XPO Logistics Inc unveiled software on Wednesday that allows merchants to track truck and rail cargo in real-time nationwide, technology the third-largest publicly traded U.S. logistics firm hopes will help reduce bottlenecks at its warehouses.
The XPO Connect software, first reported by Reuters, is part of a digital renaissance underway in the old-school trucking industry. New technologies have effectively turned semi trucks into locator beacons for shippers who want up-the-minute intelligence on their freight.
The XPO online portal lets customers shop around for capacity and track their shipment in real-time, with algorithms capturing disruptions like weather delays and traffic, XPO Chief Information Officer Mario Harik told Reuters ahead of the launch.
Greenwich, Connecticut-based XPO is the largest provider of "final-mile" deliveries of heavy goods like Home Depot barbecue grills and Best Buy televisions from warehouses direct to homes in North America. It is the second-largest less-than-truckload operator - truckers that consolidate multiple loads on a single truck.
"We wanted to provide visibility across all of our transportation modes backed by data analytics," Harik said.
About 50 merchants and 500 carriers were testing XPO Connect, Harik said. He declined to name specific customers or say how much money it cost to develop. The software shows XPO's capacity, not the overall freight market.
During one of the tightest freight markets in years, XPO Connect has given shippers an experience similar to a commuter using Uber's app to see available cars, book a ride, and send friends an estimated arrival time down to the minute.
Companies like Bain Capital-backed FourKites and Onfleet have already launched similar platforms.
Tracking helps shippers manage capacity fluctuations and reduce warehouse logjams when volumes spike during peak shipping periods, such as the days leading up to Christmas.
Data reliability has improved over the last 10 years, fuelled by GPS and beacon technology, said Priya Rajagopalan, Chief Product Officer at FourKites, whose customers include hundreds of truckers and shippers like Schneider National Inc and Kraft Heinz Foods Co.
Trucks have become easier to trace due to a new federal regulation requiring truck drivers to record hours on the road using Electronic Logging Devices, some of which are GPS-compatible.
"The expectation that we as consumers have a very clear line of sight into exactly when anything we order will arrive, that level of visibility has set the expectation with freight customers," Rajagopalan said.