The market for fuel purchasing management software has evolved to the point where it's not just the largest carriers that are buying — it's the small fleets and owner-operators, too.

“Now we're getting into the phase where the smaller and mid-sized companies are really going to be forced by the need to grab these competitive efficiencies for themselves,” says Christopher Driscoll, information technology editor for the American Trucking Assns.' Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC). “It's going to require a new level of sophistication on their part. They're being squeezed on one side by competition and the other side by rising fuel prices.”

From mid-sized fleets down to owner-operators, the largest fuel cost efficiencies can be gained through route planning that identifies the cheapest fueling stations based on a truck's fuel economy, how much fuel the truck starts out with and how much fuel the truck should have when it ends its route.

And according to Chris Lee, project manager of Promiles Software Development Corp. (www.promiles.com), such a solution is increasingly becoming a necessity for owner-operators. About half of PSDC's clients are single-truck owner-operators, while the other half operate five trucks or more.

“It's fairly new for the owner-operator to look at the software specifically for the purpose of fuel optimization,” Lee told Fleet Owner. “Quite simply it's because of the rising cost of fuel.”

Lee concurs that he has seen dramatic differences between those owner-operators who use fuel software and those who don't.

“We get calls fairly regularly from clients who have a family member who decided not to purchase software,” Lee says. “Six months to a couple of years later, they're still in business and their family member is not. That's always a great feeling for us to know that we've been able to help somebody stay in business.”

According to software developer Prophesy Transportation Solutions Inc. (www.miles.com), which serves fleets with an average of 50 trucks, it is quite common for end users of fuel software to require some education to get the most out of it.

“Oftentimes we're explaining what are the different implications of where you purchase fuel,” Bill Ashburn, vp of Prophesy told Fleet Owner. “It is critical to shop for the best rate so that you can maximize your discount [with a particular vendor]. But even within a negotiated price network, people don't realize that getting a penny off at the pump might be costing them if they don't know the state tax.”