April 23, 2018

Descartes unveils platform giving brokers capacity visibility 2 to 3 days in advance

Visibility tool leverages MacroPoint unit's driver, fleet connections.

By DC Velocity Staff

Logistics IT provider Descartes Systems Group Inc. is piloting a capacity visibility tool it says will let freight brokers know as far as three days in advance which trucks will be available to move their customers' loads.

The platform is leveraging the pick-up and delivery patterns of the 115,000 carriers connected to the database of the former MacroPoint, LLC, which Descartes acquired last August for $107 million in cash and stock. MacroPoint is considered the pioneer in truck tracking services where the status of approximately 2 million trucks and drivers are connected through electronic logging devices (ELDs), GPS-enabled smartphones, mobile phones, and transportation management systems (TMS).

As an extension, MacroPoint's data is used to predict capacity availability so users can improve their load-planning capabilities. Descartes acquired MacroPoint in the belief its extensive carrier connections would give the Canadian-based company a major foothold in the red-hot truckload visibility segment.

The technology can track a vehicle moving from, say, Denver to Chicago, and which is scheduled to arrive in three days. The Chicago destination point for that truck thus becomes a broker's origin point for a load that needs to be covered at a future date, according to Brian Hodgson, Descartes' vice president of transportation and Mark Carroll, its director of product strategy.

While traditional load boards offer truck visibility services, they are typically most effective on the day of the move, or at the earliest the day before it, according to Carroll. In addition, the load boards' information contains potentially stale or invalid information because capacity data points are keyed in manually with no verification by a third party, Carroll said.

By contrast, the Descartes visibility platform contains a broader range of information, and it is verifiable because it is based on real-time moves and GPS monitoring of the hundreds of thousands of fleets and drivers tied into the MacroPoint network, Carroll said. This enables a faster and more accurate carrier match several days out, which results in better load planning and lower costs, he said.

Visibility solutions have become popular in the truckload sector as shippers, carriers, and intermediaries seek to improve the efficiency of pick-ups and deliveries. A secondary benefit is to achieve a better balance between truck supply and demand which is a key cause of the capacity crunch that has driven up freight rates to levels not seen in years, if not decades.

Some experts such as Jeff Tucker, CEO of broker Tucker Company Worldwide,Inc., one of the nation's largest family-owned firms in the space, said there is not so much a shortage of qualified drivers and trucks as there is an inability of shippers, brokers, and 3PLs to find the many available drivers in the markets they need to serve. Tucker has said the driver shortage disproportionately affects the large truck fleets, and the number of independent drivers has actually increased.

The Descartes executives said the next logical step would be to offer a version of the visibility platform to fleets. However, such an expansion is still on the drawing board. They also said that the new tool is designed more to promote efficiency in the supply chain than it is to remedy the current capacity crunch.

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