A two-way street

Fleets want to be e-commerce customers, tooIn the last year or so, trucking has embraced the notion that e-commerce is an absolutely essential business channel connecting fleets to their customers. Whether a fleet is providing freight carriage or field service, the productivity and customer service gains offered by e-commerce are simply too large to be ignored. Some segments of the industry, such

Fleets want to be e-commerce customers, too

In the last year or so, trucking has embraced the notion that e-commerce is an absolutely essential business channel connecting fleets to their customers. Whether a fleet is providing freight carriage or field service, the productivity and customer service gains offered by e-commerce are simply too large to be ignored. Some segments of the industry, such as package and LTL carriers, have been quicker than others to implement extensive systems, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any fleet that doesn't see e-commerce in its near future.

What about e-commerce when fleets are the customers? Where is the commitment from trucking's suppliers to extend the benefits of e-commerce to those that buy their products and services? Manufacturers are quickly moving to streamline internal operations and supply chains with electronic links to their suppliers, but few seem to see the need to provide the same information efficiencies to the fleets that rely on them for vehicles, parts, and essential services.

There are some tentative steps to build electronic links between suppliers and fleets, but these are generally limited to specific areas of a fleet's operations and fall far short of the total electronic integration fleets are striving to offer their customers. These efforts just don't go far enough, especially for fleets that have already invested heavily themselves in providing e-commerce services.

Lynn Gorman is the vp of ground-vehicle maintenance for FedEx, which must certainly be considered one of the industry's e-commerce pioneers. Speaking to suppliers directly at a recent conference sponsored by the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Assn., Gorman laid out what he considers "mandatory links" for "total electronic integration" with fleet suppliers as well as customers.

Those links include online ordering for new trucks and equipment, as well as online tracking of vehicle order status. Although Gorman got a laugh when he told the audience, "If I can provide tracking information on a $10 package you give me, you have to provide me with tracking on a $50,000 truck," his point wasn't lost.

Electronic payment for vehicle purchases, and direct electronic filing for warranty claims following a standard industry warranty format were also among the e-commerce initiatives Gorman wants to see, as are online parts ordering with direct shipments to fleet shops. Finally, he wants to see manufacturers provide their fleet customers with online, indexed access to repair manuals, parts books, and service diagnostic repair information.

To be fair, vehicle and component manufacturers are moving ahead in some of these areas, but in general the electronic links between suppliers and fleets lag far behind those already established by the fleets with their customers. Fleets have been quick to recognize the power of e-commerce, and many have already taken bold steps to exploit that power. It's time for suppliers to match that boldness.

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