Dialing for fewer dollars

AmeriQuest Transportation and Logistics Resources (www.ameriquestcorp.com), in collaboration with TeleCommunication Systems, now is offering 20/20 Delivery, a wireless proof-of-service business solution for handheld computers that features signature capture, barcode scanning and performance tracking.

Delphi (www.delphi.com) announced it will begin production on a new satellite transceiver unit that GE will use with its VeriWise asset intelligence system. VeriWise allows fleet owners to track and monitor mobile assets.

McLeod Software (www.mcleodsoftware.com) added computer-based training courses to its online customer service tools. The courses – LoadMaster V7 Super User Training – explain the functions of LoadMaster Version 7, McLeod’s proprietary dispatch and accounting transportation management software.

XTRA Lease (www.xtralease.com) has installed more than 50,000 trailer tracking units on its dry van trailers in the United States and Canada, giving it the industry’s largest fleet of tracking-equipped rental trailers. XTRA Lease offers Terion’s FleetView trailer tracking service free on dry van rentals.

Add On Systems Inc. (www.addonsystems.com) introduced a new product for iSeries (AS/400)-based software systems called the Virtual Hours of Service Monitoring System (VHS). The system uses real-time data from a carrier’s mobile communications system to monitor driving time and project available hours for the next 2 to 3 days.

Corporations, including many fleet owners, increasingly are reducing their long-distance calling costs and improving customer service by updating their phone systems with voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology. VoIP systems break down a user’s voice into digital packets that are routed through an IP data network with a software application. By comparison, traditional phone systems use dedicated circuits to transmit voice.

The main payback for implementing VoIP, experts say, is that it eliminates a company’s long-distance bills between sites. Instead of an employee dialing long distance to reach a terminal or warehouse in a different state, he uses an IP-based phone system to call – or transfer an inbound call – by using a four-digit extension.

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VoIP also can save costs by virtue of having one network-based phone system to manage, no matter how many locations a business has. Companies can extend new voice applications, such as voicemail, to any location and manage these centrally, says Tom Kincannon, president of C3 Logistics, a company that consults, distributes and supports VoIP solutions.

Hoosier Tradewinds offers one example of how VoIP – by converging telephone, software and data networks – can change the communications landscape of a trucking company. The Carmel, Ind.-based carrier, which has a fleet of 108 owner-operators, currently uses a VoIP system to manage all inbound calls. The phone system has had a “huge impact” on driver satisfaction, says Ben Becker, chief information officer for Hoosier Tradewinds.

Before using VoIP, when a driver called his manager and the line was busy, the driver went directly to voice mail. A software system now routes drivers automatically to the next available driver manager. If all managers are busy, the driver is put on hold and told what inbound call position he is in, such as “two” or “three,” giving the driver an idea of how long the hold will continue. As soon as one manager hangs up, the next call in the queue rolls to him.

Driver managers see the caller ID before they answer the call. The system also tracks statistics such as hold time and the number of received inbound calls versus abandoned calls. Currently, the average driver waits 22 seconds, but the system will alert managers in the operations room with an alarm if a driver is on hold for two minutes.

“We are getting really good feedback,” Becker says. “Drivers are getting to someone right away in an efficient manner.”

In addition to using VoIP for incoming calls, the company also is testing VoIP to connect to remote workers through the Internet. Becker says he currently is testing one application to make outbound calls to a field recruiter in Florida.

“So far it is working wonderfully, since all communications between our phone system and our recruiter are local calls through the Internet,” Becker says. “There is some huge savings potential here.”

Becker says he also has been conducting an experiment with a VoIP application called skypein, a software download from www.skype.com that essentially turns any PC into a two-way telephone.

“The jury is still out on this one, but initial tests look good,” Becker says. “With this technology, my employees only need a computer, high-speed Internet connection and a headset with a microphone to plug into their computer. They tie into our new phone system and systems from wherever they are.”

Becker also plans to experiment with true point-to-point VoIP so remote offices will be just an extension of the carrier’s local network through a VPN connection. A VPN is a virtual private network that uses the Internet to connect remote sites or users together.

Instead of using a dedicated, real-world connection such as a leased line, a VPN uses virtual connections routed through the Internet from the company’s private network to the remote site.

While some kinks still need to be ironed out before companies like Hoosier Tradewinds use VoIP for both inbound and outbound calls through the public Internet, the thousands of dollars carriers already have saved in long distance and the improvements in customer service position VoIP for a solid future in trucking.