A Workforce on Steroids – Creating a Purposeful Work Environment

We all have routine (robotic) tasks that we hate doing, but they just have to get done.  These can be anything from reviewing and answering “routine” e-mail inquiries, to regulatory and legal reporting requirements.  Most of these activities fall into one of two categories – essential non-value adding activities and purely non-value adding activities.  How do we maximize the amount of time that our teams spend on value-added, cognitive (thinking) tasks and minimizing the routine tasks that offer little or no value-add?  Can we utilize a lean culture in terms of processes, while at the same time providing a more interesting and stimulating work environment?

I was recently reading a presentation, using Lean Principles, that was developed by the University of California – Davis School of Organizational Excellence.   To download the presentation, click here.  The presentation starts out by summarizing lean as having 3 main pillars:

  1. Increasing value
  2. Reducing waste
  3. Respecting people

Among other things, a Lean culture will constantly challenge the status quo, use team-based problem solving, emphasize communication and leverage talents.  It does this through standardized processes, eliminating anything that does not add value, continually improves, routine tasks are automated and uses clear metrics and goals.

An important concept is that value is defined from the end user or customer’s perspective.  A quick way of thinking about this is for any task ask yourself “would a customer be willing to pay for this?”  These items directly contribute to customer expectations and as a result they need to be done right both the first time and every time.

As a simple example, consider taking a check to the bank and making a deposit.  The traditional process means driving to the bank, waiting in line, completing the transaction and then driving back home.  Out of these 4 steps, only the completing the transaction provides value.  The person lives 10 minutes away from where they bank, and they normally have to wait in line for about 5 minutes to complete a 1 minute transaction.  Based on this example, the customer waste 25 minutes to do a simple 1 minute transaction – an efficiency of only 4%!  Now most banks are offering the ability to deposit checks with a smartphone app.  The example given in the presentation suggests that an average user will take about 30 seconds to enter the deposit information into the app, take about 60 seconds to capture a usable image of the check and then another 30 seconds to complete the transaction.  This reduces the wasted time to 90 seconds and reduces the value added task to 30 seconds.  The efficiency ratio is now 25% and the overall time spent is reduced from 26 minutes down to 2.

We can see a similar situation that goes on in our Operations departments.  Many of us still use a traditional system where most customers either call in, or e-mail in load orders and these requests are handled by Customer Service Representatives (the definition of CSRs vary greatly from carrier to carrier).  By having a friendly person answering the phone. and talking with the client we are offering great value to our customer – right?  Maybe not.

CSRs offer value when the customer has a one-off shipment or something that requires special handling or routing instructions.  In these situations, the CSR is truly offering a solution to a unique situation.  However, if I am a shipper and I have a daily run of in-process parts from Birmingham into Chattanooga that are always 16 bins, and 40,000 pounds with a pickup time of 8AM Monday to Friday, then forcing me to talk with a CSR is taking extra time and creating no value for either party.  This situation is a perfect candidate for automation – such as a standing order that the shipper only communicates exceptions.  Now when the shipper talks with the CSR, it is a situation where the CSR can actually provide value.  If the customer is large enough and provides it, consider going to a full EDI solution instead of just utilizing a web portal for things like load tenders, status updates, etc.

Another example is with customer updates.  Normally the customer calls into the CSR, who then needs to find the shipment, see what truck and driver are assigned to that load and then determine that vehicle’s location.  A much more efficient process would be to offer some form of customer web access to allow your client to check on the status themselves. Many carriers are providing this type of service via Freight visibility services such as Four Kites, 10-4, and MacroPoint (however, this is typically driven via the shipper). The customer can get the information when they want it (not just when your Customer Service department is staffed) and your employee is freed up to take on cognitive tasks.  Now they are able to spend more time on problem solving, such as updating customers who have a shipment that is in danger of being late due to breakdowns, weather, traffic conditions or potentially impacted by the new hours of service regulations.

What about those non-value added tasks that are still necessary for regulatory or compliance reasons?  First, look for ways to at least partially automate them. If you don’t think a routine task can be automated, read this article. If you have an item that you need to do, such as periodic reports to a regulatory body, are you tracking them in a spreadsheet or do you have a report that will gather the necessary data for you?  Secondly, have you recently confirmed that this task/report is still required? A audit of routine tasks should be done regularly – why do them if they are redundant – you’re paying for them! A similar case can be made for those reports that customers ask for.  Have you done a recent follow up with the customer to see if they still want or even use the reports you are sending.  Could they be done in a simpler format that takes less time for you and provides more value to them?

Some employees will resist some of these changes. Humans generally don’t like change. If you build explain the importance of these proposed changes in a big picture narrative, instead of simply telling them to stop, you will get much more buy-in.  You may be worried that by pushing some of these items onto your customer you are reducing that “personalized touch”.  The focus needs to be on asking “is this something that the customer actually values and is it something that they would pay for?”.  Instead of having a CSR just take routine orders, empower them to do customer checkups, such as a review of historical loads versus contractual commitments.  Maybe identifying lost accessorial revenue that could flow straight to your bottom-line.

Continuous improvement does not mean constantly taking things away.  By removing repetitive “busy work” you can make the job much more enjoyable. You are allowing them to use their talents and abilities more often.  However, keep in mind that there are some people who prefer to do more routine type jobs, and do not enjoy problem solving.  If in a department you have one person like this and four others who would prefer to deal with unique situations, you may consider redistributing tasks so that the routine situations are handled by that one person and the others get their time freed up to work on something more creative.  The third pillar of LEAN is respecting people.  Different people have different motivations and desires.  Asking a person who prefers routine to handle exceptions is not going to satisfy them.  Similarly putting a lot of routine, repetitive tasks on a person who has excellent problem-solving skills will result in a dissatisfied employee who is probably looking for another job – sooner rather than later.  By knowing and respecting the players involved, an organization can structure itself in a way that is always looking to eliminate waste, creates value and truly becomes customer focused while still creating opportunities to better leverage individual talents and goals.

Stop Reacting to Breakdowns and Start Avoiding Them

Most of our shops handle preventative maintenance programs reasonably well in terms of oil changes, brake linings, and possibly even things like diesel particulate filters and automatic transmission services.  But what about other items that fail at a relatively similar rate such as DOC (diesel oxidation catalyst) inlet or outlet valves and NOx sensors.  These items are an integral part of the emissions control systems and are common causes of on the road repairs.  There are some reasonably inexpensive ways to move from being reactive to proactive.

Step 1 – Collect Your Data

The first way is by simply examining your repair records for patterns.  For example, have you recently seen a string of a certain component failing?  Have you had several on the road breakdowns all with a certain make of truck or engine?  At a minimum you should be keeping a spreadsheet tracking each breakdown, what components failed and at what mileage.  Even better is to have a report set up in your maintenance tracking program that will pull this information for you as well as things like truck make and model as well as engine make and model.  In fact, if your maintenance program does not have such a report you should consider either getting them to create one or hire a programmer to do it yourself.  Ideally, you should be able to tabulate the reasons for the breakdowns and what failed.  Include both on the road repairs and any work you did inhouse.

An additional step you will want to track is how much each breakdown costs you – did you need to put a driver up in a motel, did you need to rent a replacement tractor, was a tow required, or did you just have to pay that driver to sit while the repair took place.  Also include a per day rate for just having the equipment not being utilized – it may not be an out of pocket cost, but your company still incurred it.

Finally, you may have new equipment that you have not previously bought, or you may not have enough data on to make an informed decision on.  In this case networking with other fleets to determine failure rates and approximate mileages will have to suffice.  Other sources of information would be your dealership, a local maintenance association, attending a TCA convention or event or meetings of your state trucking association.

Step 2 – Evaluate Your Findings

Now that you are armed with this data, what do we do with it?  The first thing you are going to do is to start with your 4 or 5 most common failure points.    By focusing on a few common items, you can keep things manageable.  Next do a root cause analysis as to why those components failed.  For example, if you have a specific sensor that regularly fails do you tend to see a specific reason for that failure – say a damaged wiring harness or is it general wear and tear.  In this example, if it is a damaged wiring harness then ensure that your PDI service for that engine includes something like installing additional wire loom around that harness.  If a simple modification is not apparent, then look for trends as to when the component fails – either by time or by mileage.

Step 3 – Develop an Action Plan

Using our sensor example again, let us assume that there is no discernable reason why it fails, but you can see that the failures mostly come in a range between 200,000 and 225,000 miles.  This failure generally affects 50% of your tractors.  Please note that your costs may vary, and these are purely for illustration purposes:

Repair Costs:

Sensor                                  $200

Labor (1hr @ $100/hr)   $100

Total                                      $300 per vehicle


Breakdown Costs:

Tow                                       $400

Motel                                    $80

Meals                                    $20

Layover Pay                        $100

Staff Time (1.5hr)             $75

Lost Utilization                  $200

Total                                      $875


Normally when this sensor fails it is covered under warranty.  While I normally would not recommend forgoing warranty dollars, in this case it may be more cost effective to replace the sensors proactively. In this example each replacement would cost $300 and only half of the tractors incurs a failure, so you are spending $600 in replacements for every failure.   Regarding the lost utilization cost, the vehicle was down and not creating revenue for 24 hours at a cost of $200 per day (this will vary based on the purchase price, the term of the loan, etc.).  Overall each breakdown is costing you $875 between out of pocket and implicit costs.  At $600 to cover the replacements needed to avoid a single breakdown you have an immediate payback to give up the warranty dollars and do a proactive replacement.

Once an action has been determined to be economical, create a proactive program that will be applied to coordinate with a preventative maintenance point. Ensure that your technicians are aware of the required repairs and provide any necessary training.

Step 4 – Follow up, Evaluate the Program and Look for any Improvements

They say that the proof is in the pudding and in this case the proof is measured in a reduction in breakdowns caused by the component you are proactively replacing.  This is a step many of us neglect.  However  However, without it you can’t properly determine if the program delivered.  If you reduce the failure rate to 10% then you can call the program a success.  However, if the failure rate barely changes then you need to go back and look for something that the first analysis missed.  Regardless of the results you should redo your root cause analysis to determine if there are any further steps that pass the cost-benefit test.  Continue to look to other sources to see if the manufacturer has made any changes that require a change in the trigger point for the program – a new design may not fail until 300,000 miles meaning that an extended interval will result in fewer replacements per year and lowering your costs.

Finally continue to review your breakdowns and repairs to update your top five to ensure that you are keeping up with any changes in technology and stay ahead of the curve.

A Blood Test for Your Trucks

Your engine’s oil is the equivalent of your blood.  When your doctor wants to know what is going on inside you he doesn’t head you straight to the surgery.  She likely starts with taking a couple of tubes of blood and sends it off to a lab for tests based on what she has observed.  Showing early signs of diabetes – there’s a test for that.  Concerned about cholesterol and potentially blocked arteries?  Again, there is a relatively simple test that will show if further investigation is required.

The same thing is available for your truck’s engines.  Antifreeze in the oil is a major cause of serious repairs and engine failures.  There are many ways that antifreeze can get into the oil – failing seals, pin holes in liners or in the oil cooler among others.  By the time the oil is visibly discolored the situation has probably gone beyond the point of a simple and relatively economical repair.  A second major cause is fuel getting into the oil and diluting it or washing it off surfaces.  A bad injector or a damaged duel pump can cause fuel to leak into the oil pan and reduce the oil’s effectiveness.  Just as leaving an increased level of cholesterol could shorten your lifespan, ignoring any contaminants in the oil could result in a much shorter life for your truck’s engine.

When to start?

So when should you start an oil analysis program?  In short, right from the first oil change.  This gives you a baseline to compare future test results against.  By doing testing right from the start and then at every drain you will see when problems start – not just dealing with them when the truck is at the side of the road and waiting for a wrecker.  Beyond avoiding an on the road breakdown, there are a few other reasons you will want to do oil analysis on every drain.

Why to use oil testing?

The first reason is to determine if you are on the proper drain interval.  Many of us use the same mileage interval for all engines.  Without doing testing you may be losing an opportunity for an extending the distance between oil changes.  Alternatively, you may find that a specific run of engines requires a shorter interval to maintain peak performance.  Different manufacturers use slightly different metal alloys for their blocks, heads, etc., resulting in slightly different wear patterns.  In addition, different filter manufacturers may have a stronger solution for certain engines as opposed to others.  Brand A may be better for a Cummins while Brand B is superior on a Volvo and a Detroit may be best off with an OEM filter.  A similar discussion can be had with brands and types of oil.  Again, one engine may perform best with brand A’s conventional oil while another wants brand B’s semi-synthetic to get its best performance.  Your parts procurement department my just be focusing on price or single sourcing – both worthy goals – but without having some data that an oil analysis can uncover you may be increasing your total cost of ownership of certain equipment.  By paying a few dollars more for a filter or by dealing with an additional vendor or two you could find that you are able to extend you drain interval from 25,000 miles to 27,500 miles – an additional 10%.  If the truck is kept for around 600,000 miles, this means 2.5 fewer oil changes over it’s lifespan – a savings of between $500 and $1000 per truck over the time you own it.  This is only the lowest hanging fruit.

A more valuable return is in the detection of any contaminants in the oil – fuel, anti freeze, metal, etc.  Here you need to work with your lab to determine what is the correct level for an alert to be shown.  For example, many experts believe that even a trace amount of anti-freeze in the oil is too much and should trigger further investigation.  In terms of fuel dilution, the trend may be more important than just it’s mere presence.  The level of cleanliness of the oil and its trend should act as a trigger, especially if it is getting worse.  This could point to a change in operating conditions that may warrant a shorter drain interval or it cold point to a bad batch of filters.  The amount of metal in the oil is an item that both the quantity and the trend are important. Seeing an increasing amount should trigger an investigation into where it is coming from and what steps can be taken to prevent an over the road failure.  At the same time, comparing the amount to other engines of the same make/model and similar mileage could point towards a component that wears out more rapidly than with other engines.  Having that knowledge can allow you to create an additional maintenance point for those engines to either replace that part before they fail or at a minimum create an inspection program to monitor that item.

The reports you get back from the lab need to be reviewed, not just filed away in a cabinet.  At a minimum your maintenance manager needs to be looking at them for any alerts that the testing company.  Ideally, they are looking at the results against the last report to identify any items that are trending the wrong way.  Any of these items should result in a vetting program being triggered as they may or may not signify that a condition exists.  What should be put in motion is a further series of diagnostics that could include during a further, more intensive oil test as well as doing a more general computer diagnostic of the engine to look for any indications of a condition.  While we are discussing it, connecting your vehicles to a diagnostic computer at each preventative maintenance service is also a best practice as the data download will add to your predictive analysis toolkit!

An ROI on avoiding breakdowns is much more subjective, but here are a few costs that come with a breakdown:

  • An unhappy and unproductive driver. You are going to have to pay for layovers, motel rooms and meals at a minimum each time a major failure happens on the road.
  • You will likely be paying more for an outside shop to do the repairs. At a minimum you have likely required the services of a tow truck to bring your vehicle into a repair facility – a cost that could have been avoided
  • The per day cost of just owning that vehicle (payments, depreciation, licenses and permits, etc.) for the days that it is sitting there not generating any revenue.
  • Unless you can use a repair facility that you either already have an account with or that you can use a nation account, you are going to need to pay for the repair once it has been completed instead of having a 30-day (or greater) payment term. On a large repair the implicit financing costs could be significant, in addition to the costs of issuing a T or Com Check or using up credit card limit space.
  • Potentially the cost of a replacement vehicle if the repair can not be made in a timely manner due to shop capacity, availability of parts, etc. This again is a preventable expense.
  • The cost of a service failure to your customer, either in the load waiting for the vehicle to get repaired before delivering the load or the use of out of route miles to send another driver in to recover the load.

Best practices

Here are a few best practices that the Noria Corporation recommend for oil testing:

  1. More frequent testing and inspection. In short, do it every oil change.  Infrequent testing makes it much more difficult to catch faults and root causes before they become failures.
  2. More comprehensive examinations. Cutting back oil testing (both in terms of quantity and quality) can be a false economy.  It’s only by using a wide enough net that you can capture enough data to guide your techs towards areas that need attention.  This applies to all areas of condition monitoring.  The exact amount of monitoring may be different from company to company but spend the time to determine what works for you based on some of the failures that you have encountered in the past.
  3. Pin-drop sensitive alarms and limits. Keeping in mind that with regular testing an alarm should be considered just a trigger for further monitoring, having more alarms because of tighter limits is a good thing.  This puts your staff in the habit of looking for warning signs during an inspection instead of just reacting.
  4. Be wary of too few reportable conditions. Noria finds that on average 30% or oil reports should have some sort of reportable condition and not less than 10% (unless you are looking at very new vehicles).  Alerts do not mean your maintenance team are failing.  On the contrary they are a way to encourage continuous improvement.  Finally, they allow your shop to focus its efforts on items that provide the most uptime for the lowest cost.

Oil analysis is both a form of insurance as well as another diagnostic tool that you can use to predict failures before they happen and correct them during scheduled downtime instead of a on the road emergency.  Just as you would not send a mechanic to do all repairs with a hammer, think of this as an additional source of information that will guide your shop to use its resources more wisely, reduce overall ownership costs and be more efficient.

Cloud Based TMS: Part III – Risky Business

One valuable reason to move towards cloud computing for your TMS is to reduce your business risks.  Power outages used to mean that both your staff and your customers could be left in the dark.  With a cloud based TMS you just need any sort of internet connection to keep on working.

Here’s how the two compare:

  1. Exposure due to backups. Traditional on-site solutions are generally only backed up to disk or tape nightly.  Depending on their size, you may be backing up SQL databases more often and (hopefully) storing them on another server to mitigate against a single physical server failing.  Unless you are rotating drives/tapes and storing them offsite you are still exposed to disasters affecting your physical building.  With a cloud-based solution, many providers use servers based in multiple locations with multiple internet connections through different providers and likely technologies.  As an example, they may have host sites in New Jersey, Texas and California.  Big snow storm shuts down the east coast? No worries as your data was already replicated to the servers in Texas and California.  Each facility backs itself up to the other facilities and possibly even a separate backup location.  All of this is included in your monthly cost as the costs are distributed between a group of customers.  Want to do something similar with an on-site server?  Now you are looking at large capital outlays to purchase additional equipment, increased monthly expenses (such as for additional IT staff, rent for the remote locations, duplicate software, increased internet bandwidth, etc.) and significantly increased IT complexity. To paraphrase Dr McCoy, “I’m a trucker, not an IT company!”
  2. Power disruptions. With on-site servers you are at risk of a contractor working two or three streets over cutting a line and knocking out the electricity to your office.  That back-up battery that’s connected to the server probably only has 15-20 minutes before it gets to the point that it will start a shut down of your server.  Unless you have invested tens of thousands of dollars for a backup generator you are probably stuck waiting for the local utility company to send out a crew and repair the break.  During that time, you may or may not have phones, so your customers may have difficulties reaching you.  If you host your own e-mail, then that server is also going to be down.  Even if your customer can reach you, you have no visibility as to where their shipment is and you are unable to enter orders or dispatch loads.  In short, you are stuck waiting for someone else to get you back in business.  With a cloud-based solution, it continues to operate even if the lights are out in your office.  All you need to be able to continue providing to your customers is a laptop and a cell phone.  If your router is down and you can’t get to the internet that way, most cell phones will let you tether a laptop to it so that you can share its data and get back to work.  Yes, cellular data can be expensive, but it is likely less costly than losing orders because you can’t access your system.
  3. Cybersecurity. Cloud based solutions are based on keeping security up to date as they have skin in the game.  Yes, a hack into your data will be painful, but to the provider it could put them out of business.  So, they will use things like the latest encryption technologies, 2-factor authentication as well as a team of networking professionals that monitor for intrusions as well as do their own testing to make sure that the bad guys can’t get in.  Think that having an onsite server will prevent this? Wrong.  Your network is connected to the internet, so you do have exposure.  Has your staff applied the latest security updates and patches to your servers and routers?  Is there a user with administrator privileges that has a weak, easily cracked password?  Did your consultant forget to remove any default users or passwords from your routers?  You probably do not have a person who spends their full time on these items and that is what a hacker is counting on.
  4. Updates. Most software that is hosted on your own servers require being taken offline while updates and patches are applied.  That means paying overtime to have these applied during off hours or it means that your system needs to be taken down and users left waiting for the process to complete and let them back in.  You are probably only doing updates a couple of times a year, leaving you exposed to any security flaws or just not taking advantage of the latest features that could be saving your organization time and money.  With a cloud-based system applying updates are the responsibility of the provider who has the staff to be able to perform these in a way that keeps any down time to a minimum (if not eliminate it entirely).
  5. Multiple ways to use the system. May cloud based providers allow you multiple ways to access the system.  This means you get the choice of how your people work – a desktop/laptop, a tablet or even on their phones.  It may be through a website or with an app.  Regardless of what method it means that YOU control how your people work and where.  Need to outfit an after-hours dispatch person? With the cloud it is no problem – you no longer need to provide a laptop and some sort of VPN connection as you could even just use a $100 tablet.  With server-based software you usually must install software on each individual computer and then provide the connectivity to the server.  This takes more time and it offers less flexibility.
  6. Disaster Recovery. Have your own server and there is a disaster that wipes out your office building?  Expect to be down for at least a couple of days while you source and equip a new server, find a building to locate it in (if it has the necessary networking connections), load it with an operating system and the required software.  Now you must hope that you have a recent backup that is complete and then cross your fingers that you can restore it.  Even if you have the backup from the night before you are still going to need to recreate some orders to cover the time between when the backup occurred and when the disaster hit.  With a cloud-based solution you were only down as long as it took you to get computers and an internet connection for your people to use – most likely some of them never left home before getting back on the system.  The cloud-based system most likely exists on multiple servers that generally are in multiple locations.

In summary a cloud based TMS includes a whole host of disaster recovery and business continuity solutions within your monthly fee.  These items “just happen” – they don’t need any intervention on your part.  To try and recreate these with an on-site solution requires large amounts of capital and ongoing expenses, if you can get the skills and facilities to make them happen.  If a disaster happens, it will take days to get an onsite solution back up and running while the cloud solution never went down.  Think you can’t afford to use the cloud because it’s too risky?  The real question is can you afford not to and will getting that wrong put you out of business.

Trucking in the Cloud: Part II

Some of you will read this and say: “I don’t want my company data on the cloud, I just don’t trust it”.  Others will think: “sign me up – I have better ways to use my capital”.  Both opinions are valid but both may be overlooking a few opportunities and risks.

First of all, let’s look at why you would want to use a cloud-based TMS.  At the very basic, IT is not likely one of your core competencies.  Moving freight, delighting customers, keeping the equipment in shape and attracting drivers are what you want to be spending your resources on, not owning and maintaining servers or software.  TMS Software essentially offers a service that allows you to provide those core competencies.  So why not treat it like a service and pay for it that way?

Capital Spending Model versus Expense Model

Traditionally you would spend around $10,000-15,000 or more to purchase and license an server running Microsoft Windows.  Possibly more if you required SQL Server.  Then you make a large investment in purchasing a TMS and then getting the necessary user licenses.  This all shows up on your balance sheet as a capital item.  Most likely you had to finance it, reducing the amount of capital available to put toward rolling stock or other assets that direct impact your core functions.  You needed a special room to house the servers and networking equipment.  You needed to provide air conditioning specifically for that room, as well as a fair amount of electricity to power everything.  A cloud based TMS is accessed over the Internet with a secured connection. It requires no equipment other than a desktop or laptop pc (and some can even be used with mobile devices).  As a service, the monthly costs are expensed and it will have a minimal impact on your ability to borrow money.  An additional feature is that you pay only for what you use as the solution tends to be scalable.  Had some turnover this month and are down 3 users?  Make a quick phone call and you pay for 3 fewer users this month.  Opened a new terminal?  Make a similar phone call and you can have users up and running within minutes.  If you owned your own server you would still have already prepaid for those user licenses and would incur some depreciation expense regardless if it was used or not.   You would also have to go through the help desk, get someone to log onto your server, install additional licenses and then have your IT staff install the software.   That’s a lot of overhead that could be better used elsewhere (or just added to the bottom line).

It’s all about trust and security

Let’s address the trust issue.  Most cloud offerings have made gigantic leaps in terms of security.  The use of technologies such as private or shared keys, the latest in encryption and multi factor authentication will ensure that your data stays safe and only seen by the people you authorize to access it.  In a nutshell most cloud providers can offer you the same or better level of security as having the server in your location.  In many ways, unless you maintain a large staff of IT professionals onsite you might actually be exposed to more risks having your data inhouse.  Has your team applied the latest updates to the server?  Are there any vulnerabilities in your router that a hacker could exploit to create an unknown backdoor? These are some of the many items that the TMS provider will provide for you at a much lower cost than doing it on your own.  Hardware upgrades, failover backup servers, backup storage and management, the application of software updates – these all become part of the service that you are purchasing.

Collaborate in Real Time

An additional feature of a cloud-based TMS is the ability to allow customer access to some of their data without putting your data at additional risk.  If you host your own server then to give a customer access you need to open up your firewall, expose that server to the outside world and rely on either internal staff or a consultant to make sure that they only allowed enough access to provide what the customer needs while preventing the hackers from getting in.  A cloud based TMS takes care of the security for you as they have the scale to have dedicated professionals to manage this as well as test the system for intrusion prevention.  Now you can quickly and easily allow a customer to get real time updates on their loads, put in tenders and get their own proof of delivery documents.

Some cloud based TMS systems also allow for access with mobile devices.  This is something to look at if you have staff visiting customers or have on-call staff at night or on weekends.  Giving these users the ability to access the TMS system with either their cell phone or an inexpensive tablet device means fewer hours spent in the office (and possibly reduce overtime costs) and eliminates the need for providing laptops and VPN technologies that allow a user to have more access to your network than you may want them to have when they are not in the office.  Losing a $150 tablet is not as hard to swallow as a $1000 laptop and there is less likely that the tablet has any proprietary data on it.  Force the user to enter their password each time they log in and that tablet will likely have next to nothing of value to your competition.

So Who Offers a Cloud Product and Who Do I Look At?

The big players like TMW and McLeod offer a hybrid where the equipment can be hosted offsite under their management.  Then there are providers who focus more on smaller carriers like Strategy Online, Transcount, LogistaaS, Pantonium, Roadnet, Accellos and many others.  Some companies do a full cloud product that is accessed through a browser and some require a locally installed program and then access the data through the Internet.  If you are looking at minimizing IT time, a browser based solution is preferred as the provider takes care of everything.  Locally installed software still requires someone to install updates, ensure that it is configured properly and then maintain it.  Regardless of which option you decide you will be on the way to improved flexibility, lowered costs and back to focusing on why your customers want to do business with you.