Industry experience, continual innovation drive J.B. Hunt 360 technology platform

In the midst of rolling out the third phase of an aggressive strategy to disrupt and innovate efficiency in the supply chain through its digital freight matching platform, J.B. Hunt 360, Shelley Simpson said the COVID-19 pandemic hit and forced the company to pivot and adapt to its customers’, carriers’ and employees’ changing needs during these unprecedented times. 

“It’s made us really evaluate what our priorities are in our organization. We are even more focused on how we help our people, our customers, the people we do business with really move forward in an environment that is constantly changing, constantly being disrupted,” said Simpson, executive vice president, chief commercial officer and president of Highway Services at J.B. Hunt, in her industry keynote speech at FreightWaves LIVE @HOME on Tuesday, May 5.

Founded in 1961, J.B. Hunt (JBHT:NASDAQ) has more than 30,000 employees. The carrier posted more than $9 billion in revenue in 2019.

J.B. Hunt 360 is a technology platform launched in 2017 that uses artificial intelligence to match capacity with freight as part of the Lowell, Arkansas-based carrier’s $500 million technology investment. 

Simpson said her company has focused on two priorities amid the global pandemic – the health and well-being of its employees – as well as keeping the promises made to its customers during this disruption. 

As J.B Hunt navigates the “new normal,” Simpson said it’s important to have a collaborative spirit as a rival competitor during normal times may actually be someone to work closely with to solve larger issues in the supply chain during this critical time in our history.

“I think this entire environment is making us think definitely and it’s challenging us to think differently and if you’re wanting to meet the promises of your customers, you and I both have to think very differently about what that means for us in our future,” she said. 

In 2017, the company launched Carrier 360 to help small fleets and owner-operators reduce the time it takes to find loads. Then in November 2019, Shipper 360 was launched and offers access to multiple modes of transportation including truckload, less-than-truckload and intermodal. The digital platform includes predictive truckload pricing and real-time visibility into load statuses and available capacity. Simpson said using a marketplace like JBHunt 360 could potentially allow shippers access to nearly 700,000 trucks, which “will change the way we do business.”

One of the industry’s greatest challenges is how to achieve real-time visibility,” Simpson said. 

“We as an industry have to come together,” she said. “We have to connect. We have to understand what’s happening with our shipments. Instead of holding back and only wanting to share what we have with only our customers, we have to think about a more collaborative process.”

In December, J.B Hunt announced it will integrate its technology platform with Blue Yonder Inc., formerly JDA Software, using its transportation management system (TMS) to provide customers with increased pricing visibility and real-time visibility using its API processing capabilities.

“Some 30% of shipments that are moving today are moving with the carrier that was not planned, at a price that’s not planned,” she said. “What if we were able to take those two pieces and connect near real-time so that we actually could get the most efficient way to move those goods?” 

Because many receivers and carriers are practicing social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19, Simpson said J.B. Hunt 360 is using its technology platform to limit human interaction. In early May, it launched its electronic bill of lading (eBOL) feature. The new process allows a receiver to electronically sign the bill of lading.

“We really developed what we believe can help change, not just right now during COVID-19, but really long-term, the way our industry can be more efficient and really move us to this next generation of digitization,” Simpson said.

In May 2019, J.B. Hunt launched its new trailer pool and drop-and-hook service called J.B. Hunt 360box. The service gives shippers access to a pool of J.B. Hunt trailers they can reserve for drop-and-hook purposes. Using the J.B. Hunt app, carriers can then make offers on transporting the drop-and-hook freight.

As technology becomes more significant to creating efficiency in the supply chain, Simpson asked the industry how willing it is to change the way they are doing business.

“Are you willing to disrupt the way you’ve always done business so that you can adapt internally and externally with your customers to further accelerate yourselves in this new way of doing business?” she asked.

During the Q&A session following Simpson’s keynote address, Emily Szink, executive vice president of content for FreightWaves, asked her when did the cycle of innovation start within J.B. Hunt?

“I think it started when Mr. Hunt started our organization,” Simpson said. “He was constantly thinking about where he could take the business. What we could do differently? Think about us moving into intermodal and we were the first motor truckload carrier to really take shipments off the highway.”

Instead of railroads and truckers competing against each other, Simpson said the move really changed the industry.

However, over the last five or six years, Simpson said J.B. Hunt “really started thinking about innovation” and how to do it if “we already have an established part of our business?”

“Really smartphones started the entire thought process around how do we disrupt the way business has moved over the last several years, decades for us, and then how do we think about adapting,” she said. “When we were talking about J.B. Hunt 360, it took us years internally to make that movement into adapt before we could finally take it to accelerate.”