Finding Information Management Solutions

Jan. 1, 2000
A few years ago, the Truckload Carriers Association assembled a panel of trucking journalists for its annual meeting program. One of their tasks was to

A few years ago, the Truckload Carriers Association assembled a panel of trucking journalists for its annual meeting program. One of their tasks was to predict future trends for the nation and transportation. Along with a suggestion that the function of the Interstate Commerce Commission (now out of business) was vital, that trucks would get longer and heavier (they haven't), and that Jerry Brown of California would be elected president (he wasn't), one of the panel members said that the main challenge to freight distribution in the future would be information. The hardware of trucking was mature, he said, and the primary advances in logistics would be the management of information flow.

That has proved true and not true at the same time. The basic hardware of trucking is mature. Information management is vital. However, hardware and information have become so intertwined that they are hardly separable at any point. When the panel discussion was held, electronic fuel controls on heavy diesel engines were new; mechanical fuel controls were still in production. Since 1993, exhaust emission regulations have made mechanical controls obsolete for all but a handful of engines in specific vocational applications. At the same time, the information spewed out by the new electronic fuel controls has become a vital part of truck operation. Now, engines and transmissions exchange information and change gears automatically-completely automatically in some cases or only in the top two gears for other gearboxes. Engine controls can now provide most of the data that on-board trip recorders were originally designed to capture.

Move away from the truck and the array of information gathering systems grows even wider. Vehicles can be tracked by satellite, located by the global positioning system, and kept in constant contact with headquarters by cellular telephone networks. This information can be integrated with other company records to track shipper traffic patterns and freight density. Food distributors can hand delivery drivers a preprogrammed card to plug into their truck that provides daily work instructions, routing, and productivity recording. If a driver has a slow route, the delay shows in the record. No longer is a slow delivery a matter of contention between a driver and the customer; if the truck was stopped 62 minutes for a 14-minute delivery, the record is available.

All this information now can be integrated into management reports to help executives track expenses and find solutions for removing costs from the distribution chain. In fact, so much information is available that one of the main challenges is finding ways to analyze the data. Fleet managers have an almost unlimited source of information management tools. This is a rich field with the surface only barely broken. Following is a look at the web sites at only a few major information system providers. This address leads visitors directly to Qualcomm's wireless business solutions page. The site also can be accessed by going to Qualcomm's main site page at However, this main site contains information on the full range of Qualcomm products and services such as its cellular telephone technology. The more specific address routes visitors straight to the company's fleet management systems.

The primary Qualcomm product for trucking management is OmniTRACS, a vehicle tracking and communication system. Qualcomm supports nearly 230,000 OmniTRACS-equipped vehicles worldwide. The system operates in 33 nations on four continents. Selecting the OmniTRACS button on the opening page leads a series of buttons providing access to descriptions of system capability. The System Overview button provides hardware specifications and a discussion of the system, which has three main elements: mobile hardware, network management services, and application software.

System hardware consists of the small antenna mounted outside the truck cab and the keyboard and display panel familiar to nearly every truck driver. Network management services are provided from Qualcomm's network management center in San Diego CA. The center handles more than four million messages and location reports daily. Application software generates management reports from the raw data generated from messages and tracking information. Following the System Software button takes visitors to a page that describes the product in greater detail. For instance, no manual input is needed to keep dispatch programs updated. Vehicle locations are automatically transmitted from OmniTRACS to the dispatch program to streamline the vehicle dispatching. The QTRACS function in the software locates vehicles and allows dispatchers to provide information on the number of miles from that point to the nearest large city, nearest city, or nearest major landmark. The system allows dispatch coverage to be grouped by fleet, region, or zone. Messages in the system are automatically routed to the appropriate person.

Another service from Qualcomm is JTRACS Pro, a communication program for real-time vehicle diagnostics that has the ability to access and monitor other vehicle components and communication systems for reporting to company headquarters. This system uses Vehicle Data Gateway technology.

Following the link for OmniTRACS Integration leads visitors to an extensive range of information automation possibilities. The system integrates readily with other application and operation software. It can send and receive load information to drivers, send and receive directions, update estimated arrival times, update driver hours of service, maintain pallet counts, provide a cash advance for drivers, provide telephone credit cards, or dispatch a service vehicle for a road breakdown.

Visitors seeking information on trailer tracking should follow the link from the TrailerTRACS button. Qualcomm says that this system can provide a positive trailer identification and position with every connect and disconnect and record the location, date, and time of that action. It can monitor load status and refrigeration unit operation. Refrigeration system data includes reporting of thermostat setpoint, mode of operation, evaporator outlet and return air temperature, and special alarm conditions. In addition, the TrailerTRACS system can report a wrong setpoint, an out-of-range temperature, a loaded trailer with the refrigeration unit turned off, or an unloaded trailer with the unit running.

For information on vehicle productivity, select the ETA/OoR monitoring button. This provides a description of the estimated time of arrival/out-of-route monitoring module in the OmniTRACS system. It allows carriers and food distributors to provide accurate arrival estimates to receivers and customers. It also cuts operating costs by helping eliminate out-of-route miles.

The Qualcomm site also provides information to help carriers make driving a better job. Follow the link behind the CabCARD button for information on personal communication for drivers. This OmniTRACS system routine allows drivers to send and receive personal e-mail from the standard Qualcomm communication console. Using the prepaid calling card service, drivers eliminate hassle from monthly bills and save money. The system provides speed dialing and easy access to news, weather, sports, and financial news. The web site for PaperWise, the document imaging and information systems provider, opens on a black page with a three-panel image-a truck, an office worker, and an office tower-along with a brief company introduction. Clicking on any of the images leads to a page of customer testimonials in the main field along with nine buttons down the left edge.

Clicking the History button leads to a description of the company, which was founded in 1989. In 1995, the company had revenue of almost $820 million. In 1996, it was acquired by The Bell & Howell Company. PaperWise provides document imaging and information management systems for the trucking industry. Its imaging systems integrate with almost any mainframe, AS/400, or Unix computer systems.

Follow the button for Overview for a description of company products and services. A provider of automated document processing, PaperWise offers ImageWise, a system for sharing scanned documents without physical paper handling. DataWise automatically indexes and stores data for retrieval, analysis, and paperless faxing. InfoWise provides rendition billing, a system for generating billing documents from previously scanned paperwork. DisplayWise integrates document scanning capability to various computer platforms without custom programming. It allows users to run the application software they are most comfortable with. Using PaperWise systems, carriers can handle billing questions from a computer without needing to track down an actual freight bill. Paperwork is eliminated, because documents are maintained electronically, ready to print or fax in seconds, the company says.

Clicking the Clients button leads to a page of company logos, all trucking company clients of PaperWise. In addition to the logos, the page lists other clients. Links are provided to many of the client web sites. The same service is provided for computer vendors and service providers on the Partners page.

The Software Highlights button provides detailed information about PaperWise products. For instance, the rendition billing system automatically selects the appropriate proof of delivery for each invoice it prints. Customers can use the Internet to retrieve copies of documents from company records without using motor carrier clerical time. Scanned documents stored in the PaperWise system can be e-mailed to anyone with access to the Internet. The system maintains an audit log for all documents to ensure that they are maintained properly.

Clicking the Sales Regions button leads to a color map of the US with telephone and e-mail contacts. The site also provides a calendar of company events. Cadec Corp provides information services to food distributors and other terminal-based transportation companies in much the same manner that the remote communications providers provide services to longhaul trucking. The difference is that the memory resides on the truck instead of some remote collection location. Cadec's web site opens on a page of photos in the main field with 13 buttons in a narrow field along the left edge.

Clicking on the About Cadec button leads to a history of the company that was founded in 1976 and that marketed the first vehicle information system with driver input in 1984. Cadec was acquired by Cummins Engine Company in 1986. By 1990, the company had products that could interface with Roadnet and Roadshow routing systems. Through the 1990s, the company developed its 4000 and 4000Plus systems. In 1999, Cadec became an employee-owned corporation, independent of Cummins.

Using the Cadec Products button takes visitors to a complete description of Cadec hardware and software. The newest, 4000Plus, is the first vehicle information system to run in Microsoft Windows. Cadec systems retain their utility. For instance, the CMS 3000 does daily log reports, fuel tax reporting, drivers expense reports, hours of service accounting, and driver productivity reports. The 4000ST is a low cost alternative to a full-function fleet management system. It monitors fundamental operating parameters such as speed, engine rpm, idle time, and sudden brake applications.

The Cadec site provides a list of e-mail contacts, an archive of company press releases, and a button for links to other transportation sites. Tom McLeod Software in Birmingham, Alabama, is dedicated solely to the trucking industry. The web site opening page has buttons for Products, News, Sales, Support, and Links.

The Products button leads to an extensive list of information management products, and services. These include dispatch; billing and accounts receivable; driver settlement; safety, fuel, and mileage; vehicle maintenance and inventory control; document imaging; interactive voice response; fuel optimization; check reconciliation; general accounting; marketing; fuel interfaces; mileage interfaces; mobile communication interfaces; electronic data interchange; fixed assets; Qualcomm interface; Highway Master interface; Internet module; and About Tom McLeod Software.

According to information on the Dispatch link, McLeod Software is about moving freight, not paper. The dispatch system is designed to display available loads compared to available equipment. The dispatch screen will lead dispatchers to the nearest tractor to a load and will automatically rate the freight.

The Billing button leads to a page that says trucking is the easy part, getting paid is hard. McLeod Software will track a customer's average time from load delivery to payment. It also tracks customer load history. If credit is denied to a shipper, the software will prevent dispatchers from accepting a load. The billing software automatically prepares freight bills and provides receivables aging.

Follow the link to Driver Settlement to see how the software handles payroll for company employees and for independent contractors. Software in this module prepares W2 and 1099 forms for tax purposes as well as detailed payroll statements. The payroll software also will put a hold on driver pay if any paperwork is outstanding.

TruckStops Version 2.4 Issued MicroAnalytics announces the release of version 2.4 of the TruckStops routing and scheduling system, which features expanded driving directions options and a new add-on tool. This tool is a link to MileMaster, a road-networking package for the United Kingdom. Similar to TruckStops' current interface with PC*Miler, TruckStops users in the UK now can access MileMaster seamlessly from within the routing program.

Users of the TruckStops/PC*Miler interface can select which routes to display in the driving directions. An increased number of stops in a TruckStops-generated route can be displayed in a PC*Miler map and in the PC*Miler driving directions. Another feature allows user-generated driver instructions to be included in a route report.

Available for Windows 95/98/NT, TruckStops can be used either dynamically, for scheduling vehicles on routes that change daily; or strategically, for planning and updating fixed delivery routes.

DISA Commits to E-Business The Data Interchange Standards Association (DISA) board of directors has decided to accelerate diversification and e-commerce initiatives and has formed partnerships with these groups:

* Open Travel Alliance representatives from air, car, hotel, leisure supplier, and nonsupplier groups develop open standards for the travel industry, creating Internet-compatible messages by defining data terms in XML.

* Interactive Financial Exchange Forum participants develop financial business message specifications that will facilitate online banking transactions.

* Electronic Business XML working group members define the technical basis for standardizing global implementation of XML.

* BizTalk's community of standards users, founded by Microsoft, works for rapid, consistent adoption of XML.

* World Wide Web Consortium members endeavor to develop common protocols that assist Internet evolution and interoperability.

KellerSCAN Gets Upgrade Keller Data Solutions, the software business unit of J J Keller & Associates, has released KellerSCAN version 3.0, an upgrade of the automated transportation logging system introduced in 1997. The system is an alternative to manual log auditing that encompasses Log Checker software, scannable logs, and technology to recognize handwritten driver log data.

Features of the new version include:

* Ability to calculate and view log violations on-screen.

* Capability to analyze information for multiple employees on the same screen.

* Added security features to limit access to data based on pre-defined user rights.

* Fuel card import capability for further automating log/receipt falsification checks.

* Optional remote scanning module to retrieve data from distant terminal locations for centralized processing.

* Scalable system components to grow as business increases.

MapObjects 2 Available An evaluation version of MapObjects 2 is available for download from the ESRI web site. This 90-day trial of MapObjects, ESRI's collection of embeddable mapping and GIS components for application developers, is a complete version of the software. The evaluation version lets developers explore types of applications being built with MapObjects.

MapObjects is used to create productivity tools for front counter applications, parcel query, identification and notification, permit tracking, information kiosks, CD publication, or field data collection.

The MapObjects 2 evaluation includes sample map data (streets and highways, census boundaries, ZIP codes, counties, states, and country files), demo applications, and source code as well as user reference guides for installation and getting started.

About the Author

The Refrigerated Transporter Staff

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