How to Gain Actionable Predictive LTL Insights

  2020 08 20 LTL

While less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping offers a more cost-effective way to move freight that doesn’t require a full trailer, it comes with unique complexities. LTL shipping creates a more stable and efficient transportation industry by enabling shippers to share physical resources, including trucks, trailers, and cross-docks. 

Even though LTL can deliver great value to shippers, it’s a complex model, which makes it harder to gain predictive insights. 

Shippers don’t just want to know where their shipment is anymore, they want predictive insights that they can act on. When it comes to LTL, there are many factors that could impact the ETA, making it harder to provide in real-time,” Geoff Muessig, EVP and CMO at PITT OHIO

LTL carriers like PITT OHIO have seen this challenge emerge over the last several years. project44 started in the LTL space because of the opportunity to solve some tough challenges. Partnering with LTL carriers, large shippers, supply chain consultants, and TMS providers, we have gained a deep understanding of the complexities around data and physical freight flows as well as the internal, supporting processes. 

Before evaluating solutions, it’s important to understand the intricacies. Here’s an overview of why LTL is so complex and how you can gain reliable and actionable predictive insights about your LTL shipments. 

How LTL Works 

Building an LTL network isn’t easy, resulting in a smaller number of LTL carriers than full truckload. The vast majority of LTL freight runs through about 25 carriers along with a number of additional regional and niche providers. 

LTL carriers invest in what’s commonly referred to as hub and spoke” network, which is a system that simplifies LTL operations by drastically reducing the number of routes required to ship freight throughout the network. 

A hub is a facility — commonly referred to as terminals or cross-docks — where freight is unloaded from inbound trailers, consolidated onto outbound trailers, and then routed onward to a subsequent hub, or to a consignee location. A spoke is a facility where freight is picked up or delivered. These are the shipper or consignee facilities that are located near the hub. Large LTL carriers maintain dozens of hubs that are distributed throughout their service area to support the customers in each region. 

Why It’s Challenging to Get Predictive Insights for LTL Shipments 

A predictive estimated time of arrival (ETA) is a valuable datapoint that allows transportation teams to identify potential delays before they occur to proactively solve issues and improve planning. However, because of the complexity of LTL shipments, it’s challenging to gain a reliable predictive ETA

Traditional ETA machine learning model continuously analyzes historical data, identifying patterns in the dataset that drive future predictions. This methodology works very well for simpler modes of transportation, like full truckload, but falls short for more complex modes that involve hub and spoke networks, like LTL

The root causes of LTL disruptions are hard to predict. Additionally, these disruptions are primarily related to the inner workings of a given hub, which are only within the purview of the carrier operating the hub. 

How project44 Partners with Carriers to Deliver Actionable Exception Codes 

The only way to identify events that impact an LTL ETA is to catch them as they occur by communicating directly with the carrier that operates the terminal. Fortunately, many carriers assign exception codes to shipments when there is an issue that leads to a transit delay, identifying that a shipment delay can be expected. 

Because carriers hold the information needed to gain actionable ETA and delay insights, project44 has focused on building relationships with LTL carriers. 

Real-time transportation visibility has become a requirement for most of our customers. To deliver this visibility, carriers and visibility providers need to build strong relationships. We meet our customers where they are; some prefer to have their IT team work directly with PITT OHIO to exchange shipment information updates while others prefer to work with information intermediary companies like project44. We partnered with project44 to ensure our customers have reliable data when they need it most,” said Muessig. 

project44’s approach is to capture these exception codes through direct APIs connections with carriers and normalize the various exceptions into a single set of codes that is standardized across carriers. This enables users to automatically identify shipments that are flagged with a particular exception, so they can take action. 

PITT OHIO’s Dynamic LTL ETA 

One of the LTL carriers paving the trail for the industry is PITT OHIO. The North America carrier has been taking on LTL shipments and challenges for more than 40 years. 

PITT OHIO uses a digital differentiation strategy to create value for its customers. In 2019, PITT OHIO launched Delivery Track which provides dynamic day of delivery ETAs for LTL shipments. Delivery Track delivers actionable insight to their clients and their clients’ customers. 

Because they have direct insight into potential delays, they are able to send API updates to their customers with predictive ETA updates as soon as the shipment is out for delivery. 

We provide updated ETAs to customers every 15 minutes, providing their teams with the insight needed to make informed and effective decisions. Without accurate or complete data, the ETA isn’t actionable,” said Muessing. 

As part of its digital differentiation strategy PITT OHIO plans to release real-time shipment exception reporting for damages, shortages and refusals in Q4 2020. Muessing explained, Today more than ever our customers need to know what is happening to their shipments as soon as possible so that they can better manage their customers’ expectations.” 

Creating Industry-Wide LTL Standards 

There are many standards and processes for LTL, however, it’s not a problem that can be solved in a silo. To deliver the most reliable and actionable data to customers, the entire LTL ecosystem – shippers, logistics service providers, carriers, and technology providers – needs to collaborate to align on digital standards that will streamline the LTL lifecycle for everyone involved.