Get on track!

by Array

A good telematics system rarely comes out of a box. Deborah Aarts outlines the strategy two companies took—and the pitfalls they avoided—to achieve real-time visibility into on-the-road shipments.

There’s no denying the difference telematics can make in the supply chain.

In capturing data from remote sources and transmitting it in real-time, the technology holds the potential to give shippers new levels of visibility into the status of in-transit shipments. Rapidly evolving capabilities—like the ability to monitor the temperature of a trailer, for example—promise to improve compliance and security issues.

But despite radical advances in technology, some shippers feel disenchanted with telematics. Whether they manage a private fleet or contract out trucking services, many find the data they receive doesn’t always gel with their systems and operations. And inaccuracies and delays can negate the entire value of a visibility system.

“In our industry, no news is considered to be bad news,” comments Frank Prosia, president of Mississauga, Ontario-based TransPro Freight Systems Ltd. “If you can’t give an answer, that means there’s a problem.”

Sensing frustration from its customer base, his company recently decided to overhaul its entire remote communications structure. With help from Xylotek Solutions, a Kitchener, Ontario-based IT consulting firm, it implemented a satellite tracking system that allows it to generate messages automatically and create reports in real-time, among many other capabilities.

If the system has been a success, it is because the two companies managed to avoid the mistakes that tend to sink telematics installations. Prosia and Douglas Grosfield, Xylotek’s president and CEO, shared their strategy with MM&D.

1. Choose systems that play well with others

Transponders. Software. Portable computers. Servers. The array of technologies required to deploy a telematics solution can be dizzying. One product may be very good at accomplishing one task, but not so good at integrating with the other players in the telematics chain, or a downstream transportation management system (TMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite.

“There are many, many solutions to similar problems out there. Some of them play well with others; some don’t,” Grosfield says. “We see a lot of tactical fixes. Companies will slap something in, as cheaply as they can, to address a specific problem. It may solve one problem, but could introduce many others. That’s how a heterogeneous environment evolves.”

By contrast, the two companies chose technologies with the proven ability to communicate with one another. The result is an integrated system that keeps things from getting lost in translation.

2. Find a way to automate communication
A really useful telematics solution is one where no one needs to ask for information; instead, it’s communicated automatically.

Some systems (including the one designed for TransPro) can provide multiple parties with information in real-time—not just the driver and the dispatcher. In Prosia’s opinion, this option is worth its weight in gold. His customers no longer have to chase down information by e-mail or phone, and he no longer has to devote resources to answering status queries.

“As soon as we get notification, our customer gets notification.”

3. Focus on security
The sheer amount of sensitive information transmitted between shippers, carrier companies and truckers—things like purchase orders, bills of lading and Customs invoices—can make telematics daunting for shippers.

“When you start embracing different technologies, you really are exposing your company to lots of different security risks out there,” Prosia says.

Companies must have faith that the telematics technology is secure. TransPro achieved this by adopting a security management plan with clearly-defined protocols. Once it determined who should have access to what, it applied firewalls and secured-access portals to enforce the rules.

“The right people need access to the right information with no barriers, and that requires security,” Grosfield explains. “You don’t want the wrong people able to delete or modify the wrong things.”

4. Remember the consequences of inaction
Both Prosia and Grosfield believe that the effort of installing a real-time communications system properly is worth it, and will only become more valuable to shippers and carriers alike as supply chains evolve.

“Visibility of freight is at all times very, very important,” Prosia explains. “At the beginning, it was a selling feature; today, it’s expected.”

“The just-in-time production mentality is so prevalent nowadays that a few seconds of wasted communications can make the difference between getting the next contract or facing stiff penalties,” Grosfield adds.

“There are very real incentives for adopting technology to be more effective at communicating.”