COVID-19 pandemic has totally reshaped supply and demand for LTL trucking in the US. SMC3’s software has helped shippers and carriers cope with the pandemics’ supply chain complexities.

Customers of logistics technology provider SMC3 are scrambling for help like never before. SMC3 specializes in assisting less than truckload (LTL) shippers and carriers with software designed to make their work more efficient. LTL logistics is complicated in the best of times. With the Covid-19 pandemic, that complexity has intensified exponentially.

“Market dynamics are changing so fast, and they’re so unpredictable,” said Brian Thompson, SMC3’s chief commercial officer, in a Zoom call. “Supply and demand have never changed faster.”

Brian Thompson, SMC3’s chief commercial officer
Brian Thompson, SMC3’s chief commercial officer

The impact of the pandemic has completely upended supply chains, thrown demand for many goods completely out of whack and complicated transportation and delivery immensely. This unprecedented shift has underscored the need by shippers, carriers and 3PLs alike to be extraordinarily agile. Some of the changes now taking place will most likely continue post-pandemic. Like much of life, LTL-related logistics must deal with “the new normal.”

Technology is the Key for SMC3

Technology is key to staying on top of this transformation. “The pandemic necessitates the need to really leverage new technologies. Everybody out there is looking for an answer for how to help them do their jobs more efficiently,” Thompson said, adding: “Especially as the economy starts opening up again, the pressures that they felt a month ago are just going to increase.” 

To respond to these rapidly changing dynamics, there’s an ever-greater need for instant visibility, for more data and information flowing from carriers to shippers and 3PLs, said Thompson. “I see that continuing to accelerate,” he said.

SMC3 is on this year’s list of American Journal of Transportation’s 50 IoS Market Innovators.

Based in Atlanta, SMC3 offers a variety of software that arm transportation management systems with enhanced capabilities. These functions include everything from pricing analytics, scheduling pickups and tracking shipments, to documents retrieval, invoice auditing and transit data.

SMC3 doesn’t offer a transportation management system per se, but through its platform better empowers a TMS by supplying additional features.

Perhaps most importantly, the system provides much greater connectivity and visibility throughout the transit cycle. It allows, for example, recognition of a carrier’s PRO number across platforms so that shippers can easily track when a truck will arrive on a dock. 

“Our technology helps level the playing field for shippers and carriers, makes the shippers more knowledgeable, puts more information at their fingertips in a very, very cost effective way, and helps carriers and shippers act more as partners through the process,” said Thompson.

Customers are shippers and carriers, as well as 3PLs, which, Thompson said, tend to invest in technology more heavily and are often first adopters. 

SMC3 works with more than 100 technology-provider “partners,” which enables the company to roll out new technologies much faster, he said. “That speed, that adoption rate is very quick, versus if every individual shipper out there tried to adopt every new piece of technology, it would be a slow crawl,” said Thompson.

Originally, SMC3 was called Southern Motor Carriers Rate Committee. It was founded in the 1930s and served as an organization that compiled and published tariffs for Florida truckers. The organization began to fashion rates-related software for LTL shippers in 1998. Czar Lite, which gives shippers the ability to select carriers based transport rates, still exists.

Czar Lite works, Thompson said, because carriers trust SMC3 with their data and believe that SMC3 offers an unbiased, neutral presentation of the rates.

In 2005, Southern Motor Carriers unveiled BidSense, a bid procurement application. This allows shippers the ability to evaluate carriers. Two years later, the company changed its name to SMC3. In 2016, the company unveiled its SMC3 platform, which, through application programming interface, or API, enables Web-based services to shippers and carriers alike. “We’ve really broadened our offerings to support the entire LTL shipment lifecycle,” said Thompson.

According to Thompson, this helps carriers as well as shippers. For example, he said, an LTL shipment is usually more complicated than a full truckload shipment, if, only because it often involves more than one carrier. So, carriers can use the SMC3 platform to have more information about each other’s movements.

SMC3 Products Aimed at Carriers

The company has products aimed specially at carriers. One is a “cost intelligence system,” which “enables carriers to identify the profitability at the shipment customer or even the lane level,” said Thompson, adding that about 65% of all LTL shipments are costed using this system. “Carriers have to have their fingers on the pulse of the market and know which way it’s going to go,” said Thompson. “They don’t have the luxury of hauling freight that’s not profitable.”

Thompson believes that SMC3 technology “levels the playing field” between shippers and carriers, but also allows them to act more as partners and operate more cost effectively. “It saves time. It saves frustration,” he said.

The current supply chain crisis and the upending of normal transport flows may well have a lasting effect on the way carriers establish rates and price their business, Thompson believes. In the past, he said, pricing has been contractual. If a carrier wanted to change the rate for a particular lane, it was subject to individual negotiation.

Thompson offered the following illustration: Normally, March and April mark peak production time for auto manufacturing. Trucks traveling from, say, Ohio to Florida would travel full, whereas they are relatively empty on the backhaul. Rates reflect this. But this year, auto manufacturers shut down in March and April. “It threw “LTL networks completely out of whack,” Thompson said.

But carriers couldn’t adjust rates downward to attract other kinds of business from Ohio. Nor could they adjust rates upwards for current customers who ship far less.  

“I see the carriers needing to price more dynamically and transactionally instead of in the past, where everything’s been very contractual,” he said. “It’s the ability to respond to those kind of swings in dynamics” that handcuffs carriers. “Our technology will help shippers, 3PLs and carriers all get access and visibility to the data and information that they need to make the decisions when they need to make it, so they can adjust quickly. We want them to be as responsive as possible. And to do that, you need the information and you need the analytics.”