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***SPECIAL: INSIDE BISON TRANSPORT (October 24, 2003)

Highlighting the leading-edge technologies Bison Transport is leveraging to improve life on the road and boost cust...


Highlighting the leading-edge technologies Bison Transport is leveraging to improve life on the road and boost customer service

It’s probably one of the best-kept secrets in business, but trucking has quietly emerged as one of the most technology-driven of industries. Growing a fleet to a size capable of handling the volume demands of even the largest of shippers is no longer enough. It must be matched with the technologies that can move freight across docks, borders and an entire continent in the most efficient manner, while at the same time providing customers with meaningful visibility into the transportation process.

Simply put, technology has become a proving ground for carriers looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded market place.

Behind the scenes of Bison’s phenomenal growth over the past decade has been a commitment to leverage technology to not only drive operational efficiencies but also driver and customer satisfaction.

“We’ve made a commitment to make it really easy for our customers and our drivers to do business with us and technology can help us do that. Our management team sees technology investment not as a necessary evil but as an opportunity to be better than the competition,” says Jeff Pries, Vice President, Sales & Marketing. “How we use the technology
we have is what makes us different.”

Bison’s strategy is to purchase vertical applications, such as dispatch or accounting software, and to internally customize them to address the specific needs of their
customers and drivers.

“Even where we’ve bought off-the-shelf technology our fingerprints are all over it, as we customize it to our operation and make it go further for us than it does for our competitors who have bought the same system,” says Mike Ludwick, Vice President, Information Systems. “The capability to customize technology internally also gives us the flexibility to react to specific customer requests and not take three or six months to do it, which is the typical time frame for externally developed customized solutions. If we are going to start business with a new customer next week and they need information reported in a certain way, we will do it.”

The in-house developed i-Tools available on-line through Bison’s Web-site (www.BisonTransport.com) are a good case in point. i-View, is a Bison-developed Web-site tool that allows customers to view their shipping documents on-line. Proofs of Delivery, billing information, and invoice support are made available 24/7 at the click of a mouse. “Better yet we can make the documents available for viewing on-line for our customers’ customers. They can then track the shipments and confirm receipt,” Ludwick points out.

i-Track is another automated on-line tool Bison has designed to provide its customers with real-time information about their shipments via e-mail. Available i-Track reports include load tracing and shipment history, undelivered loads, pick-ups, and deliveries, among others. The system has been designed to be flexible enough to allow shippers to determine how often they want to see the reports and for what time period.

The newest on-line tool is “e-Invoicing”. This new initiative offers customers the ability to electronically receive their freight invoices from Bison. The designated contact e-mail address provided by customers receives an e-mail containing a PDF file of their invoice, ac-companied by the corresponding Proof of Delivery, or POD.

Not only has Bison customized reports to its customers’ needs, it’s capable of communicating with customers in a variety of export formats ranging from traditional phone, fax and EDI to e-mail, the Internet and XML.

“This way we ensure our customers receive the exact reports they need in a timely manner and in a way that allows them to be used within their own specific system. The result is a reduced cost of transaction for everyone,” Ludwick explains.

Understanding how important drivers are to its growth plans and continued success, Bison has also made certain that its technology investments help make life on the road easier and more productive.

Its entire fleet is equipped with Qualcomm’s satellite system, which allows drivers to communicate routine information quickly and efficiently with Bison’s fleet coordinators.

“We realize the phone is still the best way to have a conversation and we encourage our drivers to call in regularly. But by having satellite technology take care of such routine items as bill of lading numbers, directions and delivery notifications, we now have time to talk to drivers about things such as home time or safety; the things that add value,” Ludwick says.

Bison also uses satellite tools in some special ways. It regularly posts satellite message boards for drivers on things such as fuel prices, corporate announcements and safety reminders. The result is a cab that feels a little closer to home. It even provides drivers with the option to communicate with family and friends while on the road outside the Bison network.

CabCard is an option with the Cancom-supplied Qualcomm satellite system which includes an international phone card and in-cab e-mail which can be sent between the cab and any other Internet address without the intervention of Bison staff. And for those without e-mail addresses, friends and family can call an 800 number and select a predefined message to send to the driver. There are no monthly fees or contracts for the CabCard service. Even the set up charge has been waived. Drivers can add funds to their CabCard balance from the cab using a credit card.

That desire to make the driver’s experience with Bison as problem-free and productive as possible is also the reason behind Bison’s newest technology project: the Driver Information Management System (DIMS). This groundbreaking tool integrates data from several driver in-formation applications to provide Bison staff with a rich load of detail about each individual driver from just a glance at their computer screen. It will even be used to track driver satisfaction.

“Everyone in contact with drivers will know exactly the things each individual driver will need to be made aware of. If the driver has a licence that needs updating, our staff will know it from a quick look on their screen and can give him the data; if the driver has a scheduled personal appointment , they will know and remind him of it,” explains Trevor Fridfinnson, Director of Operations. “The driver is able to ask us what he/she needs to take care of, and we have the information. We want to show drivers the respect to save them the time of having to think of all these things.”

“DIMS is in its first phase right now but we have grand plans as to how this tool will further improve the way we deal with drivers.”

The final piece of the technology puzzle is providing the operational visibility necessary to drive productivity and reduce costs. Beyond investing in satellite tracking and tracing technology, Bison has developed several tools that allow it to know precisely where its equipment is and what it’s doing. Its new balance grid system tells operations at a quick glance how many drivers are available in a particular region versus the loads that are available. The system not only tracks the data, it provides trending reports so Bison’s operations staff can see days in advance if a particular day is shaping up to have “normal” shipment volumes or if additional trucks need to be brought into play.

In addition Bison has developed a map tool that plots the location of every piece of equipment in its fleet on an electronic map. The benefit to both drivers and shippers is immediate: “This information is used to identify switch opportunities that are easier to see visually. Using this we canget drivers home faster and to help out customers along the route,” Ludwick explains.

Technology also plays a leading role in Bison’s maintenance strategy, providing an intelligent way to manage the delicate balance between industry
-leading maintenance standards and operating efficiency.

“The company that goes the distance on maintenance will have the best equipment on the road in the long run. But we are in the business of delivering freight, not fixing trucks, so the maintenance has to be made to match the operating schedule as much as possible,” says Robert Penner, Vice President, Operations. “We have to know when a truck is going to arrive, how close it is to its preventive maintenance schedule, what other work can be done on it, what the driver’s status is, etc. Our system is designed to give all the information we need to schedule maintenance in a way that keeps our trucks maintained to the highest standards without interfering with our delivery schedules.”

A detailed warranty tracking system that would be the envy of many in the industry reduces costs by helping Bison get the most mileage out of its warranty programs. The system is sophisticated enough that it can, for example, tell maintenance staff that while the particular truck being worked on may have only one year of warranty left on it, the part in question may have three years of warranty left on it.

In the future the elite carriers will be competing on the strength of their technologies. Bison is taking the steps now to ensure it has the technologies that sets it apart.

NEXT WEEK: Bison’s drivers and owner/operators speak from the heart about life on the road with one of Canada’s fastest growing fleets.

Available at www.BisonTransport.com
Use i-Track to Track and Trace your orders in real-time using satellite technology
Look at detailed information on specific loads as well as their status throughout the entire trip
View and request documents online such as POD’s and Bill of Ladings with i-View
Have delivery or pickup notifications e-mailed directly to you as soon as they happen
View a list of available equipment ready to handle inbound Canadian freight from the U.S.
Do a quick search using your reference numbers to see the current status and location for your load
Receive load reports by e-mail that detail completed loads or all of your loads currently in progress
You can do rate requests, mileage inquiries and so much more, all with the click of a mouse


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