There is a shift in the software industry towards web-based business applications. The premise is that by providing the software as a hosted service rather than the traditionally licensed products that we have grown accustomed to, there will be increased benefits and efficiencies to both developers and consumers.
For the average user this new kind of software will be easier, cheaper, more mobile, more reliable, and often more powerful than typical desktop solutions.
These new applications will be hosted on the software developer’s server, which the user then accesses through the Internet using a standard web browser as the main interface.
The developer hosts the program as well as the user’s data, and users will subscribe to the hosted applications and pay for the service as they use it, with the ability to choose from different features and service plans within the same version of the software.
This is important news for small trucking and brokerage businesses looking for cost-effective dispatch and transportation management solutions. These new tools allow paper-based organizations to move more freight faster, while giving their customers better service and information.
Up until now, most of us just assumed that in order to use an application we must first exchange money for a tangible product, install it ourselves, and hope that we have the right knowledge, hardware and operating system to get it to work – and stay working.
So, what prompted this new approach to selling software? The evolution of the Internet, and the need for portable software solutions, combined with better control over the delivery and management of the applications are the main catalysts of this trend. It appears to be the natural progression of the Internet that many industry figures predicted years ago, and we are one step closer to tapping into the Web’s true potential.
The futurists have always said that users should not be required to store data, which is an inconvenience that the Internet will soon put to rest. We will no longer need to save multiple copies of the same data – and email files to our home office in the hopes of avoiding a late night trip to the office. Software service providers backup data to redundant servers to alleviate our stresses and ensure full accessibility and zero down time.
With no software or hardware to buy, install, maintain, or upgrade, the popularity of on-demand, ‘software-as-a-service’ applications is growing quickly.
The use of the Internet as a key business tool will only increase, especially as more applications become available in web-based format to meet the changing needs of today’s consumers.
Dispatch software is also heading to the Web, which will come as a relief for many in the transportation and logistics sectors. The need for complete and up-to-date information under some of the most demanding of circumstances, make web-based information tools a must-have for a company of any size.
But how can smaller carriers compete against larger ones and distinguish themselves from one another? Using technology, such as the Internet to conduct business and manage information is the key. Effective technology has become more affordable, without the need to change your operation to adapt to the current solution-in-a box offerings.
Create orders online and email pick-up details to drivers or carriers from home. Send your invoices electronically and save on printing, postage and administrative costs. Provide an online resource that clients can log onto and trace or enter their order information directly into your system. The possibilities are endless, as are the benefits.
Use of a PDA or communications device in place of a desktop machine will become even more popular, and essential, as our information increases in accessibility.
The playing field has definitely been leveled, and having such tools will demonstrate to clients and prospective customers that your operation is not only competent, but also professional and forward thinking.
Online environments are now becoming the first line of communication and contact, and utilizing technology to enhance the customer experience will go a long way towards ensuring success. Demonstrating your company’s ability to provide timely, accurate information builds customer confidence, which leads to customer loyalty and, ultimately, a competitive advantage.
If you choose to join the mobile workforce or create a virtual office, you can still access your business applications from any Internet connection anywhere in the world. Your effectiveness will no longer be limited to the time you spend chained to your desk accessing data on your local computer.
Users can now also subscribe to software that they would previously have to purchase, install, maintain and support all on their own. Since the application resides on the hosts’ servers, you will be able to focus on using the product instead of trouble shooting or running updates, which has been a deterrent in the entry-level market.
Businesses can reduce the need for costly hardware expenditures as these new applications only require a standard web browser as the user’s interface, essentially eliminating system slow downs or the occasional system crash. And because the sales and distribution process is simpler and more cost effective than desktop applications, users will be able to find web-based solutions at a fraction of the price.
There are a number of other benefits to utilizing the Web, such as cross-platform compatibility, immediacy of access, and safer data. The same application can be used on your office PC, your child’s iMac, and even the Internet café you find on your next vacation. Your platform of choice will continue to have less to do with the software that you intend to use, and more on the extra features that the hardware itself will offer you.
Without the need for set up and installation on the user’s end, the applications are ready for action the moment you get your user name and password, which may encourage less tech-savvy users to try software that they would typically shy away from.
There will also no longer be a need to support outdated versions as all users will be on the same version, and all updates happen instantaneously – with less administrative costs. Essentially, users will never be running obsolete versions or missing out on the latest technology.
And because the software providers have redundant servers and automated back-up procedures, your data will be much safer there than on the spam-infested machine in your home office.
Just imagine being able to go to any Internet hot spot and stay as connected, and as productive, as your current desktop set up. Working from home or offsite location is now not only possible, but in many cases, preferred. Think of all the unproductive time spent chained to your desk or all of the deals put off until you “get back to the office.” Those times will soon seem like a vague memory.
Although web-based applications are expected to become commonplace over the next several years, there are a growing number of products available today, and many small and medium transportation companies are taking full advantage of the new tools to make their operations more competitive. Cost effective web tools will be essential for success in the transportation sector and will help to control administrative costs in a fiercely competitive industry.
This truly is a win-win situation for all involved, but the real champions will be those that make the shift sooner as opposed to later.
Greg Parker is an Implementation Specialist with Virtual Dispatch Limited in Stouffville, Ont., a provider of thick client and web-based dispatch software and solutions throughout North America. www.virtualdispatch.com
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