In the 1970s, Monroe A. “Moe” Jubitz noticed that drivers were waiting around his Portland, Ore., truck stop for their next load. He started posting available freight shipments on a monitor, charged for shippers’ phone numbers and called it Dial-A-Truck.
It didn’t take long for the service to take off. Four decades later, the business now known as DAT Solutions is considered the trucking industry’s premier load board, freight-rate aggregator and industry data provider.
The monitors are still around, too. Wall-mounted widescreen monitors sprinkled throughout DAT’s modern, two-story office building just outside the Portland city limits in Beaverton help staff keep tabs on 500,000 freight load requests that flow through the company’s tech platform each day.
Though DAT executives prefer to keep a low profile and let the 40-year-old company’s work speak for itself, don’t be surprised to hear more from them in the future.
“In spite of the fact that we’re relatively quiet compared to startups or new entrants, we’re making substantial investments in improving what we offer customers,” said DAT President Claude Pumilia in a Trucks.com interview. “Our vision for the future is to keep enhancing what this network can do for customers, making the connection more streamlined so we both do better.”
A Record Year
A strong economy and increased demand for fast deliveries created by online shopping have been good for DAT. The company expects to end 2017 with 159 million load and truck postings, a 59 percent jump compared with the previous year. It will be the largest year-over-year gain in its history.
DAT also has benefited from the number of small carriers entering the business. In the past two years, the number of trucks in its system doubled, to more than 1.3 million, a statistic that company executives believe make it the largest source of aggregated trucking capacity in the world.
By collecting information from a database of 65,000 freight lanes and $33 billion in invoices, DAT is able to sell freight rates and analytics for optimizing routes. Its freight data arm was a go-to source of information on logistics affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
DAT cemented its position as an industry leader in the early days of the internet by building a Java-based technology platform that was cutting edge for the time.
It’s continued to innovate, though not always successfully. An early mobile app, introduced in 2007 at the same time Apple unveiled the first iPhone “was a flop,” said Don Thornton, DAT’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We were going out to truck stops and showing them to drivers, and they would look at it and go, ‘That doesn’t make sense.’”
The company continues to evolve its back-end and front-end technology to accommodate how carriers and shippers want to work. “The overall idea of what we do hasn’t changed,” Thornton said. “The platforms have been rebuilt every five years.”
Carriers typically work with multiple brokers and load boards. If they do, DAT may get a piece of that business as well, as the company serves the “great majority” of the top 100 U.S. third-party logistics and freight brokers, said Eileen Hart, DAT’s vice president of marketing and communications.
Other customers include venture-backed or other well-financed startups such as Uber Freight, which offers mobile-based, on-demand load matching. “We don’t want to see them fail. They’re our customers,” Thornton said.
An Uber Freight spokeswoman confirmed the ride-hailing giant’s 5-month-old startup is a DAT customer. So is Loadsmart, another venture-based freight matching service.
Even if DAT doesn’t work with every U.S. carrier, broker or startup, the company’s market share is “commanding,” said Cathy Morrow Roberson, principal at industry analyst Logistics Trends & Insights.
Pumilia maintains DAT has little to fear from Uber Freight, but he concedes the startup has been smart to position itself as a trucker-friendly alternative to existing services. As part of its initial marketing push, Uber Freight has sponsored concerts and other events for truckers and is active on social media.
“They’re staring at zero. We’re starting at 500,000 loads a day,” Pumilia said.
DAT won’t stand still.
“You’re probably going to see us in the marketplace more than in the past, there are more things to talk about,” Pumilia said.
Like the rest of the industry, DAT faces plenty of challenges, namely competition, a dearth of truck drivers that could affect future loads, and forecasts for smaller freight volumes in coming years, Roberson said.
While trucking currently dominates other modes of getting freight from point A to point B, its share is expected to dip to 67.2 percent by 2028 from 70.7 percent this year, according to the American Trucking Associations.
For DAT to continue growing, the company should consider expanding the freight modes it offers, Roberson said. Intermodal, which uses standardized containers to transport cargo on trucks, trains or ships, “would seem a logical move,” she said.
DAT is open to acquisitions, Pumilia said.
“Historically we’ve been a company that built our own technology. But we would be open to purchasing if it fit strategically,” he said.
If and when that happens, DAT parent company Roper Technologies is well positioned to help. In 2001, Jubitz sold DAT to TransCore, which bought several other companies before itself being acquired by Roper for $600 million in 2004. Roper has used such acquisitions to shape itself into a $3.8-billion technology conglomerate with extensive holdings in enterprise software vendors.
Roper doesn’t break out financials for DAT. However, the freight data company is part of Roper’s RF Technology & Software group, which in 2016 had net sales of $1.2 billion, close to a third of the company’s net sales.
For 2017, Roper forecast revenue for the RF Technology & Software Group could increase up to 60 percent based on strong software growth in that division.
For now, DAT is focused on growing internally. The company has 250 employees, and another 24 openings listed on job site Indeed.com for data scientists, engineers and software developers, compliance representatives, product managers and sales reps.
To stay competitive, DAT is working on new ways to analyze and monetize the enormous amounts of information it collects, including offering more analytics similar to what the company used to help carriers re-route traffic in and out of Houston and Miami during recent hurricanes there.
“It was the busiest two to three weeks my department has ever seen,” because of requests from customers and media outlets for updates on how the storms affected freight movement, Hart said.
Predictive analytics will arrive sooner than autonomous vehicles, which Pumilia doesn’t expect to appear as soon as some in the industry predict because of regulatory and technology hurdles.
“It’s hard to imagine pervasive use in the next five years. It might be more like 10 years,” he said. “Our approach is to keep watching the market carefully and make investments or provide solutions to our customers as that changes.”