Chances are it will always be a challenge to hit on the best method for classifying freight. The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) system the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) has used for decades is detailed and comprehensive, and that makes it necessarily complex. Dimensioning is simple, but the necessary infrastructure is expensive, and it misses critical details in many cases.
Since I joined NMFTA as chief operating officer a few months ago, I’ve recognized something about the NMFC: It captures details that make a crucial difference both to shippers and carriers, and because of that we must take advantage of opportunities to make it easier to use.
That’s exactly what we’re now doing with the digital version of the NMFC book, called ClassIT.
Over the course of 2024, we’re subjecting ClassIT to a multiphase update that will make it more user-intuitive, easier to search and more friendly to workflow. We’ll do this by updating the tech stack, the user interface and the workflow, while incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into the process.
We didn’t come to these decisions by sitting around in our office and talking amongst ourselves. We went out and spent time with shippers, 3PLs, and carriers. We spent time on the docks. We reached out to top shipping executives and asked them to tell us their pain points.
And once we had heard from them, we realized: We can do what they’re asking us to do.
We expect to get all of it done this year, and we’re already well into the first phase – so let me tell you more about that.
The present version of ClassIT does not take advantage of a complex database structure. That worked fine when we launched it in 2006, but people’s expectations of the search experience are greater today. So we’re moving to a new database model that will increase the speed, performance and results of the search function. This will be the first phase.
Once we’ve upgraded the search capabilities, we’ll quickly move to upgrading the rest of the tech stack, after which we’ll add a much easier and more powerful user interface and workflow. This will improve the user experience tremendously. Even users who have no experience with the NMFC book will find ClassIT simple and intuitive once the new UI is live.
To top it all off, we’ll give ClassIT the full benefit of AI technology to help with those searches. And to ensure we give every user full access, we will be running not only on laptops and desktops but also adding support for IOS and Android.
This will complete an upgrade that completely transforms the experience of using ClassIT.
Classifying freight digitally will be easier than ever. It will be more like talking to Siri or Alexa and much less like the experience of following the steps in the book.
By the way, for fans of dimensioning, I want to make this clear: NMFTA is with you. We absolutely recognize there are times when dimensioning is sufficient. One of our not-so-far-down-the-road goals is to incorporate dimensioning into ClassIT so we can better service shippers, 3PLs, and carriers in those situations.
We want a system that gives you every possible way to get to the best results.
A challenge here is that, while dimensioning has its place, it also has its limits. Although dimensioning is sufficient for certain items of freight, it can’t account for important aspects in every situation. The classification system considers density, stowability, handling, and liability. In many cases, shippers who haven’t accounted for all four will find their carriers encounter problems during transport.
And while a growing number of carriers have invested in dimensioners, that remains a very expensive investment for all but the largest of shippers – and a very difficult one for which to show a return on investment.
NMFTA is not pro-classification and anti-dimensioning. NMFTA is pro-modernization and pro-good outcomes. The upgrade to ClassIT will move the process of shipping forward significantly in 2024. Our longer-term vision will find a place for every method. We’re going to make classifications easier while finding the right place for dimensioning in the process and in our system.
I’m very glad to announce these ClassIT upgrades, and to assure shippers, 3PLs, and carriers they can expect an upgraded experience as the year progresses.