J.B. Hunt prioritizes balanced investment in tech and people

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With the freight industry in a continued difficult market, carriers and 3PLs have had to invest in technology to find more efficiency in slim margins.
Brad Hicks, executive vice president of highway services and executive vice president of people at J.B. Hunt, says companies that don’t connect their investment in technology with their investment in people will come out behind. “If you don’t have that proper balance of people and tech working together and complementing each other, then you’re probably behind,” Hicks said. “We use and leverage the connectivity of (J.B. Hunt) 360° to create value for our customers. It’s technology that provides the data, but it’s the people who create the solutions.”
Despite the tough freight environment, Hicks says, it’s vital for transportation companies to continue to invest. “We’ve made investments into our own capabilities, but we also have to try to create value for our people and our customers,” Hicks said.
A recent survey by McKinsey & Co. found that 87% of global shippers and logistics providers have maintained or increased investments in digital technology over the past three years. Transportation companies have poured billions of dollars into new technology to solve some of the industry’s greatest challenges.
“Freight and transportation businesses were underinvested in technology, with a lot of manual processes,” Hicks said. “Tech created disruption; we saw key elements where technology has helped logistics and supply chains. Now we’ve kind of been through a renaissance.”
According to Hicks, however, with those disruptions and changes come new problems and conversations, including the distribution of labor and the reorganization of processes.
“The reality is, technology can’t solve all the problems. The idea that we could eliminate all the people is far-fetched,” Hicks said.
Post COVID-19, ever-changing conditions have forced many companies to shift their operations. According to Hicks, cost, capacity and service remain the most important factors, and the key to optimizing and creating value for customers is investing correctly. “Maybe we were too manual, and then we invested heavily in technology, but now we’re back to center. We let cost, capacity and service drive where we make our investments,” Hicks said.
After revolutionizing the logistics space with the introduction of the load board platforms Carrier 360® and Shipper 360®, J.B. Hunt set its sights on creating long-term value.
“Eventually, we introduced a new mission statement, which was to ‘create long-term value for our people, our customers and our shareholders.’ We were very intentional about putting people first,” Hicks noted.
The value provided by companies like J.B. Hunt and other carriers and 3PLs comes not only from software or other technology, but from trusted expertise. As Hicks said, “Customers don’t buy our products and services for the 90% of the time that things go as they’re supposed to. They want our experience for the 5 to 10% of the time that complications arise.”
In finding the balance between the factors of cost, capacity and service, it’s service that best distinguishes one provider from another. “We make hard look easy,” said Hicks. “We want to overcome those challenges many times before a customer even realizes that they’ve occurred.”
Regarding future developments, Hicks believes that AI will be a major factor in coming years. “We’re all in different spots with respect to that journey. Some of us are already using AI in certain applications and evaluating what applications make sense for us in the future, and what makes sense to do manually,” he explained.
This balance of investment in technology and focus on people drives what J.B. Hunt seeks to accomplish in all aspects of its operations, from in-house logistics software to AI utilization to equipment upgrades for drivers.
“With 23,000 drivers that work with J.B. Hunt, it’s important for us to make them as safe as we can, for their own benefit and for the public. With features like forward radar technology, inward-facing cameras and blind spot detectors, we invest in making sure that our drivers are safe,” Hicks said.
The J.B. Hunt 360°® platform and the DRIVE app are just a few of the products that highlight J.B. Hunt’s commitment to people-oriented solutions.
“We believe strongly that if we invest in our people, equip our people and empower our people, then they’re positioned to do incredible things in taking care of our customers,” Hicks said.
Click here to learn more about J.B. Hunt Transport.

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