The battle between upstart project44 and entrenched king SMC3 for the data-interchange hearts, minds, and budgets of shippers, third-party logistics providers (3PL) and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers is heating up.
Three days ago, Chicago-based project44 unveiled a free application programing interface (API) module that allows carriers to update their transit-time information as often as they want. The module is a clear broadside against SMC3's vaunted "CarrierConnect XL" API product, which has dominated the market for LTL carrier information for years, and for which shippers and 3PLs pay a hefty price, in some cases as much as $35,000 annually. APIs function as engines that blast critical carrier data into shipper and 3PL transportation management system (TMS), warehouse management system (WMS), and warehouse control system (WCS) platforms that have become increasingly critical in linking supply chains with accurate, real-time data.
More than 300 carriers feed SMC3's CarrierConnect tool with up-to-date information on transit changes, according to the Peachtree City, Ga.-based organization. SMC3 handles thousands of transit changes each month, making the refreshed data available to shippers and 3PLs "based on the effective dates requested by the providers," said Danny Slaton, the group's chief innovation and strategy officer, in a statement e-mailed to DC Velocity.
Slaton declined to comment on project44 or its offerings. "There are multiple technology players in the point-of-service and transit-time business," Slaton said in the statement. "As the industry's neutral party with extensive LTL expertise and experience, the industry trusts us to provide a reliable, secure service."
However, C. Thomas Barnes, a veteran transport executive who became project44's president late last year, said that carrier transit-time information entered into CarrierConnect is updated only twice a month. Carriers are locked out of the system if they want to upload data more frequently than that, while shippers and 3PLs don't have immediate visibility into transit-time changes made by carriers in response to bad weather, a labor disruption, or network modifications due to shifts in demand flows, he said.
Project44 can afford to give away the module because it has already built out the necessary infrastructure and it costs little to maintain it, Barnes said. All project44 would do is redirect existing carrier information into its infrastructure, Barnes said. "We're pulling LTL carriers into our pipes," he said. Barnes said he expects most carriers using the tool to update transit-time changes on a weekly basis.
Publicly and privately, both sides have danced around the sensitive issue of competition. Yet project44 executives have not hidden their views that opportunities exist for an alternative technology provider in the LTL space. Project44, cofounded by Jett McCandless, who at 37 is one of the "young Turks" of trucking IT, has made it clear that an industry never known for being a first mover on technology needs to move faster and think more progressively, especially as digital tools proliferate with the potential for making it more efficient and responsive than ever before to changing market conditions.
SMC3, which for about 60 years functioned as a rate bureau specializing in collective ratemaking, until motor carrier deregulation in 1980 spelled the beginning of the end of the decades-long practice, successfully reinvented itself in the mid-1990s as a data provider, leveraging the vast trove of carrier information at its disposal. The CarrierConnect tool is, by several accounts, a vastly profitable product for the company.
Slaton said that SMC3 has an "aggressive product rollout schedule" for 2016, which includes a midyear release of its transactional APIs. In December, project44 invited companies to participate in a free "health scan," where it would spend three days evaluating the speed and accuracy of more than 15 technical components of a carrier's typical API. The scans were designed to grade the effectiveness of each carrier's ability to provide fast and accurate rate quotes, automate pickup requests from shippers and 3PLs, provide clear tracking codes, and confirm delivery with real-time documentation, project44 said at the time.
Armed with that information, carriers would be able to decide whether their current networks met their needs and find out how they compare to other carriers and to industry averages. Barnes said that 71 LTL carriers participated in the scan.