Trucking has traditionally been a low-tech arena. The best you might
expect would be a CB radio, a cell phone and maybe a backend server for
orders and driver assignment.
But the slick image and real-time savvy of Fed Ex and UPS now is bleeding
into the more traditional world of trucking. As a result, wireless, GPS
and real-time updates now are being adopted by some companies as a means
of competitive advantage.
”We needed a faster, more reliable way to gather data on our pickups and
deliveries, and to improve our route optimization processes,” says
Gregory Confer, director of Process Analysis and Improvement at Ward
Trucking. ”By implementing wireless technology, we have reduced clerical
data entry by several hours a day at each of our facilities and increased
The company adopted route optimization and dispatch technology by Cheetah
Software Systems Inc. of Westlake Village, Calif., as well as Nextel
cellular voice and text messaging. As a result, the company now can track
the movement of its fleet, and offer accurate ETA’s to customers, as well
as updates on the progress of shipments.
Less than a Truckload
Ward Trucking is headquartered in Altoona, Penn. and serves the
mid-Atlantic market. Formed in 1931, Ward’s fleet services a client list
that spans Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. The company serves a
specific niche in the trucking world, known as Less than Truckload (LTL).
An LTL carrier does pickup and delivery (P&D) business for loads smaller
than one truckload. Customers place an order and share the trailer with
materials from other customers.
Similar to airport shuttles, you share the ride with several other
passengers rather than having your own dedicated taxi service. And the
similarities continue. Anyone who has ever ordered a shuttle knows that
the time of arrival can vary widely, and that occasionally you may even
miss your flight. Your trip from the airport might take one hour or
several, depending on how many other passengers are aboard and where they
have to be dropped off.
The average LTL carrier operates in a similar fashion. You call in an
order, clerks manually type these orders into the back-end system, and at
the end of the day, they type in the deliveries made by returning
drivers. Dispatchers take all this data and schedule the order of drop
offs for the coming day, then contact drivers by phone or two-way radio
to verify deliveries.
”Our old manual dispatching system required clerical data entry and
voice instructions for drivers over two-way radio,” says Confer. ”Radio
transmissions and phone calls were heavily utilized by managers,
dispatchers and drivers to cope with day-to-day traffic and delivery
He explains that manual tracking techniques rely heavily on dispatcher
experience. The dispatcher had to understand the pickup area and know
which driver to assign to which deliveries. Planning was only as good as
the know-how of the dispatchers, he says. Not surprisingly, dispatchers
struggled to provide customers with accurate ETAs.
”We had to call the drivers and ask them if they made a delivery or when
it would arrive,” says Confer. ”Otherwise, we had no visibility into
Ward realized that automation was the key to greater profitability. IT
investigated the various products on the market but balked at the high
cost. Confer says the prices were typically in the range of hundreds of
thousands of dollars when you added up the bill for hardware and
On top of that, the company lacked the IT resources required to deploy
and run many of these systems. The IT shop consists of less than 20
people for a company of more than 1,000 employees. The workload generated
by its AS/400 and Windows XP/2000 environment left little time for
At that point, Ward changed tactics and sought out the most
cost-effective and easy-to-implement ASP approach to automate P&D and
other workflow logistics.
”We researched about 20 vendors and Cheetah came out on top,” says
Confer. ”It provided us with the same basic functionality as other
systems that would have cost us 10 times as much.”
Cheetah hosts Ward’s P&D software, which is accessible over the Web. It
works in conjunction with Motorola mobile phones, using the Nextel
wireless network, which was just acquired by Sprint. These Java-enabled
GPS phones offer digital cellular voice, along with walkie-talkie and
text messaging. Drivers use them to view their itinerary for the day,
receive schedule changes, enter updates and confirm deliveries.
”Drivers’ deliveries for the day are downloaded to their telephones,”
says Confer. ”With a couple of key strokes, they make updates as they go
about their business and within a minute, we have delivery confirmation
available to customers.”
After each delivery, the driver enters the data, which is immediately
available to the dispatcher. The system adjusts ETAs continually and
customers are automatically informed of any shifts in the delivery time.
Further, dispatchers can accurately track the location of every truck in
the Ward Trucking fleet.
”We have eliminated an hour or two in data entry at the end of each day,
and up to an hour in drivers waiting for pickup assignments,” says
Confer. ”We also have virtually eliminated phone and radio traffic
between the dispatcher and drivers.”
Implementation wasn’t without its problems, however.
Memory issues with the phone delayed progress for about a month. The
original phone — Motorola I58 SR — didn’t have enough RAM to fully
support the Cheetah application. This caused memory errors and phone
lockups. But Motorola came out with its I325 model in September, which
has more than enough memory.
Despite that delay, the complete roll out for 18 trucking terminals and
425 trucks took less than six months. Confer reports that drivers,
dispatchers and customers are happy with the system so far.
”We have lowered the number of miles driven per stop and are on target
to achieve ROI within six months,” Confer says.
He also notes that Ward has not yet begun to use the full functionality
of the system. While immediate P&D efficiencies have been realized, Ward
has yet to completely utilize features, such as reporting, customer
service and, in particular, automated route optimization. According to
Confer, these will gradually be added once drivers and dispatchers become
fully familiar with the basic elements.