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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

TODD DILLS

Managing Editor

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THE GOOD AND BAD OF LOAD TRACKING

bout five years ago, John Taylor, who drives for a sizable fleet, picked up at a shipper that tried to require him to use its tracking technology on his phone, even though he told them no, as did his company.

To an extent, however, there’s evidence that the rise in broker-provided tracking services comes more from brokers and 3PLs themselves than from shippers. A recent study showed that eight in 10 3PL survey respondents viewed the ability to provide “visibility” was a crucial ITrelated function of a 3PL. Only six in 10 shippers, meanwhile, concurred.

“Finally, I remembered an old throwaway phone I got when I broke my regular phone,” he says. “It had minutes on it.” He gave the shipper that old phone’s number and set up the tracking. When he stopped in San Antonio for a trailer repair, he tossed the phone in a trailer southbound to Laredo. “We were going west.”

The very word “tracking,” partly as a result of antipathy to mandated ELDs and related privacy concerns, has acquired a sort of dirty-word connotation. Some object as a matter of principle. Others point to more tangible concerns – over themselves, their freight or even national security issues – about tracking information getting into the wrong hands with too many parties with access along the chain.

Such active pushback on what has become something of a norm for many independents and others – the profusion of third-party services that track load progress – well illustrate yet another norm.

Things weren’t always quite so complicated.

“We all have a subscription to trust issues,” quips owneroperator Dean Carnahan, hauling leased to a small Chicago-based fleet most often in support of the auto industry. Carnahan and other operators recognize such issues aren’t confined to owner-operators and drivers, either, but parties all along the supply chain.

In 2011, the well-known multifunctional Trucker Tools smartphone app grew from the simple Truck Stop Coupons app. Its functions included Load Track, pitched in part to independent owner-operators as a way to satisfy broker/shipper customers’ visibility demands without resorting to expensive software and to virtually eliminate check calls by automatically sharing location. A key function within Trucker Tools’ tracking function, says current company chief executive officer Prasad Gollapalli: “When we launched tracking, we made it transparent to the driver” and “put him in the driver’s seat of his tracking. He can pause the track” if he’s on break.

Tracking technologies have furthered trust for some haulers – and brokers and shippers – by verifying what any party says regarding a load’s location. Yet as Taylor’s anecdote shows, owner-operators haven’t exactly gone gently into tracking’s new world order. At his carrier, which uses the PeopleNet system, and at thousands of others, tracking for dispatch and security purposes has long been a reality.

That’s not always obviously the case for third-party applications brokers and shippers would require carriers to use, though most apps do allow for pause.

Furthermore, with the electronic logging device mandate now in play, untold thousands of owner-operators and small fleets otherwise untethered to an expensive early generation of onboard communications devices now by default are part of in-carrier tracking via their ELDs.

Around the same time that Trucker Tools’ Load Track function debuted, the Macropoint third-party tracking service, launched eight years ago, began to make headway among brokers and some shippers. Macropoint – now Descartes Macropoint after its acquisition by Descartes – targeted its tracking services directly to brokers and shippers as a way to cut down on cumbersome phone time with drivers.

Increasingly, though, the additional layer of tracking technology in evidence in Taylor’s case is coming from customer brokers and shippers as package tracking has become ubiquitous in the consumer world. Brokers and third-party tracking companies claim shippers and receivers are demanding such tracking from their freight transport service providers as a matter of course.

As seems to always be appropriate of late when it comes to all things tech, welcome to the future.

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Profile for Mid-America Trucking Show

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2019 Mid-America Trucking Show Digital Directory  

The Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) is the largest annual heavy-duty trucking event in the world. Founded in 1972, MATS is the longest runn...