Executives of any size of for-hire or private fleet need not be intimidated by information technology when strategizing on how to best tie into the supply chain to serve even the most demanding shipper of any size.

Certainly, information technology has a role to play in making that happen. And never before have there been so many electronic tools available, including solutions that may enable even the smallest fleets to land the largest shippers as customers.

“What’s widely considered by shippers to be the minimum entry requirements for carriers is that they be capable of communicating via electronic data integration (EDI),” points out Brad Young, TMW Systems’ director of industry marketing— for hire carriers.

“While being EDI-capable is the baseline,” he continues, “there’s always some work involved in putting it into play. Some degree of ‘mapping’ may be needed, as not every shipper uses the same purchase orders numbers, etc.”

Young says that’s where flexible order-import tools for an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system come into the picture. “These tools process order information, for example, by ‘reading’ spreadsheets or emails. Different formats can then be turned into a standard TMW order. Then the carrier uses that to communicate with the shipper.

“Carriers have to transact business with the major shippers now through EDI, that’s just a fact of life,” contends Mark Cubine, McLeod Software’s vp—marketing. “Carriers have to be good with EDI and have good EDI scores to stay with shippers. That means the fleet’s EDI transactions must be timely and accurate-- and that the shippers’ responses are handled in a timely and accurate way. 

“That is hard to do manually,” he continues, “so most of those who are successful at this have an EDI system tightly integrated with their order-entry and planning and operations systems.”

“We are always adjusting our [logistics] solutions, be they for fleets with 10 or 50 or 500 trucks,” advises Adam Kahn, director of fleet solutions for Omnitracs (formerlyQualcomm Enterprise Solutions).

“Things are much more complex for carriers now,” he continues. “It’s amazing the amount of information now being shared [by carriers and shippers] and then pushed out to the fleet’s mobile resources--- its vehicles, its drivers and its customers.

Kahn says the “keystone to what has changed is that conversations have been enhanced along the supply chain. Whether private or for-hire, carriers now have deeper conversations on what shipper and regulatory requirements must be met around each delivery.”

As to how TMS solutions and mobile-communications ones, as provided by Omnitracs, fit in the current marketplace, Kahn says these systems can work together to benefit any fleet operation.

“Everyone is hustling to stay profitable,” he remarks. “The good news is now there’s a lot of data available to better manage everything from customer service to safety compliance to cost control to ensure profitability. For a fleet, deploying TMS plus a mobile-communications solution can make the whole process more effective, productive and cost-efficient.”

TMW’s Young suggests that fleets considering entering the EDI arena “start by ascertaining what its customers are demanding and how soon they expect it to be implemented. Once current customer demand is understood, it’s also important to consider what will be needed to react quickly to any changes as well as requirements of new customers.”

McLeod’s Cubine remarks that “every carrier is feeling the pressure to do more, react faster, become more efficient, find automation, etc. All to deal with these tightly integrated, heavily managed sophisticated supply-chain visions the shippers have.

“The best-run carriers with the best system capabilities will be the ones that get most of the business and succeed with shippers and their advanced supply-chain management plans,” he adds.