The transportation and logistics industry is undergoing a big digital evolution, and industry-leader J.B. Hunt is addressing the challenge head-on with new platforms, top-notch employees and big investments. Founded in 1961 in Lowell, Arkansas, by an astute American entrepreneur, the Fortune 500 company – one of the largest supply chain solutions providers in North America – is now investing more than $100 million annually for technology and innovation development. Business Review USA & Canada spoke with Sr. Vice President of Information Technology Tracy Black at length to shed some light on their new practices.
Black has worked at J.B. Hunt for 28 years. She says bringing technology to the heart of the company’s core practices has been revolutionary to the business, but she isn’t surprised by the dedication to evolving business practices.
“J.B. Hunt has always pushed boundaries and exceeded our own expectations. In the 1980s we were the first transportation company to put in-cab computers on our trucks. In the 1990s we were the first truckload company to make a deal with a rail company, and we designed our own 53-foot containers that could be double stacked on the rail. Today we’re really focused on the digital transformation,” she says.
J.B. Hunt’s latest disruption in the marketplace has been J.B. Hunt 360™, its transportation management system that serves as a one-stop solutions platform offering 360-degree visibility into a company’s supply chain. J.B. Hunt 360 provides transparency into capacity and pricing, allowing real-time freight matching and tracking throughout the shipping process.
“We’re using technology to connect shippers and carriers instantaneously, giving carriers the ability to bid on freight to book at the true market price,” Black adds. “The platform has the opportunity to be as much of a revenue-generating segment for the company as some of our asset-based ones.”
As part of that platform, J.B. Hunt has developed a mobile app available to all third-party J.B. Hunt contracted carriers. The app allows drivers and carriers to track and bid on loads. For shippers, pricing transparency is on the rise, and J.B. Hunt is at the forefront.
“We’re seeing shorter lead times and tighter appointment windows, and that’s really driving the need for more real-time and overall visibility,” Black says. “Precision and timing are essential for planning, and we’re leveraging API-based technology to get real-time status updates from our assets and carriers that are holding freight.” The company will soon include supply chain control tower capabilities allowing shippers visibility to all loads regardless of carrier.
Implementing new technology has allowed J.B. Hunt to provide supply solutions to a new audience – small-to-medium-sized businesses. Platforms like J.B. Hunt 360 can provide less-than-truckload (LTL) solutions for shipments that are too heavy for a parcel carrier and too small for a full truckload.
“The platform is cost effective, and that opens the door for business with a variety of shippers that would have considered someone like J.B. Hunt too big to address their needs,” Black says. “We’re bringing Wall Street service to Main Street businesses.”
In addition to technology for shippers and third-party carriers, J.B. Hunt also developed a mobile app for its company drivers in 2015. The company also provides its drivers with Samsung tablets, helping reduce the use of paper. J.B. Hunt continues to develop its internal technology and is leveraging the tablet for voice calls with a dispatcher or customer, as well as allowing submission of electronic signatures.
In the future, Black’s team is looking to add a virtual personal assistant with alert notifications such as providing the drivers specific instructions for their next customer location.
In order to adapt to changes in technology, J.B. Hunt is investing to build proactive, predictive intelligence and to hire quality, forward-thinking employees. Currently, the company’s engineering and technology department includes almost 700 software engineers, 80 logistics engineers and 100 data scientists and black belts.
“We’re shifting our focus from operational efficiencies to being technology leaders and experts,” Black says. “We’re implementing a new employee program that recruits recent college graduates into an 18-month intensive program where they rotate in different positions within the business to get a complete view of our processes.”
J.B. Hunt has also created several programs to foster a diverse workplace. Working with UST-Global and its Step It Up America program, J.B. Hunt offers a 12-week training program for JAVA development for women who have degrees in non-STEM fields. J.B. Hunt has also established employee resource groups such as Growing and Retaining Outstanding Women (GROW), Latinos Engaging, Advancing and Developing (LEAD), and Veterans Employee Resource Group (VERG). The organizations focus on developing and recruiting leaders from diverse backgrounds.
“There aren't enough women going into IT, and we’re going to change that,” Black says. “We’re working to encourage diversity by sponsoring women at IT conferences, hosting Young Women’s Conferences and holding career days with local high schools,” Black says.
For Black, collaboration with the next generation is crucial to taking J.B. Hunt into the future.
In March, the University of Arkansas announced a collaboration between J.B. Hunt, the Sam M. Walton College of Business and College of Engineering. The J.B. Hunt Innovation Center of Excellence will pursue revolutionary ideas in supply chain technology development. Much of the focus will be on algorithms and pattern matching. The collaboration is an investment in the future of the company and its ability to deliver customer value.
“We aim to continue to drive operational efficiency so that we can grow our business and support that growth with the same quality that J.B. Hunt is known for in the industry,” Black states. “But as history has taught us, we can never be complacent. Mr. Hunt always pressed us to ‘Think Big,’ and that’s the mindset moving forward, whether it’s developing the latest software or exploring opportunities with future industry leaders.”