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J.B. Hunt Enlists Google to Match Carriers With Shippers

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J.B. Hunt

Transport Services Inc., competing against digital upstarts in its freight-matching segment, is turning to Google’s AI to better pair shippers with carriers.

The trucking and logistics company will work with Google to develop machine-learning models to make better matches between shippers and carriers using its J.B. Hunt 360 platform, aiming to help shippers see supply and demand needs days into the future and carriers to estimate future fuel and other transportation costs.

The Lowell, Ark., company launched its 360 platform in 2017, as purely digital players have been entering the freight-matching market, among them

Uber Technologies Inc.

“It’s an arms race,” Evan Armstrong, president of supply-chain market research and consulting firm Armstrong & Associates, said of the freight-matching market.

He said digital upstarts and technology innovation from traditional players have increased the pace of change. The market, he said, “has been disrupted,” and companies that don’t continue to invest in technology risk falling behind.

Stuart Scott, J.B. Hunt’s chief information officer.



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J.B. Hunt

Shelley Simpson,

J.B. Hunt’s chief commercial officer, agreed that the industry is being disrupted as consumers demand more real-time access to information. She said the alliance with Google allows J.B. Hunt to accelerate its digital transformation.

J.B. Hunt, which started in 1961 with a handful of trucks and trailers, has grown into an almost $10 billion business with 30,000 employees. The company is the second-largest carrier in the U.S. truckload market by revenue, according to SJ Consulting Group.

Freight-matching services are a longstanding feature of the truckload brokerage market that have gotten more digital over the years. Streamlined app-driven freight-matching services are more recent, driven in part by new digital players, Mr. Armstrong said.

Digital platforms capture available carrier capacity data and information on what shippers want to transport and automatically match shipments to carriers.

In addition to J.B. Hunt, other traditional third-party logistics providers such as

C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.

have developed digital platforms. And technology companies such as Convoy, Parade and Uber’s Uber Freight unit also have entered the space, Mr. Armstrong said.


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Investments have been flowing into the digital players. U.S.-based digital freight-matching startups drew $1.37 billion in investor funding between 2011 and 2019, according to the most recent number available from Armstrong & Associates.

In the fourth quarter, Uber Freight saw gross bookings grow 43% year-over-year, which the company said was an indicator of positive momentum heading into 2021. In the third quarter of 2020, the business announced a $500 million funding round led by Greenbriar Equity Group LP.

Total freight transactions in J.B. Hunt’s 360 marketplace increased to $1.4 billion in 2020, compared with $1 billion the previous year, the company said. J.B. Hunt works with the owners of some 700,000 trucks. It wouldn’t disclose the number of shippers it works with. In addition to shippers and carriers who sign up to use 360, J.B. Hunt itself makes use of the platform.

With their collaboration, J.B. Hunt and Google will look to bring together data from 360, other industry data sources, and build machine-learning technology to provide greater visibility into the supply chain.

Shelley Simpson, J.B. Hunt’s chief commercial officer.



Photo:

J.B. Hunt

As part of its agreement with Google, J.B. Hunt will migrate its 360 platform to Google Cloud, Google’s cloud-computing company, from Microsoft Corp.’s Azure cloud platform so it can, among other things, more easily access Google’s artificial intelligence expertise.

One of the first projects the companies said they would work on is a real-time tracking and predictive model. The model would be built to provide more accurate pickup times, delivery predictions, and pricing data for both shippers and carriers, according to Stuart Scott, J.B. Hunt’s chief information officer.

Part of the problem today is that the driver market is fragmented, with most of the nation’s more than 3 million drivers working for small carriers that don’t invest a lot in technology, Ms. Simpson said. Information on trucks and drivers isn’t shared, and as a result, she said, many drivers spend parts of their day waiting for their next load while shippers in the immediate area might be looking for a carrier.

J.B. Hunt will work with Google to analyze 360 data in Google’s data warehouse and build machine-learning models that look at overall demand in a market; the capacity of the carriers; and the locations, destinations and loads of trucks.

J.B Hunt is hoping the first models from the collaboration appear in the second half of this year.

Write to John McCormick at john.mccormick@wsj.com

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