Carrier Logistics Inc.

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Standard Forwarding and Freight Accounting & Tracking Software

Integrated system reduces operational expenses.

In the five-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, Standard Forwarding Company, Inc., headquartered in East Moline, IL, provides three types of service: sensitive overnight, normal LTL and customized hauling. With 170 tractors and 700 trailers, it operates around the clock: by day, it picks up and delivers general commodities, typically palletized freight for manufacturing supply chains; by night, it line hauls the loads between its 16 terminals. It is not uncommon for the fleet to handle load fluctuations of 30% in a 24-hour period.

Three years ago, Standard Forwarding decided to make a major investment in information technology, including a computerized freight accounting and tracking system. What system it chose and why, and the results that it’s realized were the subjects we covered in an interview of Rainey Brown, Standard’s Executive Vice President, and Steve Meyer, its Chief Financial Officer.

TTT (Transport Technology Today Magazine): What led Standard to start investigating such a system?
Meyer: In 1997, our computer capability was extremely limited. We had a few PC’s, an accounting software package, and a billing package. Operationally, we were logging, tracking and planning loads manually. We wanted an integrated software system that would address our administrative and financial needs, but more importantly, provide us with a computerized solution on the operational side.

TTT: How did you go about identifying providers?
Brown: We hired an outside consultant to conduct the search. He worked with us in delineating our requirements, which were included in requests for proposals that were sent to providers. From the responses, it was apparent that a number of systems were available, but not applicable to our operation. We’re split between LTL and TL, though long-term, we’ll be moving more into LTL. We needed a system that could accommodate both load types. Most systems were designed for one or the other without much flexibility. However, the FACTS system from Carrier Logistics was less rigid. It could be customized, and therefore it became our system of choice.

TTT: Before installing FACTS, you had to upgrade your hardware and operating software, correct?
Meyer: Yes. We were basically at ground zero, computer-wise, back in ’97. We invested in an IBM RISC/System 6000 with a Unix operating system, along with a substantial number of PC’s and servers for our headquarters and freight terminals, which we linked into a Wide Area Network.

TTT: The FACTS system has a number of modules. How did you go about implementing them?
Meyer: We started with the financial modules- billing, rating, accounts receivable, accounts payable and general ledger. These were installed in January of ’98, and became fully operational a month later. Next came the modules for order entry, dispatch, and routing, which were phased in during the summer and fall of ’98 and through the first part of ’99.

TTT: Will you take us through how FACTS works, beginning with order entry?
Brown: An incoming order is taken by a customer service representative, who can pull up a complete customer profile that’s stored in FACTS by keying in the company name, zip code, phone number or city. Specific order information is entered, including pickup and delivery addresses, the number of pallets, weight, any special requirements, such as next-morning delivery, and other notations as needed. The system assigns a pickup number to the load, after which the customer service rep. forwards the order to dispatch. Based on the zip code of the pickup address, FACTS automatically routes the order to the appropriate dispatcher.

All of our dispatchers are assigned to specific regions and zip codes. About half of them are located at terminals in our high volume service areas, from where they control movement of equipment in their sectors. The other half comprise our Central Dispatch Department with responsibility for directing equipment in service areas with less activity, and for night line haul planning. FACTS provides the dispatchers with a status of the drivers and equipment in their designated areas, including the route schedules, and the number of pallets and weight already assigned to each. Coupling this information with that of a new order, a dispatcher can select a driver for a new pickup.

TTT: How are new pickups conveyed to drivers?
Brown: They receive the new order information via cell phone. Being an LTL carrier specializing in overnight deliveries, the daytime aspect of our operations can get pretty hectic. We need to talk to our drivers quite a bit, which is why we’ve settled on cell phones as our means of communication with them.

Above: When a customer calls in, the customer's record is accessed either by phone number or name search. The details about the pickup such as pieces, weight, and destination are entered. The customer is given a call number as shown on the bottom of the screen. The system routes the call to a pickup and delivery driver.

TTT: How about pickup confirmation from the drivers?
Brown: After picking up three loads, drivers call dispatch with the confirming information on each of the loads, including actual number of pallets and weight. This data is cross-checked against the order entry information, changes are made if necessary, and then the numbers are entered into the system for the night line-haul plan. Until dispatchers release the pickup information for line haul planning, FACTS will keep the pickup orders open on their screens.

TTT: And how is the night line-haul plan developed?
Brown: Unless the order is a custom run- direct from pickup to drop-off, all loads are delivered to our terminals at the end of the day. The FACTS system automatically sorts through what orders are at what terminals, their destination points, their weights, and then assigns loads to trailers. The resulting manifests can be adjusted by Central Dispatch, if necessary. Once the trailer build is complete, the information on all the orders is forwarded to billing and sent to the terminals, which can then call in the number of drivers that are needed. Through the night, the freight is line-hauled to the geographically appropriate terminals for daytime delivery.

TTT: What benefits are you realizing from the automated load building process?
Brown: As a planning tool, FACTS is providing us with more reliable, more accurate information. It builds loads by weight, rather than our previous manual method of building by number of loads. By maximizing our night line-haul loads, the system has helped us optimize our equipment and drivers, which has, in turn, reduced our operational expenses.

TTT: And how about the system’s automated rating feature?
Meyer: As it stands today, we pre-negotiate rates with many of our customers, so we have yet to fully implement automated rating. However, we are now going through training to implement LTL ratings using Master Freight Classifications. From a software standpoint, the accessorials are already in place. We expect to begin automated rating in another month or two.

TTT: Turning to the financial modules of the FACTS system, what functions have you found to be the most helpful or productive?
The cash application process of the Accounts Receivable module allows us to allocate a large singular payment in the proper manner. The Accounts Payable function links directly with check writing, thereby streamlining our process. In addition, the re-occurring journal entries feature of the General Ledger saves us accounting time.

TTT: What types of reports are you generating?
Brown: Overall, we find transferring the FACTS data into either Report Writer or Excel spread sheets the easiest for our fleet. From these programs, we pull down daily operational information, which has been one of the key benefits that we’re realizing from the use of FACTS. Being able to review accurate records, especially of tonnage and revenue, in a day rather than a week, has enabled us to increase our productivity with a positive impact on our bottom line.

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