The average Fortune 500 company has as many as 50 different software systems in place to collect data and generate reports on everything from billing and payroll to human resources.
David McJannet, senior product manager with Microsoft Canada, says companies are looking at a concept called ‘Business Intelligence’ to consolidate those systems into one easy-to-use platform that “empowers users to make good decisions.”
And it appears the trucking industry is taking notice. McJannet said over the past few years, BI systems have trickled down from senior executive offices and into the hands of middle management and even customers. The systems provide a “dashboard” of sorts, which displays key indicators that allow users to make smart business decisions.
Challenger Motor Freight was one of the first major Canadian trucking companies to roll out a major BI system. Eveline Gaede, director of information technology with Challenger, says as her company branched out to offer new services such as third-party logistics and warehousing, it became necessary to simplify data collection and reporting methods.
Challenger opted for a Microsoft-based system called ProClarity because it utilized an interface most Challenger employees were already familiar with.
“About five years ago when we branched into other areas, we ended up with a lot of different software solutions,” explained Gaede. “It made it really difficult to get consistent information.”
For instance when trying to determine truck availability, Gaede said each department would have a different opinion.
“I can look out at the yard and see 15 trucks out there but the shop knows three of those trucks need to have work on them so they see 12 available trucks,” she explained. “Driver services knows they only have 10 drivers so they see 10 trucks. Everybody has their own perspective.”
Challenger had to first define what constitutes an available truck and then through its BI system was able to provide a single answer on truck availability and other issues. When it first began toiling in the BI world, Challenger rolled the system out to senior management in the finance, sales and marketing departments. It has since been rolled out right down the line to driver managers as well as customers who can now tap into the system to view real-time billing and account information. Drivers can’t yet tap into the system themselves, but they can request information generated by the BI system from their managers.
Challenger has yet to determine a return on investment, but the company is constantly finding new applications for its BI system, Gaede told Motortruck Fleet Executive. For instance it recently began using the system to develop a fuel network so it can better control its fuel costs. It’s a move that the company says will save it four cents per litre on fuel purchases.
“We look at where drivers are buying fuel and the cost of fuel, and now we can create a fuel network,” she said. “We have a bargaining tool now with fuel suppliers where we can say ‘We’re spending 100% of our business here, give us a better rate.'”
The company is also using the system to track the performance of new components from suppliers.
“We use it to negotiate with truck and engine vendors. If they say their equipment should save us money and we’re finding it does not, there’s not much they can say when you have all the data and you bring it to the vendors,” she said. “It’s giving us better information to make important decisions.”
Challenger’s new BI solution is also replacing traditional methods of measuring driver performance. The ProClarity system allows the company to collect data on hard braking applications, excessive idling and speeding.
“We can bring a driver in early and do some re-training,” said Gaede.
Since Challenger chose a Microsoft-based BI solution, it was relatively easy for employees to get used to, Gaede said. But she admits it has taken some time for customers to get used to having so much information readily available at any time.
“The biggest issue we’ve had was the fact that we had to change the way we thought about reporting,” she said. “In the past, you ask for a report and then you throw the paper away. We’re asking users to be more in control of how they want to receive their reports. They have the capability themselves to go into more detail, compare year-to-year and that kind of thing. It was a learning curve but the tool is not difficult to use and it has the standard Internet look.”
In fact, she said Challenger’s largest customers have really taken to the new technology.
“It really helps when dealing with very large customers,” she said. “Big companies require a certain amount of reporting and we can do it and we can tailor it to their needs and their timetable.”
James Menzies is the executive editor of sister publications Truck News and Truck West. He holds a commercial drivers’ licence and has test driven trucks all over Canada, the US, Asia and Europe. An award-winning writer, he has also co-authored a book about trucks from around the world.