Covered in a flash

By using an enterprise resource planning software package from TMW Systems for both its trucking and brokerage divisions, Cleveland-based All Pro Freight Systems has instant visibility of all the loads in its system.

During the past two years, shrinking margins for truckload and less-than-truckload carriers have caused many fleet owners to halt their investments in rolling assets. Instead, many have been pursuing “asset-light” strategies in brokerage and third-party logistics.

Like a growing number of companies today, All Pro Freight Systems offers both asset- and nonasset-based transportation services. Growth in the brokerage side of the Cleveland-based company continues to outpace its fleet division; today, annual revenues are $35 and $25 million respectively, says Christy Murray, director of business development.

Because fleets and intermediaries share many of the same operational and accounting processes, software providers in the transportation industry have developed base systems that fit the needs of both types of companies.

All Pro Freight uses an enterprise resource planning software package from TMW Systems for both divisions. Dispatchers on the fleet side have instant visibility to the available loads in the brokerage division, while all accounting, finances and operational data from both divisions are integrated into one system for reporting. “It makes for a much more efficient operation in the back office,” Murray says.

To continue to grow a nonasset business in today’s highly competitive trucking market, companies must become more specialized and efficient in the services they offer. The latest software tools can help accomplish this by using information assets to automate the communications and transactions necessary to move freight using someone else’s equipment and drivers.

Instant notification
In the past, intermediaries relied on the telephone and fax to conduct routine business. Today’s management software systems enable intermediaries to automate many of the steps involved in finding capacity, tendering loads, updating delivery status and other transactions.

For several years, McLeod Software has offered a feature called the Private Notification Network (PNN) with its PowerBroker II system for brokerage and third-party logistics providers. McLeod users can tender loads to their private list of carriers automatically according to the lanes and ZIP codes carriers prefer. As soon as a customer order is entered into PowerBroker, PNN sends out an e-mail or fax notification to the private list of carriers to ask if they have a truck available, says David Custred, director of sales services.

With Aljex Software’s Web-based Transportation Intermediaries Network (TIN) system for freight brokers, users can find an available truck using a Smart Search function. A dispatcher enters a ZIP code pair to locate carriers that have transported loads for the broker in the past. The search feature also can bring in available trucks from various online load boards.

Once the list is created, a user selects the carriers he wishes to offer loads. TIN automatically e-mails or faxes the load to the selected carriers. Carriers can accept the load by clicking on a link in the body of the e-mail; this communicates to the server, which sends an e-mail to the dispatcher and confirmation e-mail to the carrier. Carriers also can click on a separate link to add available trucks in other lanes or to see a list of all available loads from the broker.

“We make (communication) as easy as possible,” says Tom Heine, president of Aljex Software.

In addition to facilitating transactions through automatically generated fax and e-mail, some intermediaries use carrier-focused Web portals that allow an intermediary to give their private group of carriers secure access to a Web page to search for loads and conduct other routine business.

The latest version of PowerBroker II from McLeod Software, released in October, has a Web portal in the optional Internet module that allows an intermediary to let carriers see its latest load offers and allows the carrier to accept or reject them online. The Web portal also lets clients extend offers to multiple carriers in a bid-type process. Once a carrier is assigned to an order, the order automatically moves through the system. The carrier can login to the Web portal to enter load status updates as the load progresses, Custred says.

All Pro Freight uses its software from TMW Systems to notify carriers of available loads automatically and to confirm rates with no printing or faxing of paperwork. The software allows the company to set up carriers in the system according to their preferences for communication. “Every carrier is going to have a different level of capability,” Murray says. “Some still like a piece of paper. Others are getting better at e-mail.”

Carriers can login to the company’s website to search for loads; they also can view their load history. However, All Pro Freight decided not to use its website to tender loads to carriers or allow them to accept loads electronically. “The idea is for them to contact us,” Murray says. “We are sticking with people interaction.”

TMW Systems offers an optional Web-based module called Carrier Hub for intermediaries that want to give carriers the ability to login, see available loads and even self-assign themselves to loads. Carriers also can update the status of loads within Carrier Hub, says Keith Mader, vice president of TMWSuite development.

Online matching
To offer freight beyond a private group of carriers, intermediaries typically post loads to various online load boards and freight matching marketplaces. But logging in and posting loads to one or more of these websites is a tedious process; once a load is covered, users have to login again to remove the load to avoid unnecessary phone calls.

Software vendors have developed several methods to automate this process. Innovative Computing Corp. (ICC) offers Load Central, an optional tool for trucking or brokerage firms that use its Innovative Enterprise System (IES) and Internet-based Access dispatch and accounting software. Load Central allows clients that mutually use Innovative’s software to broker freight to each other with no phone calls, faxes or e-mails.

IES users either can send loads directly to an outside carrier or post loads to the Load Central matching service; if a carrier accepts a load, an order is created in its system automatically. The party that offered the load receives automatic status updates about when the load was dispatched, loaded and emptied, says Marla Grant, ICC’s director of sales.

The Web portal feature in McLeod’s PowerBroker II system will post to online load boards automatically. Once a carrier takes an order and the order is assigned, the system will remove the load from both the portal and any load boards automatically, Custred says.

All Pro Freight posts loads to various load boards directly from its TMWSuite with a click of a mouse. “You can highlight an entire section of loads, right-click and post them,” Murray says. “That is a big improvement in efficiency. We also post to our website.”

Software systems typically use file transfer protocol (FTP) to send and retrieve information from load boards and freight matching services. The problem with FTP is that it uses a batch-oriented process for transferring files, says Don Thornton, TransCore’s senior vice president of freight business services.

If an intermediary uses an FTP solution to send and retrieve files from a load board, the solution probably updates the site every 15 minutes or half hour – not at the moment a change is made. If a load posted online is covered, it may take up to 30 minutes for the load to be removed. In the meantime, carriers will continue to call about a load that no longer is available.

For real-time communications, TransCore has developed a Web services interface for its 3sixty Freight Match service powered by DAT. The Connexion interface provides a real-time link between the software systems in the office and TransCore’s freight matching database. With Connexion, fleets and brokers can integrate freight matching directly into their own transportation software, making freight matching part of their workflow, Thornton says.

TransCore also offers an enterprise software system for freight brokers as part of its 3sixty product family. Connexion can be added to TransCore’s enterprise software for an additional fee, as well as to any software system that intermediaries use, says Steve Blair, TransCore’s general manager of operations management.

Certifying carriers
Technology can help you find an available truck in seconds, but if the carrier doesn’t meet your standards for safety and insurance coverage, it isn’t really a match. Integrating real-time information on carrier qualifications is another tool intermediaries can use to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations.

To keep track of carrier qualifications, SalSon SOS – a Plainfield, Ind.-based logistics provider – uses a service from TransCore called CarrierWatch. SalSon SOS uses FTP to send a file to the CarrierWatch service each time it adds a new carrier to its database. In turn, CarrierWatch automatically updates SalSon’s management system from Aljex Software, says Darren Weissburg, SalSon owner.

SalSon uses an early version of Aljex Software that lacks the latest features in the vendor’s Web-based software, Weissburg says. One of the latest features in Aljex’s TIN system lets users automatically query the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s safety database, SaferSys, to find a carrier’s safety rating. As soon as the broker enters the carrier’s MC number into the system, the safety record is brought into TIN. Also, when a user assigns a load to a carrier, the software will query the SaferSys database automatically to check the carrier’s safety rating and report the status, Heine says.

Rather than use FTP to update carrier qualifications, TransCore has developed a Web services version of CarrierWatch as part of its Connexion product. Brokers can use Connexion to have a real-time lookup of carrier authority and safety information. The company plans to release another version of CarrierWatch in the fourth quarter that will include insurance monitoring, Thornton says.

McLeod Software interfaces with several vendors for automatic updates of carrier credentials. Some customers have said they don’t want the system to be updated directly from SaferSys, so instead PowerBroker provides a link; users hit one button, and the system automatically queries the SaferSys website, Custred says.

Companies that are able to secure capacity quickly and consistently have the competitive edge. Increasing the efficiency of employees by providing them with better information and eliminating time-wasting processes can lead to more productive and profitable sales. In the end, it’s not the information itself that matters – but what you’re able to do with it. n


Third-party partnership
Advanced transportation systems help carriers increase sales without using the phone

Increasingly, even small and midsize shippers are using advanced transportation management software from third-party logistics firms (3PLs) to optimize their network in terms of pricing, coverage and performance. Because 3PLs manage a large portion of a shipper’s freight, they also must purchase transportation in large quantities, both on a contracted and spot-load basis. Rather than beat carriers up over price, some 3PLs use technology to help carriers improve the efficiency of their own sales processes.

Penske Logistics purchases $2.5 billion annually in transportation, with 700 carriers under contract, says Tom McKenna, senior vice president of logistics engineering and technology. “We view our carriers as true business partners,” McKenna says. “We drive to be more standardized with more interactions. The challenge is to translate that into more customized solutions for carriers. Each one of them has different business rules and information requirements. Each one needs additional pieces of data. We’re constantly looking for technology to help balance that as cost-effectively as possible.”

In the first quarter of 2009, T-Chek, a division of C.H. Robinson – the largest 3PL in the market – plans to release a new Web-based dispatch system called Groove for small carriers. The first release of Groove will have integration into C.H. Robinson’s loads, T-Chek’s fuel cards and Express codes.

Once a load is selected from C.H. Robinson’s online freight matching service, HRWTrucks.com, all the data automatically moves to Groove’s load board for equipment and driver assignment. While on a C.H. Robinson load, Groove users will gain efficiencies by automatically recording pickups, status updates and deliveries within CHRW’s proprietary transportation management system. There’s no need to take time to call a C.H. Robinson branch, because Groove does it for them, says Jim Angel, T-Chek’s director of business development.

Since 2007, TransPlace has helped shippers purchase $1 billion worth of transportation, primarily truckload, says Mathew Harding, vice president of consulting. Many carriers that work with TransPlace – such as Joplin, Mo.-based Sitton Motor Lines – receive many of their contracted and spot loads by auto-tender through electronic data interchange (EDI).

“There is no personal interaction there,” says Brad Storres, Sitton’s director of sales and operations. Working with TransPlace, Sitton also is able to see available loads across all of TransPlace’s accounts – even if the carrier isn’t active in those lanes – through a Web portal called the Freight Allocation Module (FAM).

“So far, based on our experience, this is the only type of situation where we can see loads across accounts,” Storres says. “If we don’t have a contracted rate in place, (FAM) allows us an opportunity to enter a spot rate for that day.”

After about three or five times of handling a spot load, Sitton may decide to contract with TransPlace and put the load on auto tender. “Maximizing resources is what it is all about,” Storres says. “(FAM) lets us do that.”