A new tool from Eden Prairie-based C.H. Robinson allowed the company to see freight disruptions in the dark minutes that surrounded this summer’s total solar eclipse.
It also proved its potential when hurricanes Harvey and Irma disrupted the flow of freight in and around Texas and Florida.
Third-party logistics firm C.H. Robinson said Navisphere Vision is more of a new product than an extension of the company’s existing Navisphere platform that helps companies manage transportation and sourcing information.
On Aug. 21, people across the total solar eclipse’s path flooded into small towns and cities, snarling traffic and shutting down distribution centers for hours.
In the 24-hour era of goods distribution, any delay could be serious for Robinson’s customers. Project managers at the company were able to spot potential delays instantly. The Navisphere Vision system proved it could keep clients in the loop so they could take action on their end.
C.H. Robinson is a $13.5 billion company and one of the world’s top five third-party freight-moving companies, working with nearly every Fortune 500 company in America and most of Minnesota’s best-known brands.
The company, with 14,125 employees, doesn’t own fleets of trucks or a lot of other assets. It makes money by brokering deals between manufacturers and transit companies and also sells the software systems that allow companies to track their freight.
C.H. Robinson launched Navisphere Vision, a software service platform, in mid-September with a Hollywood movie-style introductory trailer.
The SaaS platform, when coordinated with other third-party vendors and suppliers — plus external inputs like weather, traffic and geopolitical information — gives a company a real-time view of its supply chain.
Leveraging machine learning, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics means that the more a company uses the platform, the more predictive and accurate it becomes.
Chad Lindbloom, chief information officer of C.H. Robinson, said Navisphere Vision will be a separate product sold to customers regardless of whether C.H. Robinson manages their freight.
The target customers for Navisphere Vision are large complex shippers that utilize multiple modes of transportation — such as truck, rail, ship and air — through multiple countries.
“Vision is not just about putting dots on a map,” Lindbloom said. “We can calculate the probability of a shipment being late.”
That ability allows clients to quickly filter down to shipments that may need immediate attention and allows clients to take corrective actions and develop risk mitigation strategies.
Vision does more than track trucks, trains, ships and planes.
“We track the items and quantities in each individual shipment, as well as where is that shipment,” Lindbloom said.
Customers will pay an annual license fee, implementation and integration fees and a tiered volume fee dependent on the amount of freight that is tracked.
Total price depends on the size, complexity and existing information technology and data mining capabilities of the client company.
Clients get an unlimited number of users for Navisphere Vision and can expect implementation times to be anywhere from six to nine months depending on the client’s size, the complexity of its distribution network and the quality of its existing information technology procedures.
A dashboard view of the entire global supply chain can be used for executive presentations, but each user can create and save customized views and alerts along the supply chain by filtering through a number of different events and options.
“In general, companies are trying to increase the visibility across the supply chain,” said Kevin Linderman, the Curtis L. Carlson professor in supply chain and operations at the University of Minnesota. “You are seeing a lot of new technologies that are emerging to increase visibility these days. The supply chain is becoming more digitized.”
The success of the product is dependent on integrating information from all of the clients’ shippers and their different enterprise resource-planning systems. The platform can be successful with basic information, but it grows more powerful as more data is added.
“There is another revolution,” Linderman said. “We are integrating technology quite deeply into the supply chain and using it much more effectively than we have in the past.”
Because the product is built on C.H. Robinson’s Navisphere platform, the company’s product engineers are well versed in how to integrate all manner of shippers and enterprise resource-planning systems into their platforms.
And since C.H. Robinson works with the largest number of carriers in the industry, its engineers can populate algorithms that power Vision with some of the predictive analytics it has accumulated over more than 100 years.
“It’s powered by Navisphere and all our learnings, and that’s different from all our competitors in this area,” said Ryan Hammett, commercial project manager for Navisphere Vision in charge of overseeing the go-to market strategy and processes.
C.H. Robinson began development of the product in the fall of 2016 and worked with Microsoft as its main test customer.
Lindbloom said a core team of 15 to 17 product engineers will continue to develop the system. “We are not done with Navisphere Vision,” he said. “It will be continually enhanced in the future to be a more valuable tool.”