How Do Freight Brokers Track Shipments?

“Where’s my freight?”

This question shouldn’t be one your transportation provider has trouble answering. Knowing where your freight is located at any given moment is important to your business, your customer relationships and your bottom line.  

It’s not that you want to know your freight’s location at every second of its transit. No, you’re more concerned about your transportation provider’s ability to oversee your freight, verify it’s on-schedule transit, communicate any delays and step in if something goes wrong. 

You know that this can often mean the difference between an on-schedule delivery,  versus a costly disruption in your supply chain attributed to a lack of oversight and communication on your transportation provider’s part. 

Aside from that, having the ability to view your shipment’s location grants you the peace of mind to focus on other core parts of your business.  

At ATS Logistics, we’re obsessed with answering all of your questions about the trucking industry, an industry we’ve seen grow substantially over the past few decades. 

In this blog, we’ll do just that as we explain the methods freight brokerages use to track their customer’s freight while it’s in the hands of their carrier partners.

At its conclusion, this article will leave you with a better understanding of exactly how freight tracking works for freight brokers and how you can track your next shipment. 

How Do Brokers Utilize Load Tracking Systems?

Freight brokers like working with carriers who give them visibility to track their customer’s freight. 

Even though this isn’t always possible, carriers who offer load tracking — by utilizing software that provides these capabilities — are more attractive to brokers than those who don’t. As such, great brokers strive to continually fill their network with carriers who allow them in-transit load tracking visibility. 

The visibility this provides is very helpful to freight brokerages as they work to maximize the efficiency of their customer’s supply chain.

For brokers, tracking a semi-truck and its contents while in transit can be accomplished in a few different ways: 

  1. Tracking via electronic logging devices
  2. Tracking via mobile applications
  3. Tracking via regular phone call check-ins

1. Tracking Via Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs)

Trucker logging progress on an ELD

On February 16, 2016, a branch of the Department of Transportation (DOT) known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) passed its electronic logging device mandate. 

This federal mandate specifies that electronic logging devices (ELDs) must be used by all commercial motor vehicles — those weighing more than 10,001 pounds and manufactured after the year 2000 — to record their on-duty service hours

These ELDs — situated within the cab of semi-tractors — have become a highly effective alternative to the paper logs used to record truck driver hours of service previously. 

Where freight tracking is concerned, electronic logging devices provide an excellent solution for doing just that. 

Since these systems are already ingrained into the truck’s anatomy, carriers simply need to integrate load tracking-capable ELD software with their broker or a 3rd party system to give brokers visibility of in-transit locations. 

When working with carriers who utilize this method, brokers are given greater oversight of their customer’s freight. This allows them to check in regularly to ensure its successful and on-time transit.

Examples of load tracking ELD software that provide freight location visibility to brokers are:

Although this is not a comprehensive list — as there are a wide array of ELD systems available — when used properly these software systems grant brokers, and their customers, any needed load tracking visibility. 

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How Does This Help Shippers?

Information about a shipment’s location — when collected from ELDs — can be relayed to shippers using electronic data interchange (EDI) integrations between the brokerage’s and the shipper’s electronic systems.

If, however, a shipper would prefer to forgo EDI integration, many brokers also offer online load tracking portals where their customers can access this information.

In the end, load tracking via electronic logging devices helps shippers get the necessary pieces in place, and ready, for a truck’s arrival. This cuts down on extended loading times, accessorial charges and the unnecessary overtime payments dispatched by unprepared shippers/consignees. 

2. Tracking Via Mobile Applications

Truck driver logging progress on a mobile application

Load tracking mobile apps are another method brokers employ to track freight transported by their carrier network. These easily downloadable applications — when utilized by truckers — are a great tool for freight tracking. 

Some of the most common mobile applications used by carriers in this industry are: 

These carrier-friendly mobile apps grant real-time access to a shipment’s location information from the time it leaves a shipper's loading dock to the moment it arrives at its dropoff location. 

Information such as departure time, in-transit location and expected arrival time can all be recorded and tracked using these apps. 

How Does This Help Shippers?

Mobile apps like these give brokers advanced warning in the event that something should go wrong. This helps them find a solution for their customer's freight before any lasting damage occurs. 

In an industry as fast-paced as trucking, the more avenues of defense against mishaps brokers can employ, the better. Load tracking with these mobile apps is one such mechanism.  

Once again, all of the information a brokerage gathers from these systems can be easily integrated into their customer’s internal system or accessed via online portals. This makes relaying this important information quick and easy, granting convenience for all.

Related: What is a Freight Broker? (Your Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Freight Brokerage and Successfully Partnering With One)

3. Frequent Communication Via Phone Call Check-Ins

Freight Broker Checking In on a ShipmentIf, for any reason, a carrier doesn’t employ online load tracking technologies, be it they don’t feel comfortable with that heightened level of oversight or they don't have the resources needed to offer this capability, tracking the location of a shipment, although more difficult, is still possible. 

In these instances, a good broker will take it upon themselves to establish a regular schedule of communication with the carrier. This often takes the form of phone calls where updates are given regarding the progress a shipment is making as well as expected timelines for deliveries. 

Although this is more intensive than tracking carriers using easily accessible ELDs or mobile applications, good brokers do everything possible to grant their customers peace of mind and meet their timelines. 

Why is Freight Tracking Important?

Tracking freight at varying intervals of its transportation process is an excellent hedge against delays and more severe issues like a load’s failure.

For freight brokerages — third-party transportation providers whose main role is to make the lives of their customers easier — the ability to track a shipment is incredibly important. 

This importance, once again, comes back to the ability for brokers — who have a load’s tracking information — to take action where needed and foster transparent communication and trust between all parties. 

Note: With more than 17,000 brokers in the U.S., not all of them boast networks of heavily vetted and reliable carriers who utilize these technologies. As such, it’s important that, if this is important to your business,  you find a broker who can provide these capabilities. 

If you’d like to discuss how ATS Logistics can help you track your next shipment from start to finish, let’s talk.


Tags: Freight Brokerage, Technology, Carrier Network

Mark Andres

Written by Mark Andres

Mark has been with ATS Logistics, in various roles, since January 2006. Starting as a regional carrier representative, Mark's work ethic and leadership excellence helped him rise through ATS Logistics' ranks where he was promoted first to operations manager and then to operations director thereafter — a position he's held for over five years now. Although Mark enjoys many parts of his job, witnessing and contributing to the growth and development of ATS Logistics' employees tops the list as he strives to help each new hire reach their full potential as a member of the ATS Logistics family.

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