Information & Communication
- Computers, Software and Wireless Are Terrific Tools To Maximize Productivity & Profitability
- The information age is here!!!
Integration is key for your communication and information systems – and everyone else you interface with. Utilizing flexible and inexpensive solutions is the trend of the future!!!
From our beginnings 20 years ago, our primary focus has been to help people be successful in their businesses. Key to this is basic planning and “adapting reality to the information age.” What this means is to make (your and industry) basic information and feedback available promptly, so one can make better-informed decisions more quickly.
Since the 1980′s, we have seen this dramatically impact our day-to-day personal dealings (e.g. banking / ATM’s, on-line information / purchasing, etc.) and do the same in business (e.g. computers, on-vehicle devices, PDA’s, cell phones, etc.). The latest growth areas are RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and WiFi-type wireless connectivity.
We are very active in the information industry, both as a partner in and working with a variety of information / communication companies and directly with customers. There are many positive offshoots to this, but one that we have all benefited from is overall “productivity” improvements.
Productivity improvements result in enhanced profitability through better load information / rate negotiation, greater equipment utilization, less office administration, more business services options, managing / monitoring freight flow, etc.
Looking ahead, profitability will continue to be driven by productivity. Improving utilization, reducing paperwork in the system, enhancing cash management and the people-information-communication interface offer the largest opportunities. We have yet to see the many benefits that will be gained through future such e-driven productivity improvements.
We know that there is a shared goal in the industry to this end – from manufacturers / shippers and logistics companies, through the various modes of transportation, to receivers / customers and with banking / cash management entities. A key opportunity exists with industry suppliers. Priorities again include improved real-time communication, getting rid of paper in the process, reducing administrative personnel costs, reducing freight issues (including overage, shortage & damage) and making better use of cash management services (accelerating receivables).
The key to successful implementation of software / devices into the process is accomplished by offering flexible open-system options. These include inexpensive off-the-shelf communication devices, lowest-cost needed-only software and the ability to manage operational planning / dispatch information from multiple locations (and computer terminals).
We believe that most information will flow through the Internet, all the while giving automatic updates to all interested parties. The make-up of the hardware and software will vary by the different industries and industry segments (local, regional, LTL, Intermodal, over-the-road, etc.), shipper requirements, what they may currently have and due to another number of variables.
HOW WE GET THERE
Today, many larger companies use satellite communication tied into sophisticated integrated software. Smaller companies have their own accounting and billing systems and software, and use simple dispatch systems and cell phones for communication. There are also a number of other good options available including cell-based systems, PDA devices, imaging (truck stops, on-truck, etc.) and other approaches.
There are systems available today combining satellite and cell communications giving better coverage than cell-based systems alone, but at lower costs than satellite-only systems. We do believe that satellite costs will converge to a degree with cell costs, but the short term approach will be with cell-based communication for local and some regional operations and the mixed cell / satellite approach for regional and over-the-road operations.
There will be numerous variations to these norms depending on specific customer needs. These include the desire for simple one-way tracking dot-on-the-map information versus two-way communication with the need for tracking, dispatch, electronic proof-of-delivery, signature capture, automatic event notification, etc.
Many (and we) believe that the optimum situation in the future will be to have simple tracking devices on the tractor and trailer, and either a simple in-vehicle mounted and / or a handheld device with the driver. RFID will tie in information throughout the process. From a computer systems standpoint, there are again numerous options, but the keys will be “plug-in” programs and integration into basic systems used today.
To summarize, while the costs of such systems are coming down, we realize that they must be matched to company needs (meaning options). Additionally, our belief is that many will use much simpler and off-the-shelf devices, minimizing cost to the users.
A number of companies now have flexible software available for the complete load planning / dispatch function that can be accessed / managed through multiple locations as noted previously. They focus on on different segments – over-the-road, Intermodal and others. They offer tremendous capabilities and can be integrated into all types of on-road devices, GPS, etc.
One key for successful marketing is to NOT include the other computer programs that a customer already has (and won’t give up in many cases), such as accounting, but does operate on the customers server (with ASP available) and flows the data into the customers current system (open system) and PDA-type devices. One should not care who the device comes from.
COMMUNICATION & DEVICE OPTIONS
–Truck Tracking / Interface – While there are numerous traditional good satellite and / or cell based options out today, this will continue to change in the future. Cell / data systems will be continue to grow due to the lower cost and the amount / type of data that can be flowed. Automatic linkup WiFi-type systems offer a very low cost approach that will gain acceptance. Be sure to explore all options.
–Trailer Tracking / Interface – Our work with shippers, those addressing security issues and those involved with Intermodal indicates the longer-term desire for following the actual freight (not only the truck pulling it). One approach is for a very inexpensive device for trailer or container tracking (including a lease option).
This can be a one-way feed of location over satellite – numerous times a day – that could be tied into a dispatch program. Communication with drivers could be done as it is today or through handheld phone / PDA devices.
–Cell Phone / PDA (data) Devices – The trend of the future for small, medium and even large operations is to put dispatch, bill-of-lading, proof-of-delivery, signature capture, routing, etc. over a data device. Many of the devices that can accomplish this operate over data networks that primarily only work in metro areas, but those options / coverage is growing dramatically.
There are many such devices available being successfully sold into the transportation industry today such as SprintNextel, AT&T Wireless, Verizon and Qwest. They offer service on voice / data devices such as on Blackberry, Handspring, Siemens and others.
The opportunity also with the cell / data approach is that the fleet can get the operators to participate in the cost through the cell phone service that comes with it. The cell phone will continue to be very popular in the industry and many operators are open for more capabilities (against many myths in the marketplace). Additionally, due to the rapid technology changes going on and to come, many are looking for off-the-shelf devices to address their needs.
We know that these device / computer / integration options seem to be always-changing. Most in the transportation and electronic communication industries agree with the trends of the future and the right approach is having very good cost-effective options.
The key questions to ask those you work with include the open-nature and flexibility of the systems, the options for devices and communication protocols (terrestrial and / or satellite), and the cost-benefit to the user.
We will continue to see increased interest from the banking (cash management) industry, shippers, logistics companies and many trucking companies in moving ahead with such integrated “productivity” improvement technologies. Improved profitability in our businesses will involve such approaches, so choose the ones that will best address your needs.
Finally, let us know if we (or any of our partners) can be of any assistance in thinking through the process.