Chris Burruss, grew up in the trucking industry. His father was the chairman of the Missouri State Trucking Association for 40 years. After a stint in the United States Marine Corps, Burruss followed in his footsteps, holding a number of high-profile positions in the trucking industry, including as president of the Tennessee Trucking Association, president of the Truckload Carrier’s Association, a role at Bose with its Bose Ride division, and as the first president of the Blockchain in Transportation Alliance (BiTA).
Now, Burruss is vice president of transportation relationships for dexFreight, a startup developing its own blockchain platform. HDT talked with him about the potential blockchain technology has to bring about major changes in how fleets and shippers conduct business, as well as what he hopes to achieve at dexFreight.
HDT: There is a lot of talk about blockchain in trucking today. But the overall concept remains hazy to a lot of people. How do you describe it when you’re talking with fleets and other potential users?
Burruss: I didn’t know a lot about blockchain myself, until I joined BiTA. But you’re right – there are some misconceptions out there about this technology. And when I talk about it, the first thing I point to is the incredible inefficiencies that still plague logistics today. In many ways, logistics – particularly any attempt at transparency in the logistics chain – remains a manual process.
HDT: There have been many attempts to address these inefficiencies over the years.
Burruss: Yes. But we’re in an environment now where technology hasn’t solved a lot of those problems. There still isn’t a lot of transparency on the logistics side of fleet operations. And most of the technological solutions introduced to enhance transparency have only created a series of data silos. So the information is out there. But it’s not any more readily accessible than before. If you’re a shipper or a carrier, you can eventually find the information you need. But you have to look in a lot more silos to find it. Blockchain has the power to change that because it offers one platform where anybody who has a stake in a particular “block” in a chain of blocks that detail a shipment to instantly access the information they need. And my role at dexFreight will be to use my relationships and experience in trucking to reach out to the many parties who can benefit from blockchain – shippers, fleets, third-part logistics providers, telematics providers, OEMs and so on, to help them understand how this technology can work for them.
HDT: And how can that technology work for them?
Burruss: The dexFreight platform will address the lack of logistics transparency in logistics today. If you’re a shipper right now, if you want to know where an asset is, you have to query the carrier and wait for them to get back to you. And by the time they do, the information is often out of date. So, all parties in a logistics chain need to have full visibility to information like that in real time. And that capability hasn't existed until now. That’s the first major change blockchain offers trucking.
HDT: On top of that, you say blockchain has the capability to completely transform the way fleets get paid for their services.
Burruss: Absolutely. For a carrier, perhaps the most important thing they should understand about blockchain is that for them, this technology is set up to settle business transactions faster. Right now, fleets wait 30, 60, 90, sometimes 120 days to get paid for their services. This, of course, creates all sorts of cash flow and other financial problems for them. We want to streamline that process to the point where, eventually, payments are instantaneous – a payment will happen as soon as a delivery is confirmed. Cash flow is king for smaller fleets. But this feature of blockchain can help put mid-size or large fleets on much more solid financial footing as well.
HDT: Another attractive blockchain feature is its flexibility, isn’t it?
Burruss: Yes. You can really make blockchain be anything you want it to for your business. Walmart and IBM recently teamed up to test the source of contamination in food shipments – mangos from South America and pork from China back to the source of the contamination. Using conventional logistics tracking solutions, it took them 2 weeks to track down the problem. Using blockchain, they were able to identify the source of the contamination in a matter of seconds. So this is a platform that works in any instance where you need greater transparency. Take used trucks, for example: What if you could know everything about the provenance of a truck you’re thinking about buying, from the day it rolled off the assembly line, to the day it goes up for sale. With blockchain, you will be able to see virtually everything that has happened to that vehicle during its life. If it has a history of emissions problems, for example. So, blockchain is powerful – but it isn’t limited to financial transactions.
HDT: What kind of time frame are we looking at for widespread use of blockchain?
Burruss: Right now, we’re still very much in the collaborative phase of development. I think we’ll start to see the first practical applications of the technology by the end of next year. We’re probably looking at 2025 before we’ll start seeing mass blockchain adoption.
HDT: What are you and your colleagues at dexFreight hoping to bring to the market as you develop your platform?
Burruss: What we’re doing right now is working on bringing all the potential parties in a shipment to the platform to give them all equal access to what is today very fragmented information. We’re showing people how this technology allows them better decision making in real time and how their payments will be sped up. A lot of things have to happen before we get to the point where the real potential will kick in. But eventually, I think we’ll get to the point where machine learning and artificial intelligence allow blockchain systems to grow on their own. Eventually, a carrier or a driver won’t have to sift through hundreds of loads trying to find one that fits their purposes. The same will apply for a shipper who seeks a carrier running specific kinds of equipment. The dexFreight network platform will connect shippers and carriers based on the capabilities each one offers. It will be able to match specific loads to specific drivers, for example. It will be able to look at a driver’s available on-duty time to marry a load to a truck. The potential is unlimited.
HDT: How do you view freight digitization providers like Uber Freight? Are they a complementary service to yours? Or are they competitors?
Burruss: We don’t see them as competitors right now. What is unique about what we are doing is that it brings all the parties involved in a shipment to one network platform. So full integration with third-parties' applications on our platform is free. It certainly wouldn’t be unexpected to see a freight digitization provider use our system. An important distinction is that our platform is free. There is no charge to use it. Eventually, as its value proves out, we will add premium services for customers that want them.
HDT: How transformative do you think blockchain will eventually be?
Burruss: It’s going to bring major change to our industry. Everyone uses the term “disruption.” Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’re talking about being far more efficient and transparent in logistics than we are today. And I think that’s going to be very positive for all entities in logistics. I think that blockchain, and many of the other apps that eventually reside on it, will play a major role in eliminating many of the pain points that logistics company struggle with on a daily basis now.