A portal to safety

ALK Technologies (www.pcmiler.com) announced a partnership with Innovative Computing Corp., which has integrated ALK’s Multi-Version Switch (MVS) into its Innovative Enterprise Software (IES) management system for fleets. The integrated MVS tool enables PC*Miler users to work with multiple PC*Miler versions on the same server.

Descartes Systems Group (www.descartes.com), an on-demand software-as-a-service (SaaS) logistics solutions provider, has extended its Global Logistics Network Compliance Service offering for electronic customs filing and cross-border compliance to include ground vehicles entering Canada.

Bolt (www.boltsystems.com), a provider of fleet management software, released a driver performance module that will allow fleets to select driver indices such as safety, revenue and on-time deliveries and apply a numeric value to each one. With this system, fleets can rank employees and provide a fair approach to paying drivers for performance, the company says.

Integrated Decision Support Corp. (www.idscnet.com) said that Hyrum, Utah-based Miller Brothers Express purchased its Trip Alert/Swap Advice exception alert and event management software solution. Miller Brothers plans to use the system to promote proactive customer service, reduce out-of-route miles and offer advanced fleet security.

Datatrac Corp. (www.datatrac.com), a provider of dispatch and shipment tracking software, has added RFID collection capabilities to its flagship eTrac system.

TMW Systems (www.tmwsystems.com) announced that UniGroup – parent company of United Van Lines, Mayflower Transit and other transportation-related subsidiaries – licensed TMW’s D2Link software for about 3,000 of its drivers’ cell phones.

Ortec (www.ortec.com), a provider of advanced planning and scheduling software, has
integrated KonaWare’s Transport Pick-up & Delivery functionality with Ortec’s route optimization and dispatch solution. KonaWare is a wireless software applications provider for logistics, field service and telematics.

Successful technology projects begin with a vision that helps garner the necessary “buy-in” from the key stakeholders – the owners, employees and customers of an organization. A compelling vision, grounded in facts and reality, is as critical to project implementation as the technical concepts or requirements that make it work.

In fall 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiated a project to solve some data quality concerns. The ultimate goal of the Compass program, as it came to be called, was to create a technology solution that improves the agency’s ability to prevent accidents and save lives.

FMCSA manages three primary information systems to track motor carriers – registration, operating authority and enforcement data. But to support these systems, the agency currently maintains 21 individual databases, says Jeff Hall, Compass program manager for FMCSA.

Some of these 21 databases are available online to carriers and to the public. Carriers often use databases such as SAFER (a snapshot of company safety), L&I (licensing and insurance), A&I (safety data analysis) and DataQs (to dispute safety data). Many carriers also regularly tap into the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) – a collection of state-reported crashes, roadside inspections and enforcement data – by obtaining their safety profile on a regular basis.

A multitude of databases raises quality concerns for FMCSA and motor carriers, Hall says. For example, how do motor carriers know which database is authoritative, or which one has the most current data on inspections, crashes, registrations and SafeStat scores? Multiple databases also have led to excessive IDs and passwords, as well as significant operation and maintenance costs, he says.

In 2004, the agency created the concept of its Compass solution: an enterprise database and data warehouse for a single source of FMCSA data on motor carriers. This new system would replace all of the centralized databases. The concept included a Compass Portal at the front of this database to provide all motor carriers with a single point of access to data through the Web.

In October 2005, the agency contracted with SAIC, a technical services company, to turn this concept into reality. Almost two years later, FMCSA plans to debut its Compass Portal to motor carriers this summer, Hall says; the initial rollout will begin in June. To achieve its ultimate goal of saving lives, the agency will depend on the involvement of a key stakeholder – motor carriers – to use Compass Portal to improve safety.

Only as good as the data
Jeff Davis, vice president of safety and human resources for Dayton, Ohio-based Jet Express, is taking a wait-and-see approach. Davis speaks frequently at industry conferences on using FMCSA safety data to improve performance. He is unsure whether having a single website to access safety-related data will directly improve motor carrier safety. In his conversations with FMCSA about Compass Portal, Davis sees the most compelling benefit to be faster access to safety data in the MCMIS database.

“In theory, as soon as a download happens, the carrier will be able to see stuff in real time,” Davis says.

In theory. Today, Jet Express and many other carriers obtain their carrier safety profiles monthly, but that doesn’t mean those profiles reflect all the events that occurred during that month related to accidents, roadside inspections and SafeStat scores. Each state has a different timetable for uploading data such as roadside inspections to FMCSA, Davis says; some upload data every 48 hours, while others take up to 120 days. In addition, the agency’s current IT systems do not make this data immediately available to carriers, he says.

The Compass project does not address improvement plans for data collection and reporting at the state level; FMCSA has other programs to address that, Hall says. Rather, the Compass program focuses on improving the technology and refining the processes necessary to move data immediately to the Compass Portal once data is collected from states.

“There could be some benefits to the carrier in the long range, but I’m not 100 percent sure,” Davis says.

One feature of the Compass program Davis would like to see is a real-time alert mechanism – such as e-mail – to notify fleets of changes to their safety record, which could be affected by new data coming in from inspection reports or law enforcement. Instant alerts could help carriers be more proactive in addressing areas of risk, Davis says.

Hall says FMCSA is working with the motor carrier industry to identify when alerts need to take place and what types of alerts are appropriate. Some alerts will be included in the first release of Compass Portal this June, and others will be added in future releases.
“From a carrier perspective, if we give them visibility into their data, and make that data actionable, that is a direction toward saving lives,” Hall says.

Don Osterberg shares this vision. Osterberg, vice president for safety and driver training at Schneider National, is one of several carriers conducting pilot testing of Compass Portal.

“When you aggregate data from multiple sources into a common platform, it begins to paint a picture of where action is appropriate,” Osterberg says. “To use data that is available to proactively manage safety is a core accountability we have to the motoring public.”

The company has experienced some technical issues with the system, as expected during pilot tests of new technology. For example, Schneider National’s data set is so large that the Compass Portal website has crashed when searching for inspection-level detail. The company is regularly in contact with the agency to address these and other technical issues, and to offer suggestions for product development as FMCSA finalizes its first release of Compass Portal. Says Osterberg, “I am absolutely convinced that if (Compass Portal) is done right, it will enhance public safety.”