- J.B. Hunt and Google Cloud have agreed to a multi-year partnership to expand J.B. Hunt 360, the companies announced Wednesday. J.B. Hunt 360 is a digital platform that acts as a broker, connecting shipments and available capacity.
- The companies said the partnership will focus on three areas: Bringing consistency to J.B. Hunt's multicloud strategy; using data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to offer predictive analytics for J.B. Hunt 360 users; and developing new products, including solutions for real-time visibility and predictive modeling.
- "Today's carriers rely on a patchwork of [information technology] systems across supply chain, capacity utilization, pricing, and transportation execution," the companies said, adding that J.B. Hunt 360 aims to centralize that data.
Tight capacity has sent shippers scrambling to find trucks. As they look for a match, they're turning to digital brokers that provide as much visibility and real-time data as possible.
That's one of the reasons Uber Freight saw a 45% increase in its active user base in Q4, compared to the quarter before. During Uber's latest earnings call, CFO Nelson Chai attributed that growth to the company's ability to "provide shippers real-time and transparent access to carriers."
Along with Uber Freight, Convoy, Transfix, Loadsmart and other modernized brokers are pushing the industry load-matching standard from traditional brokerage to digital marketplace. Even Amazon launched a brokerage website in 2019. Algorithms that cut down on empty miles, with easy-to-use interfaces and systems, can attract shippers and drivers. For an industry facing a driver shortage, that can help with finding capacity.
Shelley Simpson, J.B. Hunt's chief commercial officer, said during the company's latest earnings call that the platform helped the TL and integrated capacity solutions segments — the first to use J.B. 360 — provide "record-setting capacity performance" for customers. The TL segment, she said, delivered its highest revenue in Q4 since Q3 2008, and used 70% fewer company-owned trucks.
One key to promoting visibility is breaking down data silos, which J.B. Hunt aims to do with help from Google Cloud, according to the announcement. Australia-based Kings Transport was able to achieve this goal using Cloud Storage. Cloud Storage became a central point for all Kings Transport's data, because it integrates with the company's other products by using a consistent application programming interface, according to a Google Cloud case study.
"The supply chain disturbance caused by the pandemic has been a wake-up call for many companies in the transportation sector," Pedro Pacheco, a senior research director at Gartner who focuses on the automotive industry and smart mobility, said in an email. "The need for greater supply chain resiliency has opened the appetite to invest in technology which, inherently, is an opportunity for tech companies like Google."
Turning to technology to increase efficiency is one step toward trucking firms' ongoing goals of optimizing costs. The industry is relatively slow to adopt technology, making it a prime target for large vendors. "There are vast opportunities of digitalization" in the transport and logistics industry, Pacheco wrote.
Google's interest in one of North America's largest for-hire fleets could also further its internal strategy, Pacheco noted. Autonomous-technology-maker Waymo is in the Google family, with Alphabet its parent company. And Waymo recently partnered its way into the trucking industry.
In October, it signed a deal with Daimler Trucks to put level 4 autonomy technology on a Freightliner Cascadia. Waymo said its driver-as-a-service model is its long-term strategy, which involves partnering with truck OEMs and tier 1 suppliers to deploy autonomous trucks within fleets.
"Ultimately this could enable the tech giant, on the long run, to provide a solution that encompasses both autonomous drive and fleet management system," Pacheco said of Google's deal with J.B. Hunt.