Real-time visibility is still an emerging software category in many ways. Because of this, there’s still a lot of misunderstanding around what a quality solution looks like, what kind of results you can expect within a certain time frame, and even what constitutes a visibility success story, like the dozens we’ve highlighted for our customers over the past several years.
Every day the space gets more mature, with more and more providers entering the market. We’re starting to see the first formal standards emerge as providers seek to set the table and manage expectations across different parts of the visibility journey. Many of the standards are still in the early stages of definition and betray the latent market immaturity still present throughout much of the category. One of the latest topics to begin to fill up with misconceptions, it seems, is my own specialty: carrier onboarding.
Carrier partnership is the bedrock of any good visibility solution. But there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors as to what, exactly, good carrier onboarding entails. So I wanted to take some time to help clear up some of the misconceptions around this critical step in rolling out new visibility technology. Below are a few of the most important things to keep in mind about carrier onboarding while you’re shopping around for a new transportation visibility solution.
Establish Your Standards
It’s important to realize right off the bat that good carrier onboarding and relations is not just about the quantity of loads and carriers you can track, but the quality of tracking you’re going to see for each individual load. As you’re going about choosing a visibility provider to help you understand the unique pain points within your supply chain, ask yourself questions like this:
- “Is this provider just giving me the raw data points, or are they also telling me what the data means?”
- “Are they helping me keep tabs on the health of my loads, and informing me when one is at risk, or am I just getting a trail of breadcrumbs that I have to follow myself?”
- “Are they making my employees log into another portal to see all this information, or are they making it easy for me by integrating directly with my TMS?”
The answers to these questions will go a long way toward helping you make sure you’re choosing the provider and the technology that’s right for you. Every operation is different, every supply chain has different needs, and only you can judge the best fit when it comes to gaining visibility over your operation. Just make sure that you’re judging wisely.
Make Sure The Data is Authorized
One common pitfall that many people don’t think about is whether or not that visibility provider is authorized to pull location information from the carrier in the first place. You might think that this would be a given, but you’d be (unpleasantly) surprised how many technology companies, especially newer or less sophisticated ones, have been known to play fast and loose with carrier data instead of taking appropriate precautions to protect it.
So how can you find out which kind of provider you’re dealing with? Cut through the sales and marketing jargon straight to the company’s data-sharing agreement with their carriers. Once you get your hands on it, make sure that agreement spells out very clearly the authorization that’s required by the carrier in order to pass location data along to you as the shipper, and to any other parties that might be involved. And if it doesn’t include authorization? Best case, you or the provider will have additional hurdle to jump just to get your loads tracking in real-time. At worst, you could be opening up the potential for new liabilities, abuse of carrier data, and even putting your carriers’ information at risk.
Don’t Sacrifice Security for Speed
Going hand in hand with the authorization and safeguards on carrier data is the protection given by a particular visibility provider while in the system. Getting a large number of carriers up and running on your platform is great. But if you aren’t prioritizing the privacy, security and control that those carriers have over their data within that platform, you’re setting yourself up for a short-lived victory at best.
This goes far beyond simple security concerns (though you definitely want to make sure whatever provider you’re considering has SOC2 security certification or equivalent). It’s also about protecting a carrier’s privacy, autonomy, and control over their own data. At FourKites, we give every carrier the ability to withdraw their consent to track via our platform at a moment’s notice – and this is not a bad thing. Carriers should be treated as equal partners in any visibility platform and given the same privileges and protections as everyone else in the ecosystem. When everyone is equal, everyone stands to win.
Look at the Team
Let’s face it: Even the best carrier onboarding process has points that are prone to failure or delay. There’s hundreds of ELD and telematics providers, thousands of carriers, and hundreds of thousands of drivers, and that’s just within the US.
Anyone who works in this industry knows all about the promises some technology providers make, and how they’re often a few degrees separate from reality. We work hard here at FourKites to bring your carriers onboard as quickly as possible, despite the hangups that inevitably occur. That’s why since the very beginning, our operations team has always been the largest team within the company. Look out for companies that make lots of promises about their onboarding times without actually committing the resources necessary to support that claim. Some red flags to keep in mind: companies that spend more money and effort on marketing their technology than they do on actually getting carriers onboarded to the platform; and companies that experience a lot of churn in operations staff. If you go with one of these, you may just end up with someone who simply can’t fulfill whatever shiny promises they’ve made you.
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Hopefully these recommendations can serve as a guiding light to you as you work to choose a quality supply chain visibility platform. In these uncertain times, it’s never been more important to have a clear picture of the many moving pieces within the supply chain, and what can be done to maintain agility and effectiveness in your operation. With a trusted visibility partner, you’ll be ready no matter what the world throws your way.