An executive with J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell teased that the company would make an announcement about a new supply chain initiative in the coming weeks.
Spencer Frazier, the company’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, was the keynote speaker earlier this month at FreightWaves’ Future of Freight Festival in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Frazier spoke of a “network of networks” within the supply chain, and said J.B. Hunt’s announcement would be about what the company thought the future of freight would be.
“It is going to be a new era of cooperation, connectivity and value creation,” Frazier said.
It is no secret that the supply chain has experienced difficulties these past couple of years, and the COVID-19 pandemic played a role. A year ago, there were long delays because container ships were stuck in queues at the major coastal ports.
But supply chain problems have existed long before the pandemic. In his speech, Frazier said that J.B. Hunt, in a 2015 white paper on supply chain issues, revealed that drivers were only able to drive 6½ hours of their allotted 11 daily hours because of various delays.
Jump forward to the present day, and drivers’ driving time is actually less than what it was in 2015, Frazier said. He said it is imperative that everyone realize that drivers’ hours are a “perishable commodity.”
“From a driver’s perspective, nothing has changed,” Frazier said. “Actually, it has gotten worse. Our nation’s drivers are only driving 6.37 hours of the available 11 they have to drive.”
It’s a terribly inefficient system, and such inefficiencies exist throughout the supply chain, from the first to the last stop. J.B. Hunt is about to release a new white paper, Frazier said, and the challenges of before remain despite shippers spending more than $300 million globally on supply chain technology over the years.
“Here’s the challenge: Our industry remains extremely fragmented,” Frazier said. “We execute in siloes.”
Frazier said that, despite all the new applications and platforms designed to improve one segment or another of the supply chain, the important data “remains disconnected.”
As an example, Frazier told an anecdote of a J.B. Hunt customer that delivers goods from Asia through the West Coast ports. The company worked on the customer’s delivery process and managed to shave 10 days off the transit time from Asia to the final distribution center in the States.
The savings amounted to $1.3 million, Frazier said, and there were also benefits like improved customer satisfaction and less stress on the environment.
But that was one customer and one supply chain example. The future of freight, Frazier said, will lie in the ability to streamline a single instance across all networks and customers, creating a “connected ecosystem.”
Supply chains exist in partnership with variability and volatility so when there is a delay or kink on the chain, it isn’t easy to find a single cause. And those causes aren’t necessarily the same in every supply chain problem.
“We know the challenges of finding the root cause to create solutions to making lasting changes are extremely difficult,” Frazier said. “It is because our networks constantly shift. The pieces of our supply chain puzzle are scattered through our industry every day, and they are moving around. It’s not because we want that to happen.”
Frazier didn’t give any specifics to what J.B. Hunt would announce; in fact, he waited until the end of his 25-minute address to mention it. But there is a theme, and it relates to shippers and customers working together to share ideas and data.
“At J.B. Hunt, we knew we can’t do that alone,” Frazier said. “We have to do that by working together. We have to do that by creating an open exchange of data and having an open mind to cooperate in new ways.”