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Turning to the cloud

Fleets navigate pitfalls as they leverage IT integrations to meet customer demands

Running a successful fleet involves far more than tractor-trailers and freight. It requires management of operations, equipment, drivers, and other employees. Combined with the increasing demands of shippers, optimized and secure information technology (IT) systems are a business necessity.

For fleets that have invested in state-of-the-art transportation management systems (TMS), there still is needed maintenance and upkeep, meaning they cannot have a “set it and forget it” mentality, according to Ben Wiesen, president of Carrier Logistics.

Software vendors don’t “produce a [security] patch because there is no problem. It’s because they found a problem with security or reliability,” said Wiesen, whose company specializes in management software for the less-than-truckload sector.

“Without proper maintenance and support, installed technology will become dysfunctional after a certain point,” said Norm Thomas, general manager of tracking technology firm I.D. Systems.

Alterations to software systems may also be needed as business operations and expansion plans evolve. In addition, the increased use of electronic logging devices and in-cab cameras means there are hardware changes and company-wide “process changes” that requires additional attention, noted Jai Ranganathan, vice president of products for KeepTruckin.

At the same time, the emergence of cloud computing is providing motor carriers a new way to enhance their operations through easier IT upgrades and additional software integrations.

“Just managing, upgrading and trying to keep systems secure is difficult. It is a task easier to do in the cloud,” explained Mark Botticelli, chief technology officer for Trimble Transportation.

Cloud computing refers to storing and accessing data and applications over the Internet, rather than maintaining the information in on-premises systems. Carriers can pay for a subscription to use the cloud from providers such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft. The result has been more suppliers offering cloud-based options, often touted as easier and more cost-effective for wide-scale integrations that can more efficiently analyze data and improve overall efficiency.

The ability to conduct business via the cloud “tends to lower the cost of entry because [fleets] are paying for the use of software than the full license,” said John Pope, chairman of Cargo Transporters.

Mark Cubine, vice president of marketing and enterprise systems for McLeod Software, said this has made it easier for today’s fleets to utilize as many as 15 off-the-shelf integrations “that complement the capabilities of their core system, and they receive great value from what each of those suppliers brings them.”

In fact, “the level of investment in IT should be going down” for many fleets, said Ranganathan. The cloud makes it easier to maintain or upgrade systems as well as to scale up a TMS without a large up-front investment to help stay on track during periods of high freight demand.

However, the cloud could present a higher risk of security and privacy breaches.

“No matter the size, invest in good consulting and advice on your security side,” said Pope. Even small vulnerabilities in a firewall or spam filter could lead to a virus that “impacts the whole network.”

Pope spoke with Fleet Owner in mid-June, just as A. Duie Pyle was still recovering from a ransomware attack that the company acknowledged “impacted our network communication systems.” Even though the core operating systems and backups were not compromised and no data was extracted, it took more than two weeks to return to its “pre-attack state.”

Immediately after the attack was discovered, the company posted online that it had “immediately cut all ties to the Internet and every Pyle device was disconnected from the Pyle communications network in every facility, which in our case is over 1,000 desktop towers and laptops, as well as many other additional devices used in our business.”

Throughout the restoration process, A. Duie Pyle provided frequent updates, documenting the round-the-clock efforts to bring back up its document imaging system, voicemail system, external e-mail communications, and other programs.

“Our reason for sharing our experience and response is to perhaps, in some small way, help some of our customers in the unfortunate event you find yourselves in a similar position,” CEO Pete Latta said in a statement.

Coming Tuesday: A closer look at protecting your company from potential security threats

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