Big Data + Weather Variables = Predictive Transportation Management

One evening about a year ago, in a blinding flash of inspiration, Ultra Director of IT Darren Graham devised an idea to somehow incorporate climate data into the routing guides used by his company’s UltraShipTMS software to automate transportation management. Experience had shown Graham that seasonal shifts in temperature have predictable effects on when produce begins (or ends) shipping and these peaks and valleys were directly correlated to transportation capacity. Already possessed of a powerful algorithm to crunch highly variable data sets and determine the best shipping routes, freight allocations per shipment and delivery windows, Graham was confident that weather data could be fairly easily inserted into his company’s optimization engine. Yet, with more pressing, less esoteric challenges to address for existing clients, the idea remained just that – an idea to be pursued.

Fast forward to the present wherein as Dow Jones Business News reports, GMO agriculture leader Monsanto is undertaking a paradigm shift in its business model, moving rapidly into the farm analytics business or “farmalytics”. Monsanto recently acquired San Francisco-based startup, Climate Corp., for nearly $1billion. Clearly, Monsanto believes there is significant potential in this direction, evidenced by their bold and costly investment into a small company that sells hyper-local weather data to farmers in an effort to improve productivity in agricultural output.

WSJ’s David Kesmodel writes,

“Monsanto is betting that tapping vast databases to help farmers increase their production will be one of the fastest-growing areas of agribusiness in coming years. It also expects weather and soil analytics to lead to significant gains in crop yields, complementing the biotechnology advances made by Monsanto and its rivals.”

The end goal is to equip farmers with cloud-based technology that leverages big data to predict and exploit the optimal weather conditions for cultivation of any crop, automating the movements of farm equipment, thereby optimizing yields and providing more certainty to a traditionally unpredictable production process. With this level of data collection, analysis and actionable intelligence delivery, it seems much more plausible that crop yields could be predicted with enough accuracy to serve as the basis for predictive transportation management.

In fact, the consumers of transportation management system technologies – especially in the food production field – have already begun clamoring for solutions along this line of thinking. Graham reports that a number of recent client prospects have expressed interest in engaging a transportation software tool with the ability to automatically select between refer and van trucks, depending on the outside temperature. Clearly, this is an idea on the cutting edge of technology and transportation.

As the Dow Jones article points out, the steps taken by Monsanto leverage the nexus of the largest trends in technology today: Big Data, cloud, mobility and automation. If this all sounds familiar, it is because another industry that well all know (and love) is similarly situated at this nexus!


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