A portal to efficiency

Benjamin Cook (bottom right), president of Hoosier Tradewinds, and Matthew Deck (top), executive vice president, recruited a high-caliber chief information officer, Ben Becker, to design a system that enables management to proactively solve driver problems.

In 2003, the top executives of Carmel, Ind.-based Hoosier Tradewinds recognized the need to improve the company’s information systems. They discovered that managers throughout the company – dispatchers, planners and executives – needed more information more quickly in order to make proactive decisions.

Nowhere was this need more apparent than in the area of recruitment and retention of owner-operators, which provide all of Hoosier Tradewinds’ power units.

“As you often find, you don’t know that a guy is unhappy until it’s too late,” says Executive Vice President Matthew Deck. “If someone said they are quitting, then we dealt with it.”

To proactively solve driver problems, management wanted to see key metrics on drivers weekly and even daily, including revenue, profitability, home time and verbal complaints.

But while President Benjamin Cook and Deck agreed that Hoosier Tradewinds needed better information management, no one working at the 88-truck operation had the knowledge and expertise to implement or manage those solutions.

So in late 2003, Cook and Deck began looking for a high-caliber chief information officer. As it happened, the timing was excellent. Ben Becker was looking for an alternative to the intense travel and hectic lifestyle of consulting work. For seven years, Becker had worked as a data warehouse consultant, designing systems for corporations to access and analyze information at various levels.

Becker joined Hoosier Tradewinds in January of this year in the newly created CIO position. He quickly went to work meeting the company’s objectives with a particular emphasis on designing information systems that would aid in Hoosier Tradewinds’ efforts to recruit and retain owner-operators.

“We spend literally 90 percent of our marketing dollars toward recruiting and retention of drivers” rather than on attracting new shippers, Cook says. “We see drivers as customers.”

After reviewing the IT strategy with the newly hired CIO, management established a list of technical and process improvement projects. At the top of the list for 2004 was developing an integrated intranet portal to streamline the daily operations of management and staff. Becker had used an intranet portal at his previous company.

“I saw the potential here,” Becker says. As with the Internet, employees that use an intranet use a Web browser to access applications and process information. The difference is that the intranet is located on the company’s private network.

After several meetings of gathering requirements and planning, senior managers concluded that no single product on the market covered the company’s needs and vision, and that developing their own portal – named Tradewinds Information Resource (TIRES) – would be much cheaper than buying one off the shelf, Becker says.

Throughout 2004, Becker has been developing a variety of applications that employees can access through TIRES, including revenue projection, backhaul monitoring, trailer tracking, driver analysis, fleet maintenance, delivery status, accessorial handling and document imaging/access.

To develop the applications, Becker uses Visual Studio .NET and ASP.NET, two of Microsoft’s development platforms for Web applications. The SQL Server database of Hoosier Tradewinds’ dispatch and operations software is the source for 90 percent of the data used for the TIRES applications. The rest is supplied by software programs the company developed in-house, XML data feeds from websites and third-party solutions such as trailer tracking.

The most important tool in TIRES is the Weekly Planner used for driver retention, Deck says. The company’s operations manager, Meana Wolfe, uses the tool to evaluate where drivers stand at any day of the week in terms of loads, revenue, miles and other important statistics. On Wednesday, for example, Wolfe can see that a driver had a sub-standard week. She can proactively contact the driver to make sure he knows of the situation and then take the necessary steps to make sure the driver has a profitable week. The Weekly Planner has a built-in estimation engine to post the financial numbers, even before the billing and driver settlements are completed.

“Being able to see information as it happens, instead of after the fact, gives us the chance to react,” Deck says. In addition to the Weekly Planner, TIRES includes a Driver Portal that provides a snapshot of key metrics for each driver, such as revenue by week and month, complaints, home time and personal information such as birthdays.

After designing these applications, management decided to create a position for driver retention. The company also created a “second shift” individual to call between 5 and 10 drivers each night to record comments in the notes section of the Driver Portal. Marty Wolfe, the company’s driver retention manager, looks at the notes from the previous night and other statistics in the Driver Portal to call drivers proactively, address their concerns and create solutions.

“We can easily track if a driver is doing well at Hoosier Tradewinds, giving us the chance to contact them if we see that their numbers are below average,” Becker says.

TIRES is more than a browser-based reporting tool, however. It also has several applications that have helped the company increase efficiency and accuracy by converting manual, paper-based tasks to electronic processes.

Accessorial charges are one example. Detention and other accessorial charges are entered in a form in TIRES and go through an e-mail approval process from operations to billing. The charges are posted to an electronic board for the billing department to evaluate and settle with the driver and customer. Before using TIRES, the accessorial charges were written on paper in operations and handed to the billing department, Becker says. Future TIRES developments include customizing the display content based on user profiles.

“Conceptually it is all the same, but the way it is delivered will change to enable security and content moderators,” Becker says. For example, some management dashboards will be available only to the company’s executives, and not all employees, which is the case now.

Beginning next year, the company plans to launch Tradewinds Technologies and in the third quarter of 2005 offer the intranet portal product to other transportation companies as a single solution they can use to pull up any data they might need.

As a result of the TIRES project and the company’s focus on driver retention, turnover has decreased from about 85 percent last year to 60 percent this year, Deck says, and the company also has grown its fleet by more than 30 power units.

“There will always be things out of our control,” Deck says. “But we want to never lose someone because of something we can control.”

Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges.

If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact Avery Vise at avise@ccjmagazine.com or (800) 633-5953.