Order in and Head Out

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Automated functions, reduced duplication and information sharing with clients are three of the most important features of dispatching software.

“The heart for small carriers is the delivery of an integrated package, so costing and revenue is delivered together. There is also opportunity for integration with maintenance and order entry,” says Tim Bowes, vice-president, sales and marketing for Calgary-based Richer Systems Group Inc. (RSG).

Dispatching is part of RSG’s Enrich Fleet Management system, which handles a wide range of functions, from dispatch to claims settlement to safety and compliance tracking, The point, says Jim Thrall, the vice-president of Score Corporation in Detroit, an RSG partner, is, “you have to be a jack of all trades.”

“You can take the order in real-time and put it straight in the system. You can answer any questions right up front,” says Bowes. With the order and service parameters available on-screen, the dispatcher or service representative can figure out miles, use a pricing scheme to come up with rates and fax or e-mail forms, all at the same time.

The RSG dispatch functions link to the accounting department to provide automatic settlement as soon as a driver is dispatched. A company with 100 drivers can go from three people to just one person working half time to do driver settlement, according to Thrall. “Adding another 20 drivers to the process can be done without additional staff.”

Bowes adds, “That is always the value proposition we offer. You can streamline – do your business transactions with the least amount of people.”

TruckMate for Windows (TM4Win), a solution offered by British Columbia-based Maddocks Systems Inc., also enhances efficiency. Customer service representatives take inbound calls and set up bills. They can get mileage information on-screen, see their rating system (mileage, weight) and key in load types. “Before it is passed to the dispatcher the entire freight bill is prepared and entered, making payment that much quicker, [then] floats across to a dispatcher, who can see all the available loads and drivers and available equipment in a region,” says Maddocks Systems marketing manger Neal Cranna.

TM4Win has dispatching, operations and accounts in one system. “Every piece of information I’ve entered in the system can be recaptured. You can look at profitability by truck, or driver …,” says Cranna. Another dispatch function can find the best route for deliveries, specify the most practical or shortest route, automatically create the necessary trip legs and track the drivers and their loads along their routes.

About a year and a half ago Maddocks Systems launched TM4Web. It lets clients book on-line, and it feeds into the TruckMate system. Shippers can also get 24/7 real-time information as dispatchers update it. Client access, says Cranna, “is something to which we are moving to more and more. I definitely think it is becoming the future … the more easily our customers can handle vast amounts of information the more successfully they will be able to handle the changing demands and needs of their customers.”

RSG customers can also pull data from the carrier and, notes Thrall, “The carrier can also push information out as e-mails to customers. This push-pull technology allows customers to get more information.”

Maddocks Systems markets to fleets with more than 20 trucks: its average client fleet size is 75 trucks, and the range is 20-1000 trucks. “You have to utilize all the software and functionalities to get the ROI. An LTL pushing though 500 bills a day can use us, but a truckload guy, owner-operator or a two to three truck fleet – we don’t often get them,” Cranna explains.

A choice fleets have to make when buying a dispatch solution is whether to buy software that resides in the fleets’ own computers, or to subscribe to a application service provider (ASP). RSG software resides in its facility and carriers use it via an Internet connection.

“There is a significant reduction in the up-front capital; for example, computer server, software application licences, the ongoing maintenance and upgrade costs, backing up, availability of the system, a customer has to invest to get the functionality. A hosted solution takes so much off the customer’s plate,” says Thrall. Bower adds that for smaller customers “it becomes a better service.” The cost can be as little as $25 a month per tractor. RSG has 400 users from 27 companies with fleets sizes ranging from 200-4000 pieces per fleet, so the demand for ASPs is certainly there.

Maddocks Systems, on the other hand, sells its software solution to the fleets. “As a company our position is that ASP is a new technology and a lot of companies are not ready to rely on an outside source. An ASP solution is definitely one for companies that don’t want to invest in hardware,” says Cranna, with whom the company’s 400 clients obviously agree.

Dispatch systems become that much more powerful if telematics information – automated location, vehicle status data and communications transmitted wirelessly from on-the-road trucks – can be integrated into them. “There is an explosion in the kind, cost and quality of wireless service. Vehicle systems can feed data to our systems … they make our systems more valuable, especially with an integrated system at the back end. This in turn makes the telematics more valuable,” says Thrall.

Efficiency in the office can be matched with en-route efficiency: in route selection, strategic fuel purchasing and fuel tax reporting, to name a few strategies. Ajax, Ontario-based ProMiles Canada Inc., specializes in routing software, although it integrates with most popular dispatch programs, according to company president Mark Bowie.

ProMiles has three modules, which add up to a virtual encyclopedia and assistant: The first is the ProMiles Mileage Guide, with features such as an interactive map with over a million locations, 815,000 miles of truck-usable highway, trip planning, ways to avoid toll roads, truck stop information, fuel optimization and regular updates.

The fuel tax-reporting module automates IFTA, MileTax, MPG, IRP, SSR, Equipment, Audit, and State reports. The fuel management program, by showing daily fuel prices at 6000 truck stops, allows drivers to strategically plan fuel purchases. Among other information, the fuel prices show the amount of refundable/creditable fuel tax included in the pump price. Since that varies between states, the best retail price might not necessarily yield the best net deal for the driver.

About $50 dollars a month purchases ProMiles on line. ProMiles puts out a new release every year that shows, for example, new highways and trucker services locations.

ProMiles offers its programs on CD or as an ASP solution. Clients will have to assess their own comfort level with software residing outside of their office, but for users comfortable with the Internet, it need not be any more intimidating than logging on to the Environment Canada Web site for the weather forecast.

“The ability to distribute software via downloads and the ability to remotely install, adjust, setup, and train via the Internet all contribute to these types of programs being affordable by a larger segment of the industry,” says Bowie. “Add to this the increased ‘computer literacy’ of today and the ‘fear factor’ soon diminishes.”

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