“Extreme connectivity” is the buzzword at McLeod Software, said President Tom McLeod at the company’s 2018 user conference, whether that’s helping its fleet and broker customers connect with load matching, working with truck makers on how to connect autonomous trucks to real-world fleet business, using blockchain to automate payments, or connecting with products that haven’t even been developed yet.
Betting on Blockchain
McLeod was a founding partner of the Blockchain in Transportation Alliance, which is seeking to set blockchain standards for the industry. BiTA has gone from seven companies to some 2,800 membership applications, in just a little over a year.
To illustrate how fast this has moved, McLeod read from a letter issued by Walmart this week requiring suppliers of leafy greens to join its food-tracking blockchain by Jan. 31. The retail giant also also will mandate that farmers, logistics firms and business partners of these suppliers join the blockchain by Sept. 30, 2019, to enable end-to-end traceability back to the farm. The move comes after 18 months of testing the blockchain system developed by IBM.
The Walmart move was not a big surprise to McLeod and BiTA, Ken Craig, vice president of special projects and BiTA co-founder, told reporters in a roundtable discussion. Such a move, he said, may help BiTa move its standards forward more quickly. He believes Walmart is starting out with the leafy greens project as sort of a proof of concept, beta test, as well as in response to the situation we saw earlier this year where contaminated romaine lettuce from one source resulted in the waste of tons of romaine because it couldn’t be tracked back to the farm.
He predicted Nestle may be next in line. The company recently had a problem with baby food contamination-- and it has been evaluating Hyperledger, an open source blockchain project hosted by the Linux Foundation.
However, Craig said, there’s a lot of hype about blockchain, driving by FOMO – fear of missing out.
“The key thing is that there’s a good business case,” he explained. “What can blockchain bring to the table that, for instance, EDI isn’t satisfying right now? A lot of people say blockchain is the answer to everything. There’s a lot of confusion. People don’t understand fundamentally what it is and the hype meter is going off the scale.”
Craig said you’ll see a few big players taking the lead over the next two to five years. “Then you’ll see it roll out to more and more companies as the use cases are more understood and it will become more well defined.”
A year ago, McLeod announced its Smart Tractor as a Client initiative. The intention is to work with truck makers as they develop “smart tractors” on the way to autonomous trucks, “then into the new operating paradigms of the autonomous freight environment.”
McLeod told customers, “you’re getting ready for that every time you install safety technologies, such as a collision avoidance system or lane departure warning or cameras or automatic transmissions on the truck. These are paving the way. All the major manufacturers are working on this technology, and we have started conversations with all the manufacturers.”
McLeod recognizes that in the future, the tractor itself will continue to grow more sophisticated and capable, to the point at which it becomes one more “client,” or workstation, for customers on their McLeod Software systems.
McLeod said even with autonomous trucks, utilization, planning, monitoring, will be just as important as they are today.
“Adoption will be very gradual. But as time goes on, we will see technology that can do more and more.”
McLeod sees to phases on the road to the autonomous tractor. In the first one, which is already here, the company sees opportunities to take advantage of advanced connectivity and processing power with the smarter tractors (and trailers), to improve the interaction of the home office with drivers and lead to greater efficiency.
The second phase will be the arrival of true autonomous tractors without a seated driver for at least part of the trip, and that is going to call for a greater level of command-and-control capabilities at the home office.
Digital Freight Matching
When you hear the term “digital freight matching,” you may think of online load boards or Uber-like freight-matching apps for owner-operators and small fleets. But McLeod wants to expand the definition to include the management of data to help people at carriers who are deciding whether to accept a load, negotiate rates, etc.
“We believe the business relationship is still very important,” Tom McLeod said. While there is a certain segment of freight that can be moved via fully automated load-matching, he noted, a lot of times shippers don’t want to trust freight to some trucker they’ve never met.
For about five years, McLeod has been embedding the capability for brokers and carriers using its software for its own freight-matching marketplace. “It’s something that’s just part of the system background, but we’re really no just seeing adoption begin to take off,” McLeod said. Right now it’s more manual – a carrier can highlight a truck that needs a load, click a button and see a listing of the freight available from McLeod’s brokerage customers. There’s contact information as well as average rate information that can help in negotiations. But they expect more automation of that process to be added.
This summer McLeod introduced Capacity Creator for users of its PowerBroker software, which lets brokers quickly find capacity, automatically prioritizing the loads with the carriers that match. At this conference introduced a new McLeod Anywhere Carrier Mobile App. The app even allows individual drivers to have input into which loads they accept as well as manage documents, signature capture, etc.
For PowerBroker, a new Integrated Carrier Search (which gives the broker a prioritized list of carriers for any given load, based on a set of weighted criteria the broker controls) and Waterfall Tendering capabilities (allows brokers to set up and automate the tendering process, based on the characteristics of a given load tender they receive and the appropriate weighting for their existing carriers, determined by the integrated carrier search) will be released soon.
Also coming soon is LoadMaster Driver Load Choice module, which will let the carrier identify appropriate loads for drivers or owner-operators, then automate the process of offering those load choices to the driver and dispatch the one they choose. The loads are double checked with McLeod’s Driver Feasibility function to make sure the driver has the available hours of service and other factors to complete the delivery.
APIs and Integration
One of the ways McLeod helps its customers stay connected is through its “open environment.” Currently McLeod has supported integration solutions for products and services from 121 different companies, with nine more in the development process. In the past year alone, McLeod has added 25 new off-the-shelf integration solutions with partners, including mobile communications, trailer tracking, payment processing and others.
He pointed out that McLeod even has integrations for a number of companies owned by its main competitor, Trimble, such as PeopleNet, TMT, 10-4 Systems and ALK.
In addition, McLeod’s API module lets customers create their own tactical applications. They don’t have to wait on customization from McLeod and can continue taking advantages of regular upgrades to the core software platform.
“A lot of our strength comes from the open connectivity that we have, which is a core development philosophy that helps our customers have confidence they’re going to have access to the products and services that are going to be available in the future – some of which haven’t even been invented yet.”