Living by the 4-1-1

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Con-Way Transportation Services said it will spend $181 million this year to purchase additional highway tractors, trailers and forklifts, and to develop its service center in order to accommodate growth at its four regional less-than-truckload companies. Separately, the company appointed Clayton Halla president of its new Con-Way Truckload operation, which is scheduled to begin service early next year. Halla most recently was vice president of operations at Birmingham, Ala.-based Southern Cal Transport.

Yellow Transportation and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents Yellow drivers, dockworkers and other employees, reached agreement on how the company will roll out its “Next Day” service. Yellow expects to operate several overnight, less-than-truckload transportation corridors through 500-mile interlocking regions in the Northeast. The company expects the operation will create about 100 Teamster jobs around yearend.

U.S. Xpress Enterprises said its Xpress Global Systems airport-to-airport subsidiary has purchased the less-than-truckload airport-to-airport operations of CRST Van Expedited, Inc. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

G.I. Trucking Co. recently acquired 50 new triples-rated tractors, 500 28-foot trailers, 150 dollys and 40 forklifts to meet growth and fuel economy requirements. The Brea, Calif.-based carrier now has 566 tractors and just over 3,000 trailers.

Most truckers say they are in the business of moving freight. That’s true, of course, but they also are in the information business, even if they don’t realize it. A restaurant that serves great food can succeed even with a rudimentary information system. But no trucking company beyond the smallest will survive long without an adequate information system.

The difference is that the restaurant provides a tangible product. If customers really enjoy the food, they will keep coming back even if the bill is wrong occasionally. But once a shipment is picked up and delivered, there is no visible trace of it having occurred other than a shipment record and supporting documents. Customers have little tolerance for carriers whose bills are frequently wrong even if the shipment was delivered on time.

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The table on the next page lists some of the most important pieces of information a carrier must retain or produce in conjunction with hauling a load and remain in compliance with various rules and regulations. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it should demonstrate how much information is part of every carrier business.

So if you accept the premise that you are in the information business, here is what it means to your organization.

Protecting your assets
Most carriers consider their greatest asset to be rolling stock. They devote countless hours to maintaining their equipment. If a mechanic makes a repair that fails out on the road, the mechanic is reprimanded and the vehicle is fixed.

Hardly anyone treats information with such care. Often, a clerk or salesperson will enter flawed driving directions for new customers’ facilities. But even after a driver reports those directions as wrong, the directions may remain unchanged in the system. Dispatchers simply will tell the drivers those directions are wrong and call the shipper. The carrier is wasting their drivers’ and customers’ time. Perhaps this example doesn’t apply to your organization, but it is the rare carrier I work with that doesn’t have some information that no one trusts.

If we believe information is one of our greatest assets, we need to devote the same care and maintenance that carriers provide their rolling stock. This means getting information right must be just as important as getting a repair to a truck done right.

The same can be said for the security of information. We lock our doors, but what precautions do we take for key company data? How valuable would a competitor find a list of all your company’s drivers and contractors, along with an address and telephone number?

Invest in information security. There are many software tools that will lock out all but the most determined information thief. Along the same line, make sure that information is backed up with a copy kept off-site. Develop a contingency plan to have your system up and running within four hours of a catastrophe. Carriers that lose their systems for a week probably won’t survive.

Learning new technologies
Trucking executives read about and study new engines, transmissions and other components, hoping to gain a competitive edge through savvy spec’ing of equipment. But the truth is that carriers likely will realize a much greater return putting the same effort in learning about information technology.

I don’t advocate implementing technologies just because they are new. Rather, I recommend that executives study what’s being developed and embrace technology rapidly once it is proven to work and is affordable. The payback comes from improving the efficiency of business processes and providing better information to customers. Improved costs and better customer satisfaction – that’s a tough combination to beat.

Key information
Equipment master
Driver master
Customer master
Shipment entry
Shipment pickup
Shipment in-transit
Shipment delivery
Bill of lading
Proof of delivery
Customer rates
Freight bills
Driver logs
Driver pay
Owner-operator settlements
Pay schedules
Vehicle maintenance history
Pallet inventories
Fuel purchases
Filed claims