I’m Different

Starting a benchmarking service is hard. It would be almost impossible without the strong history, and foundation of the Best Practice Groups (BPG). Recently, I was asked what the most common objection to getting involved in benchmarking was. I didn’t have to think twice. The most common objection/phrase I hear (almost daily) is “I’m Different”. Since I’m polite by nature, my typical response is “Interesting, tell me more…”. However, in the back of my head I‘m saying “I’m sure you are” – with heavy sarcasm.

Although this perception is a psychological barrier for some, the contrarian approach (and proper one in my opinion) is to embrace the attributes that make a company different. The Best Practice Groups are Operating Mode specific, but beyond that, if you look at the members within (as an outsider looking in), you’ll immediately see big differences in size, location, and more importantly those unique operating attributes that make them ‘different’.

As a group facilitator, I’m primary concerned with three things: 1) Personality compatibility with other group members, 2) Level of engagement, and 3) Unique perspectives/Contrarian opinions/Problem solving ability. If the combination is right, it not only provides an energetic atmosphere for group meetings, it also provides an endless inventory of new ideas for each member to take back to their respective businesses (and profit from). An outsider would expect that the biggest carriers would have the best ideas, the freshest perspectives and ultimately best long-term performance. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some of the best performing trucking companies in the Best Practice Groups are under 100 trucks.

It should be noted, differences in operating models do affect the comparative results, but those differences are typically isolated in secondary KPI categories (Average Length of Haul, Loaded %, etc). When it comes down to the primary KPIs (Gross Margin, Gross Margin per load, per driver, per non-driver, Admin % of Gross Margin etc), that is where excuses about differences float away. It also highlights those companies that have out-performed their peers. Those situations start the conversations, and those rabbit holes are what I live for.

I could sit and listen to a member talk about their strategies and tactics all day long, and coincidentally, that is a common trait of BPG members. They are fans of business, and the Best Practice Groups are like a continuous March Madness.

Yes, you’re different, and that’s why benchmarking is for you and your company.

Embrace it.

Get Involved.

Get Better.


Public Company Results – Q4 2017

How to Turn Around Your Driver Referral Program

Found this quote on Wikipedia last week:

“Strong culture is said to exist where staff respond to stimulus because of their alignment to organizational values. In such environments, strong cultures help firms operate like well-oiled machines, engaging in outstanding execution with only minor adjustments to existing procedures as needed.
Conversely, there is weak culture where there is little alignment with organizational values, and control must be exercised through extensive procedures and bureaucracy.
Research shows that organizations that foster strong cultures have clear values that give employees a reason to embrace the culture. A “strong” culture may be especially beneficial to firms operating in the service sector.” Read more here: Organizational Culture

The key word in all of this in my mind is Values, every company has a visible set of values whether they know it or not. They may have formalized those values in a company statement or not –  they exist and they are visible in a multiple of ways (both positive and negative).

This is the essence of culture, you cannot impose values on to people, values develop over time and depend on one’s environment and life experience. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we typically align ourselves with people, friends,  spouses, and work environments that align with those values. When we don’t align ourselves in like values we struggle and typically we end up in divorce, leaving our jobs, leaving a misaligned community etc.

If you employ people or contract services, whether you realize it or not your most successful relationships likely mirror your own values. We like it when our values align it fits our comfort zone, we typically know what to expect and over time these relationship strengthen, we build a team we can depend on and get comfortable with, these relationships endure the test of time.

If your still reading this, then I haven’t bored you to the point you have turned the page then here is my point. I have tried to help many companies get their heads around why their efforts to have their current driving force assist in the recruiting of new drivers to their company, and show them why their efforts haven’t worked to the extent they expected they would like. Here is what most of them don’t realize, it is their culture that is restricting their results, among other things but primarily it comes back to culture.

If your culture is weak, I can guarantee you have poor communication channels, and likely no communications strategy within your business. A good communication strategy would encompass your drivers, contractors, employees, customers, suppliers, enforcement, and the communities you service. Sound like a monumental job, it really isn’t, it is quite easy in reality. It just takes focus and structure. If any of you has worked within a culture where communication is poor, you know that it is the worst situation you can be in, it is check your brain a the door and do no more or less than what you were hired for, it’s boring and unrewarding, it sucks.

Drivers who are asked to assist in recruiting new drivers to this type of company will resist for a number of reasons. Here are a few, first, and I think foremost they don’t have any confidence that you know how to run your business, they think you’re going to over hire and threaten their livelihood. I drove for ten years, I heard it over and over again, believe me this is true and if you have poor communication why wouldn’t they think that way? They’re in the dark about what you might need. You haven’t told them anything that is going to motivate them to help you. So why would they? Certainly not because you offered some “never-never” plan as a monetary incentive. The ones that pay a cent a mile for a year or quarterly installments designed to appear as though there is a windfall coming sometime in the future. I think some of these are designed to motivate drivers to recruit for the company, and to incentivize the driver to stay a little longer at a carrier to realize the future gain, how’s that working for you? My guess it does neither very effectively.

If your culture is strong, an effort to get driver to assist in the recruiting effort looks entirely different. First you have developed an inclusive value statement, you’ve done this by asking everyone in your business to contribute to it’s content, and you have asked them to bless the outcome, you’ve asked them. Does it cover their and your core values, can they work within the confines of it?

Secondly, your people know what is going on within the company because it has a strong communication strategy, it informs them, keeps them abreast of what it happening, it tries to involve community, customers, suppliers and (most importantly) reaches out to the individual employee’s families. You have told them, and they believe you when you say that your customers are busy and are demanding more trucks to service their needs. You need the additional drivers to keep the accounts you have, there is no threat to livelihood of the current drivers, and in fact, it is preservation of the account and their miles that you’re trying to achieve. If you have a brokerage operation, show everyone where that overflow freight is going – you have the data – give it to them. Stop playing your cards so close to your chest!

Finally, get rid of the “never-never” plan as an incentive to help your company hire new drivers; you pay cash, in full, the next pay period after the new recruit turns the first mile period. Your drivers have been schooled as to what type of individual you’re looking for, they have shown the potential candidate the value statement that the company works under. They have stressed whatever information you feel necessary that the potential new hire must understand and agree to be successful at your company. You screened them, you tested them, you accepted them, you put them in the truck, if the individual doesn’t workout how is that the driver’s problem? You owe them, pay them, you do it for your in house recruiters why not your on-road recruiters. Want to make an impact with on road recruiters; this is how to do it.

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.

Adding by Subtraction: Say What??

Every business leader with a pulse is intrigued by new products, services and strategies which promise a ROI. Regardless of the size and scope of these new equipment offerings, devices or services, it will undoubtedly require resources – both direct investment, plus a diversion of existing human resources to implement, maintain and leverage. In some cases, it may require more people, and added physical infrastructure. The point is, everything comes with a price, both direct and indirect.

To stay on point with the title and purpose of this article, we will focus only on the labor (human) part of the equation. When I first published the article “The 9 Traits of High-Performing Trucking Companies (and their Leaders)”, we received multiple emails and calls about #1, which was “Adding by Subtraction”. In the article, I reinforced a common tactic among the best leaders was to clear the deck of unneeded and redundant tasks, products and services to make way for the new – like how a forest revitalizes itself with fires (but maybe not as dramatic). Understanding that time (human time) must be freed up to make way for the new service is the first step. Likewise, the best leaders know that implementation is only part of the equation, ongoing maintenance/monitoring and continuing education are all factors which need to be considered.

To relate this concept back to trucking, although I don’t have empirical data – just anecdotes, many have relayed their estimation that most trucking companies are only utilizing 10-15% of the capability of their TMS platform. This same utilization factor seems to fit with almost all common software services (e.g. Excel, Powerpoint, G Suite etc). Further, if scientists are right, we have approximately the same utilization factor for our brain, but that’s another story. The whole point of a suitable TMS platform is to allow companies to do more with lessnot the same with more. So instead of just budgeting for the install and implementation of the TMS, you should also budget for the indirect and direct expense of educating your team (to various degrees, relative to their ultimate reliance on the TMS) on all parts/modules, and time to stay up-to-date on new features, integrations etc. At this point, many readers will have stopped, and are asking: “Ok, but after implementation, I don’t have anything left over in the budget to train my team”. My first response is that will change in coming years. The upfront cost of a properly spec’d TMS will drop in the coming years due to the increased popularity of cloud-based or ‘hosted’ solutions – which will drive down much of the upfront hardware and customization expense. Also, the new breed of TMS services will have a rich library of user-driven knowledge (just like Google / Microsoft etc.), and updated company driven knowledge for users to consume. My second response is that the more you invest in the knowledge base of your key personnel, the better. Not only will you benefit from better TMS utilization, you will also empower those people – thereby reducing turnover.

Getting back to adding by subtraction, to free up time (reminder that the whole point is to do more with same or less), your team must stop doing the things that a system or service will do for them. Further, they must simply stop doing things that are redundant or irrelevant. This is one of the most difficult things in business: 1) Deciding which tasks, functions and processes are no longer needed, 2) Getting people to stop doing them (the hardest of them all). Humans don’t like change in general. This is further exacerbated when your company has become stale, and the concept of change and flexibility has been removed from your mission and strategic plan. Businesses can get in a rut, just like humans.

In summary bullet-point form, here is how your company can get out of a rut, and start adding by subtraction:

  • Survey your team – ask them to provide a list of three tasks or functions – daily, weekly or monthly, that are either redundant, or the value is consistently questionable.
  • Meet with your team (using a defined agenda and time limit). In the meeting, list all the identified tasks and functions from the survey.
  • For each, list all departments, and other processes and customers that are dependent on these tasks and functions.
  • Prioritize this list, moving those tasks and functions that can be immediately stopped or reduced.
  • For the remaining tasks and functions, identify whether you can automate, either with an existing or new service.
  • Finally, quantify the number of labor hours you will have saved by eliminating or reducing these tasks and functions. This is the amount of time you can re-purpose for a new service or product – which should, in turn, result in more automation.
  • Rinse and repeat.

You’ve just Added by Subtraction, if you are confused, simply watch this video from my mentor Mr. Michael Scott.

Automating Data Capture for Truckmate Customers

We have built a SQL statement that Truckmate customers can use to capture many of the operational stats that we require from participants.  This statement can be used in conjunction with “the Dawg” for automatic execution each month or directly in the SQL execute utility for those without “the Dawg”.  A video tutorial is available to allow non-technical users to implement this in a matter of minutes.  If you are a TruckMate client please let us know if you would like to use this functionality to help you gather the required data each month.

New Features That Are Now Live On inGauge

New features that are now live on inGauge.

  • Private Group Composite – using the same framework as the Best Practice Group online composite, companies with multiple divisions or profit/loss centers can now build their historical results in both table and visual fashion.  As an added benefit, the TPP 20 Index results are included by default in this too!  A new tutorial for this feature will be launched shortly.  For large enterprises that are encountering difficulty in collecting, standardizing and reporting data, this is the perfect solution at no additional cost!
  • 2 Factor Authentication –  as an added layer of security, you will have the option of enabling 2 factor authenitication for your inGauge profile.  For the enxt twelve months this will be optional.  After that 2-factor authentication will be required for all users.  You will have the ability to receive your security token via SMS or email.
  • New Date Formats for Imports – based on your feedback you will now be able to use seven other date formats for the inport of your data.  This will also apply to those using our secure API to submit your monthly results.  A new tutorial for this is coming soon.

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.