn't pushing back against Trimble per se, but the practice of visibility in general, which has been a growing theme among data providers over the past several years.
Referring to another freight-tracking provider that requires input from partners, the carrier said his last-mile collaborator "doesn't want to share that information."
Another member of the audience echoed that complaint. "What I don't like is the data-privacy side," he said. "We're constantly being asked to connect through APIs."
During a media round table, Trimble executives acknowledged the emotional challenges associated with getting customers, carriers in particular, to connect to telematics.
"It's similar to the internet – fear of the new," said Brad Young, a Trimble senior product manager. Responding to a reporter's question, Young said psychology — not technology — is the biggest hurdle to achieving a connected ecosystem,
Blockchain traceability in particular is a stumbling block, Young said, and for understandable reasons. The technology "was born out of people deceptively trading money," he said. "It's an odd place for something to start."
One of the offerings Trimble rolled out this week is the Trust Center. The solution seeks to address carrier fears by providing a secure location for controlling data access allowed to visibility providers.
"Carriers want to know: ‘how can I be assured it's safe?'" said senior product manager Zach Gibbs. "We want to give them back control of that data stream. We want to equip our customers with that control."
Competition among visibility providers.
Transportation providers aren't the only ones exhibiting angst about the connected world. As FreightWaves reported here, new visibility platform companies are encroaching on the incumbents, with project44, the Chicago-based provider, recently securing contracts with Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT), two of the world's largest retailers.
Another provider, FourKites, hosted its own conference this week in Chicago, introducing an array of new products and announcing its own slate of customer winners during its inaugural Golden Kite awards.
These new entrants are having an impact on established companies. During the conference, Trimble announced it would provide a complimentary version of its visibility platform to existing transportation customers. (A premium version is also available).
Asked if that giveaway was part of a broader strategy to compete against the FourKites and project44s of the world, Gibbs said Trimble has a competitive advantage in the marketplace, "but that is absolutely part of our overall strategy to provide more tools to our customers as well as go after shippers in the space."
As providers and customers navigate the rapidly changing visibility arena, they are guided by one common principle. "The bottom line," said Young, "is if it really solves problems, if it adds value, they will adopt it."
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