Gauging Success

KPI Web Portal, a new product from Maddocks Systems, provides a visual display of measurable performance statistics that are compiled directly from its Truck-Mate for Windows software.

Much as a truck driver would use a dashboard, David Summitt views real-time information about his company on a flat-screen monitor. These gauges help Summitt, president of Clarksville, Ind.-based Summitt Trucking, respond immediately to signs of poor performance, so he can make the necessary adjustments to keep his business on course.

Summitt Trucking, which operates 145 trucks, uses a feature of TMW Systems’ management software that allows managers to monitor company-wide performance data in real-time on virtual dashboards. This feature, called ResultsNow by TMW, is customized to meet Summitt Trucking’s specific information needs. TMW consultants worked with Summitt and his managers to identify and set up their metrics.

One screen, which only Summitt can access, shows the total cash received and cash spent each day and past-due accounts. With a mouse click, he can pull up a live scorecard for each fleet manager’s performance based on metrics, such as revenue-per-truck per day, deadhead and out-of-route miles. Another click brings up a dashboard that includes live graphs for data, such as daily revenue, billing accuracy and number of bills.

Real-time performance management systems that feature live dashboards help managers deliver business-critical information from the back-end to the forefront of the company. In a dynamic business like transportation, executives typically use information collected over several weeks or months to assess business trends and to make strategic decisions. But trucking executives are busy and should find the concept of real-time dashboards desirable because managers do not have the time to run 10 to 15 different reports to unearth trends, says David Hockersmith, president of Trans-Soft, a software developer for freight forwarders.

Executive dashboards represent an evolution in the automation of information flow into the offices of many carriers today. Dashboards are a way to automate the reporting of metrics that drive performance in your business to managers and front-line employees. Some carriers even choose to display live data in a virtual war room setting to focus their employees’ attention on performance and to provide decision support tools.

Next-generation reporting
One factor driving fleets and technology vendors to develop live dashboard and scorecard-type reporting systems is the amount of automated data entry into their management systems, says Brian Widell, president of Profit Tools, a provider of transportation management software. Exception reporting – using instant notification or pop-up alerts when inputs fall above or below established standards – has become a standard for managing automated information flow from sources such as electronic data interchange (EDI), mobile communication updates, fuel interfaces and document imaging systems. So company managers increasingly don’t routinely handle or view the data they generate or receive.

To make quicker decisions on data, some carriers are interested in developing dashboard-type systems to extract and present key performance indicators in a centralized view throughout all levels of an organization, Widell says. The whole point of dashboards is to deliver information so quickly that managers can improve results in real time, he says.

Many carriers already use spreadsheets and report writers based on Structured Query Language (SQL) to build custom reports in Microsoft Excel, Crystal Reports and even sophisticated business intelligence systems (see “Success in numbers, “CCJ, July 2002). The latest trend in software development is to deliver critical business information to the right people in an organization far faster than they could get the same information from spreadsheets, says Tom McLeod, president of McLeod Software.

Executive dashboards use a graphical interface to draw from a deep supply of working information to present key performance metrics, particularly from the financial systems. Dashboards for middle managers and front-line employees, such as drivers, would focus more on data that drives operational performance. (See “Scorecards for drivers,” page 24.)

Automation is key
A dashboard is really just a way to automate a manual process you may already have in place today. Many carriers, for example, appoint someone to create and manually gather information for a “morning report,” McLeod notes.

Managers of MCST Preferred Transportation meet every morning to “set the tone for the day,” says George Campbell, general manager of the 75-truck, Jersey City, N.J.-based carrier. A

A new product from TMW Systems Inc. called ResultsNow by TMW offers trucking company owners and employees constant access to real-time information on their business’ performance.

major element of that meeting involves reviewing the results from the previous day to determine “what we need to overcome, solve or recover from a loss,” Campbell says. Metrics that MCST Transportation reports each morning from its Profit Tools software include the total pounds moved each day and daily revenue by state, Campbell says.

“That’s the beauty of technology today,” Campbell says. “You can get an answer very quickly right now…it doesn’t require spending hours on a spreadsheet to do.”

A graphical, dashboard-type of interface could eliminate the need to have a morning meeting altogether, says Bruce Stockton, vice president of operations for Contract Freighters Inc. (CFI). Currently, 10 to 15 people at CFI huddle up each morning to look at a one-page, manually prepared paper report of such things as what states have extra trucks and an on-time performance report from yesterday. The Joplin, Mo.-based carrier plans to automate its one-page morning Power Report this year using graphical instead of tabular data, Stockton says.

Driven by fleet demand, the major enterprise software developers in the transportation industry are working to make use of dashboards commonplace and eliminate manual reporting processes. McLeod Software, for example, is in the development stage now of an executive dashboard module that will overlay the current LoadMaster product, McLeod says. The module will fit on top of its accounting and operations software and will include several components: integrated report writing, more sophisticated profitability and lane analysis, and real-time executive dashboard capability, he says.

“We would not expect our executive dashboard module to completely eliminate spreadsheets, but it will drastically reduce the need for low-level type of work that people have been doing manually at this point.”

Maddocks Systems recently developed an add-on product for its TruckMate for Windows transportation and logistics management software called the KPI Web Portal. “It is a visual application pulling live information from the database,” says Neal Cranna, manager of marketing. The KPI Portal can be used to provide live, up-to-date snapshots of company-wide performance data for goal setting. Users can create customized screens for each person in the company, depending on individual needs, to include multiple KPI graphs and informational web pages from one application, he says.

Innovative Computing Corp.’s solution integrates multiple third-party software systems, enabling users to use a variety of dashboard display capabilities, the company says. This combination allows users to determine their own lists of key measurement indicators and to create automatic information displays.

“Our tight integration to dashboard applications such as Advanced Systems Concepts’ SEQUEL-based dashboard is a good example,” says Mark Greenwood, president Innovative Computing Corporation. The SEQUEL product Greenwood refers to is a suite of tools to access and present data from IBM’s iSeries or AS/400 databases.

Engaging everyone
One purpose of live scorecard and dashboard-type applications is to bring key performance metrics to the forefront, so each employee can see what impact their daily actions have on the company’s performance.

Columbia, S.C.-based Southeastern Freight Lines (SEFL) uses a dashboard application to automatically display yesterday’s performance on all employees’ computers when they log in each morning. The dashboard is tied directly to the company’s mainframe and shows revenues, transit times and claims from the previous day. These metrics are the “three huge triggers” for the success of the company, says Braxton Vick, senior vice president of corporate planning.

“Everybody can see how we did business-wide yesterday, and whether we were over or under budget,” Vick says. “Customer service is everyone’s responsibility.”

But SEFL also has a low-tech version of a dashboard. At each of its 65 service centers, the company has a 4-foot-by-8-foot Quality Action Plan (QAP) board where an employee posts daily printed reports of 18 key measurements that include: on-time delivery, return shipments, claims ratio, P&D cost ratio, deliveries per exception, etc. The printouts for the QAP consist of graphics produced in Excel from company data, Vick says.

“It’s a combination of specific customer service measures as well as production measures,” Vick says. “We consider them critical success factors.”

The recent implementation of OutlookSoft, a real-time business performance management (BPM) system, will allow SEFL to generate the reports and graphs automatically without the human interface, Vick says. “The basic effort today is the transcription, computation of the control limits and printing of the graphs.”

OutlookSoft enables the company to build dashboards and to distribute its financials as well as productivity and operation data over the network without paper. Also, instead of simply reporting data, OutlookSoft is an interactive, decision support system. Users can drill down on graphs to see the supporting data, Vick says.

Virtual war room
The ultimate visualization of dashboard or scorecard applications is a “war room” setup where critical data is automatically displayed to quickly communicate to employees what areas need immediate attention.

Summitt Trucking plans to install three 40-inch plasma TVs in its office by the end of March – one screen in operations, one in accounting and one in the lobby. The screens will scroll through a display of key performance metrics and notable exceptions. The display will start, for example, with a chart showing yesterday’s average revenue per truck, the fleet’s empty, loaded and out-of-route miles and the percentage of on-time deliveries. The screen will then display a scorecard for each driver manager and an overall score, Summitt says. Other screens will include a weather map and fuel prices segmented by geographic regions.
From a technical standpoint, creating a war room display is quite simple, Summitt says. The company will install a video card in a computer, enabling the computer to share two monitors. One monitor – the plasma screen – will display its ResultsNow by TMW screens and other customized reports.

At CFI, three large plasma screens display various performance metrics for the entire office to see, including one screen dedicated to weather.

“I have no doubt that it forces the focus on our service,” says CFI’s Stockton. The most critical display is the “rolling ETA alert screen,” he says. Truck numbers will start off white and move to yellow and then red if the computer calculates the load will be three or more hours late.

CFI has a person solely dedicated to watching the rolling ETA alerts, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, to determine if a load will be late, Stockton says. This person is responsible for notifying the fleet manager to check the load and report back. The fleet manager will study it and either call or send a data message to the driver through its Aether MobileMax system to update the screen with a load note.

“Most of those times, the driver is going to be able to make up time,” Stockton says.

Culture training
Implementing the technology to automate the process of real-time business performance management, and even creating a live war room, is the easy part. The real challenge is to develop a culture where such technology will make a measurable difference. Otherwise, they are just expensive gadgets.

“We want to make sure that there is some thought given to what gives you the most value to monitor,” says Tom Weisz, president of TMW Systems. “That discussion in itself helps develop the culture to where all understand and agree what are the key points that should be measured.” And once you agree, why settle for anything less than management real time?

Scorecards for drivers
Drivers for Evergreen Industries now monitor their performance in real-time, just like their managers do in the office. The 25-truck, Liberty, Miss.-based carrier uses a new feature of PeopleNet g2x wireless fleet management system called the Driver Scorecard. On the driver display, drivers can see at any time a live snapshot of averages for idle time, fuel mileage and other performance data captured by the PeopleNet PerformX system.

“[The Driver Scorecard] is a good platform to build from because drivers have direct access to the things they are graded on,” says Patrick McNabb, Evergreen vice president. Each day, McNabb spends about 20 minutes calculating and sending each driver a report that shows each metric as a percentage of over/under the fleet’s standards. The percentages determine whether or not drivers qualify for the company’s incentive program, which Evergreen Industries pays quarterly.

In the second quarter, PeopleNet plans to automate the process of reporting these metrics as a percentage of fleet standards, says Brian McLaughlin, PeopleNet’s vice president of marketing.

If a scorecard is limited to data, a driver may never look at it for several days, says Karl Vehta, director of product development for Delphi. This is one reason why FleetOutlook, an onboard computer system developed by Delphi Corp., along with subsidiary MobileAria, alerts drivers via a voice command when an action falls outside the standards.

An added benefit is that FleetOutlook stores individual driver data on a server, not in the truck itself. This information is uploaded to the FleetOutlook onboard computer if a driver switches to a different truck using the driver authentication application, Vehta says.

By giving drivers real-time scorecards perhaps fleet managers can spend less time reacting to poor driver performance and more time reaping the benefits of compliance. Of course, not all drivers are receptive to new technology even if it helps them earn more money.

“We have some drivers who want every penny of the bonus plan,” McNabb says. “Other drivers say ‘to hell with it’ and just want to do their job.”