With the rise in mobile communications technology, transportation management software systems also have grown in utility by leaps and bounds. At the 2017 TMW and PeopleNet in.sight user conference in August in Nashville, Tenn., representatives of both companies gave carrier attendees a look into the future of dispatch and maintenance management with a peek into a virtual-reality module the companies were exploring.
Where the rubber meets the road for carriers using TMS to manage the logistics of freight movement and improve customer relationships, the story of recent years has been improved affordability of and access to sophisticated software tools for smaller carriers. For the larger entities, that sophistication also has increased.
While major TMS players TMW Systems and McLeod Software continue to support their legacy systems, many carriers are choosing newer cloud-hosted platforms with more intuitive user interfaces that are accessible through multiple points. At the conference, TMW launched a myriad of mobile apps intended to give dispatchers, drivers and others further ways to communicate, receive and plot load assignments.
TMS integrations with mobile communications platforms and electronic logging devices in trucks are leading to better planning efficiency and less friction in freight moves. Technology is making it possible to do more with less investment in complicated systems and people to manage interactions.
In this 10th edition of CCJ’s Tech Toolbox, we look at the factors fleets should consider and best practices they can use for evaluating and implementing new technologies for their logistical operations. Also be sure to visit CCJTechToolbox.com for other installments and multimedia content and to sign up for special TechToolbox webinars and newsletters.
As Uber FREIGHT and a variety of brokerages with sophisticated technology seek to transform the spot market, carriers in both spot and contract markets are finding new demands placed on their businesses.
One aspect of mobile technology gaining traction among brokerages and shippers is the demand for greater freight visibility. While larger fleets have used trailer-tracking systems for years, more brokers and shippers are relying on mobile technology in the driver’s pocket to do the same.
“Shippers are hearing from companies about the ability to see all loads in transit,” said Jim Nicholson, a representative for carrier sales and operations with Schneider’s (CCJ Top 250, No. 8) brokerage wing, speaking at Truckstop.com’s Connected 2016 conference last November. “Customers are expecting that now.”
Such technology is available from many sources. Truckstop.com offers load-tracking functionality within its app that relies on GPS and cellular communications capabilities from drivers’ smartphones to automate check calls and relay load position and status. The function is fully integrated with the company’s small-fleet TMS, ITS Dispatch.
That integration is one of several recent updates to ITS Dispatch, increasing versatility for fleet managers and dispatchers. From an active load screen within the TMS, a fleet manager can “search for a new load based on the delivery location for that transaction,” said David Cryer, product manager. “Just in this year alone, we’ve done full integration with [Truckstop.com’s] LoadPay, CargoShield and Load Tracking” functions.
Bob Christ, owner of small fleet Cayenne Express, based near St. Louis, said his company solicits a list of brokers in addition to its direct customers, and all of them require the carrier to use Macropoint or Badger tracking. “Tons of people are forcing you to do it,” Christ said. “They won’t give you the freight [if you don’t].”
Load visibility has helped Sergio Marin, owner of Custom Carrier, a small fleet outside of Los Angeles with six company trucks and 10 owner-operators. Last year, Marin got a cold call from Convoy, a Seattle-based technology brokerage firm. A year after Convoy debuted its app in late 2015, it was moving loads in local markets and on some longer-haul lanes, said Dan Lewis, chief executive officer.
Marin lauds aspects of Convoy’s mobile system, chief among them the visibility it gives not just the shipper but also himself into drivers’ progress. He’s using it primarily for local loads in and around Los Angeles.
Another bonus from using the app: “There is no paperwork,” he said. With GPS functionality, “when we arrive at the shipper, it triggers the GPS to alert both myself and Convoy that my driver has arrived.” When the driver completes the pickup, he hits a button, and tracking begins. Convoy and Marin can watch the load’s progress across the map and deal with issues along the way.
When the driver arrives, he photographs the proof of delivery. Marin describes the communication within the app and over the phone as “the opposite of typical pushy brokers.”
Drivers appreciate the app’s built-in bird’s eye view of shipping and receiving locations, which helps in locating entry points to Los Angeles docks. Detention also is simplified because the app documents arrival time, Marin said. A standard hourly rate is paid after two hours.
It’s detention management that Mark Cubine, marketing vice president of McLeod Software, singles out as perhaps the most significant development for carriers using the McLeod TMS that’s integrated with mobile communications devices. Cubine’s not talking only about the ability to prove detention to and collect it from shippers and receivers. As carriers have committed to trailer tracking and ELDs, McLeod has delivered the back-office ability to be more predictive about the next load and assist both the driver and the back office with more efficient planning.
With insight on historical route patterns and any driver’s hours status, carriers using the TMS can monitor variables that threaten on-time delivery and adjust their estimated time of arrival.
Once a carrier large or small employs e-logs, “I can now also look at the future [in the planning process],” said Cubine. Will the next load be in trouble for this particular driver? Dispatchers now have the ability to calculate a variety of factors instantly, including average dwell time at a shipper/receiver location for likely detention.
At the 2017 TMW and PeopleNet in.sight user conference, TMW Systems introduced its TruETA functionality within its Innovative IES, TMW.Suite and TruckMate TMS systems. Ray West, TMW senior vice president and general manager for the company’s TMS products, touted TMW’s partnerships with fellow Trimble companies ALK Technologies and PeopleNet in developing the module, a back-office ETA calculator with a high level of sophistication, accounting for drivers’ hours, traffic levels by time of day and more to deliver planning accuracy.
Without such a tool, “a dispatcher calculates an ETA in their head” when assigning and planning loads, West said. “But that’s just the distance and time based on the speed limits, road conditions and so forth – they use their travel knowledge to add in things they know.”
With TruETA, TMW TMS users will get “not only the truck routing but also the historical traffic for the time of day,” West said. “And the driver’s hours of service – putting all of that into the equation, it also gives you good data for planning at the next stop” and what West calls “PTA” – potential time of availability – for planning the next pickup.
Customized customer self-serve portals can provide not only tracking visibility but also payment status and more to both carriers’ customers and, from brokers, to carriers themselves, said Murray Pratt, CEO of the Tailwind TMS provider for smaller carriers and brokers.
This self-serve uberization increasingly will take away administrative burdens from fleet owners so that “they can do higher-value things,” Pratt said. “I can look at my operation closely and make top-level decisions.”
These portals offer a fleet’s customer a place where they can “go in and see information on what you’ve shipped,” he said. “You don’t have to phone anybody, and it’s secured by a login.”
Brokers increasingly are serving carriers in similar fashion with mobile apps and online offerings. C.H. Robinson’s Navisphere apps for its contracted carrier partners offer TMS-like functionality for carrier owners and drivers on their mobile devices.
While C.H. Robinson’s had an online portal for its carrier partners since 2001 where they could “find freight, view loads they are booked on and update loads, our mobile apps have replicated a lot of that,” said Pete Borgen, the company’s regional capacity manager.
In the Navisphere Carrier app, when a driver is checked in on a load, he “gets the load on the app, and track-and-trace functions allow them to be pinged along their routes” to eliminate what Pratt calls the “check-call rodeo.”
Notifications come through when the driver arrives or exceptions happen, Borgen said. Carriers also can access details on the payment status of a load and whether there are issues.
With the connected Navisphere Driver app, employees on the freight’s front lines use their cell-phone number to log in and enable tracking with the push of a button. At the end of the load, they can scan paperwork with the phone’s camera function and upload afterward.
The app also can work with the driver’s mapping software to provide turn-by-turn directions.
Truckstop.com’s ITS DISpatch web-based software originally was intended for one-pick one-drop loads but now is functional for multi-drop less-than-truckload and a variety of other modes. It can be used by small fleets and independent owner-operators from just one other truck to a 30- to 40-truck fleet.
“About 20 to 25 percent of carriers today do use some type of TMS software,” said Rafael Moiseev, product marketing manager for ITS Dispatch. “The 75 percent that don’t may be using Excel spreadsheets or white boards” and generally may be an audience averse to change, Moiseev said.
ITS built its software to address such aversion. “It doesn’t branch too far off the structure of what a spreadsheet looks like,” he said. “The way the parameters are positioned are somewhat similar to a white board, to make it as intuitive as possible.” Technology user interfaces also are becoming more intuitive, Moiseev said.
Another freight-matching provider, DAT, offers its own small-broker TMS, DAT Keypoint. Steve Blair, DAT general manager, said more carriers that are having trouble retaining drivers for whatever reason are moving to brokered loads.
“We’re seeing a growing trend in carriers running brokerages,” he said. “That trend of feeling compelled to run a brokerage to move freight is moving down-market.
Smaller carriers are doing it. It used to be you’d have above 200 trucks if you’re doing that. Today, we’re seeing it move into the 15- to 20-truck range.”
DAT Keypoint is designed to allow small carriers to post and track freight, integrate with mileage systems and more. “Carrier [TMS] software is not as efficient and doesn’t provide all the necessary tools for a true brokerage operation,” Blair said. “DAT Keypoint gives the appearance of a large, technically capable broker on a low budget.”
DAT also recently integrated its load boards with InMotion Global’s AscendTMS system for carriers, which is being offered at no cost to current and future DAT carrier customers. DAT TruckersEdge, Express and Power load board users can log into the AscendTMS and search for loads and post their trucks as they would inside their DAT load board app or desktop product.
“Freight matching is increasingly about efficiency,” said Don Thornton, DAT senior vice president. “The integration lets our carrier customers, especially smaller ones with fewer technical or financial resources, match their empty trucks with available DAT loads with the press of a single button.”
With the help of technology, management of the cumbersome RFP process to bid on lanes within a large shipper’s book of business is becoming more accessible for a larger portion of carriers. That was the message from Scott Minton, TMW Systems’ senior value engineer, during the 2017 TMW and PeopleNet in.sight user conference in August in Nashville, Tenn.
Minton helped develop Engage.Bid, released by TMW Systems last year, which enables carriers to pull shippers’ lane-by-lane requests for rate bids into a Software-as-a-Service module and apply analysis tools based on market averages and other metrics to help determine rates, speeding up the process for time-strapped small and large fleets.
“The software is motivated by trying to put in the hands of the carriers something to help deal with the painful, brutal exercise of the bid process,” Minton said. It’s also designed to provide a “means to price with conviction and not let bids go to round three,” he said.
This year, accelerated bid processes from some large shippers moved the typical start of the fourth-quarter bid season up a bit, perhaps in anticipation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s electronic logging device mandate hitting at the end of the year.
The ability for carriers, particularly smaller entities, to participate in as many bids as possible also was on Minton’s mind during the development of Engage.Bid. “This relationship between the shipper and the carrier is awkward,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. The things you think you can count on, you can’t really count on.”
When it comes to inking long-term contract rates, “if you leave a penny on the table, that adds up quite a bit” over time, Minton said. The technology that exists for RFPs generally is aimed mostly at helping shippers manage the process with their broker and carrier service providers. “They’re the ones with the freight, and they initiate this process. They send out the master agreement, the lane file,” or they outsource the process through a broker. “They’re doing what they can to optimize the bid to get the most from the carriers at the least cost.”
With Engage.Bid, carriers can import shippers’ lane files, view lanes against TMW’s Market Rate Index averages that are based primarily on participating data-sharing carriers’ contract rates, and apply pricing adjustments either in semi-automated fashion or on a lane-by-lane basis.
After pricing, the program is designed to output bids into the shipper’s lane file format, attaching accessorials such as fuel surcharges, detention and other aspects.
McLeod Software also offers a similar tool in its pricing and bid management module available to McLeod TMS customers. “We’ve put some automation around working on the big bid package,” said Mark Cubine, marketing vice president, acknowledging that the process has been a burden on carriers.
“The amount of business you get is very dependent on how quickly you can make smart decisions,” Cubine said. Automating parts of that process with solid rate intelligence is “one big gain that goes on forever,” he said.
Sal Verazzi, operations manager of Pan American Express, said the Laredo, Texas-based dry van fleet “just started using the tool” from McLeod. Verazzi said it “cuts down your time a lot” on the sales side when attempting to deal with massive lane file spreadsheets effectively.