Tom McLeod always gives the opening address at the McLeod Software user conference. The record 850 attendees at this year’s event were probably expecting the president of the Birmingham, Ala.-based software developer to talk about the company’s products and trends in the transportation industry.
Instead, McLeod took a slightly different approach. He gave attendees a perspective to help them understand the information they would be encountering at the conference, held Sept. 15-17 at the Gaylord convention center in National Harbor, Md., on the banks of the Potomac River.
The company has channeled all of its product development into five technology streams, he said, that lead to the “frictionless information era.”
In some ways the Potomac River may not seem an ideal backdrop for talking about the “frictionless” movement of anything. The Potomac once divided the Union from the Confederacy. Today the river is too shallow for commercial shipping and the National Harbor is downstream from the nation’s gridlocked capital.
Further downstream, however, is a much larger body of water, the Chesapeake Bay, with one of the nation’s largest ports in Baltimore, Md. During the past few years, McLeod has been taking its customers on a journey, he said. The five technology streams lead to a bigger and better place.
“We’ve been conspiring to take you to a place without telling you. It turns out that I believe it is the place you want to go,” he said. “Where we are taking your company is a little something I like to call the connected enterprise, specifically the connected transportation enterprise.”
McLeod Software provides enterprise management software systems for asset and non-asset transportation companies. Its products span the full range of what people generically refer to as “back-office” systems for order entry, planning, visibility and decision support.
The Internet and wireless technologies connect people and businesses to information sources around the world, but “connections don’t mean a lot unless you are moving the right information,” he said. “We are not about connections for connections sake. We want to move information.”
McLeod Software has new products that reduce the amount of work, or friction, involved in moving information to the right people at the right time to make a decision, he said. With the latest connected enterprise technology, businesses will run more efficiently and be able to serve their customers better.
“We want to see you competing in the marketplace and winning,” he said.
McLeod described in more detail the five technology streams of a connected enterprise with “frictionless” information. They are:
Proactive: To yield positive results, information has to go to the right person at the right time with zero effort, he said. An example of this principle in action is the Rapid Alert Notification System (RANS). This feature in McLeod’s LoadMaster and PowerBroker software allows users to select from dozens of configurable alerts to receive instant e-mail or text notifications whenever exceptions occur.
McLeod also mentioned modules that identify exceptions for out-of-route loads and detention at customer locations. These modules go beyond identifying the exceptions; they automate workflow like billing customers for detention. This makes it possible for people in the office to focus on higher-value activities.
Big Insight: Besides making connections with all of the data that is available, enterprise systems need to provide information to people in a clear, summarized fashion, he said. The company’s Profitability Analysis and Lane Analysis modules, for instance, let users quickly compare the operating ratios of loads, lanes and customers.
Clay Murdock remembers the time when financial numbers would cross his desk a month or two after the measurement period had ended. That was before Doug Andrus Trucking implemented McLeod Software’s LoadMaster system.
“I had no idea where we were making or losing money,” he said. Today, Murdock, president of the 280-truck carrier based in Idaho Falls, Id., monitors a variety of key performance indicators, like deadhead, miles and revenue, from his desktop and mobile devices. The KPIs refresh every 15 minutes.
“We’re in this for fun but we also like to go to the bank at 5:00,” he said. “Now is the time for us to improve and to take information to customers.”
Doug Andrus uses Vital Signs, a business intelligence dashboard that shows Murdock and the personnel in operations where to focus their attention to reach daily goals.
“I am really passionate about it. Maybe so passionate that it drives my wife crazy because when we are on a date I’m always checking to see where we are at and what is going on,” he said. “I just love (Vital Signs). It consumes you because you really want to know where you are at right now. It’s been a great asset for our company.”
Doug Andrus Transportation gives its fleet managers a financial incentive for meeting and exceeding the goals for the KPIs. “They are keeping score and they want to win. If they win, we reward them,” he said.
McLeod Software has another business intelligence product called Navigator. The system comes with pre-configured data warehouse connections for KPIs. Each of the KPIs are displayed in a “balanced scorecard” that shows how each KPI contributes to the company’s strategic objectives.
“When we started, we thought it would be quick,” said Dwight Lloyd, controller of P&S Transportation, a 1,200-truck flatbed hauler based in Birmingham, Ala., about implementing Navigator. “As you start digging in, it is not as simple as what you think it would be.”
The good news is that P&S Transportation is no longer using spreadsheets and manually entering data needed to match the company’s operational performance with its financial results. Navigator tracks all its performance metrics and results automatically.
“You can have a lot of KPIs, but (Navigator) helps you focus on the ones you need to focus on,” he said.
Mobile: McLeod Software plans to take advantage of everything mobile. The company has developed a very robust suite of mobile applications for fleet managers and executives. A dispatcher, for instance, can use the mobile apps to approve a driver’s request for a payroll advance, respond to a mobile communication message, and monitor KPIs.
“If you’ve got a driver that has a problem you can help right now,” Murdock says. “It’s not, ‘let me run to the office and get on my computer where I can do this type of thing.’ I think those are the kind of things that will help drivers really enjoy the software system.”
Soon, McLeod Software will have a mobile app that fleets and brokers can provide to their own customers, configured with their own branding, to track shipments and perform other functions.
Workflow beyond boundaries: To establish the movement of information inside and outside of the enterprise, McLeod Software has created new business process management tools. The Flow Logix workflow engine lets users configure decision trees to create an automated process for getting information where it needs to go, inside or outside the company, McLeod said.
“We are reducing the friction required to produce information in your system,” he said.
Transportation companies can create custom, electronic forms with an application called Logix eForms. The application has helped Epes Logistics Services, a non-asset logistics provider, capture the cell phone numbers of drivers with less effort. Epes needs drivers’ cell phone numbers to make “check calls” to track the status of shipments.
With eForms, a dispatcher from the carrier enters the driver’s phone number into the electronic rate confirmation form sent by Epes. Drivers’ numbers go directly to the dispatch screen of the PowerBroker system so that Epes can start the check call process immediately, says Joe Lampert, director of operations for the Greensboro, N.C.-based company.
Connectable Architecture. A connected enterprise system must have a service-oriented architecture (SOA), such as web services, that makes it possible to easily integrate with external systems and rapidly develop or add-on new applications, McLeod said.
As an example of system integration, McLeod mentioned the Carrier-Broker Exchange (CBE), a new private marketplace available only to McLeod Software customers running LoadMaster and PowerBroker.
PowerBroker users at CBE subscriber companies can selectively post available loads to the exchange. The loads are quickly available on the order planning boards of LoadMaster users at carriers who subscribe to CBE. The CBE database has a market rate index feature for users to see the market average rates as well as their own internal rates for a lane.
A feature that Lampert would like to see included in CBE is to integrate the asset tracking information from LoadMaster. Many carriers already have real-time location from their satellite tracking systems fed into LoadMaster. This load tracking information would be useful to brokers that dispatch assets through CBE.
“At some point I we hope we can get rid of the manual calling and tracking of loads that takes so much time,” he said.
In this and perhaps a few other instances, McLeod’s vision of the connected enterprise is a work in progress, but its technology streams are filling up rapidly. In the past three years, McLeod Software has doubled its revenues and staff and tripled the number of hours it applies to product development.
One fleet executive mentioned a possible side effect from diving too deeply into the mobility and big insight streams. The ability to be connected to the enterprise anytime, anywhere, is addicting.
“You can get to where it consumes you. As competitive as I am, I want to know where we are at right now. The challenge is to get my people to buy in with that same desire to understand where we are at, and what is going on,” Murdock said.
In case you missed it, click here to see a photo gallery of news and events from the McLeod user conference.