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Opinion: The Web as the Great Equalizer

By Ken Weinberg, Vice President, Carrier Logistics Inc.

This Opinion piece appears in the September 10 print edition of Transport Topics.

In the transportation industry, every trucking company, large or small, does essentially the same thing: Pick up and deliver. So how can smaller carriers compete against larger ones and distinguish themselves from one another? One of the most effective ways is through technology, and today, that means using the Internet to conduct business and manage information.

The Internet has revolutionized the way companies in all industries do business, and trucking is no exception. It will soon be the norm for carriers to conduct business and manage information completely online. Given such an environment, smaller carriers, including less-than-truckloads and parcel-delivery firms, will survive and prosper only if they learn how to incorporate the Internet into their freight-management systems.

Many of the large parcel carriers, including FedEx and UPS, have known the importance of using the Web as part of their information systems for years. But now that the technology has become more affordable and is adaptable to businesses of any size, smaller carriers can gain the same advantages that using the Internet provides, putting them on the same playing field as the larger haulers.

Incorporating the Internet into a freight-management system provides carriers and their customers with online access to all pertinent information at any time. Carriers and their customers can go online to trace shipments, view freight charges and rate information, get price quotes and inquire about transit time, accounts receivable and payments.

Online technology also allows a carrier to provide superior customer service to its shippers by offering a wider array of services. For example, a Web application allows customers to log pickup requests, locate and print out bills, and send pickup requests to the carrier’s dispatch system automatically, without ever having to wait for someone to answer the phone or send a fax. The carrier also can provide shippers with automated e-mail alerts and updates.

The best part of using Web technology is that it adds services without the need for additional employees on the carrier’s part, allowing small carriers to do more with the same number of people.

The benefits of providing superior customer service through Web technology are obvious: Once shippers begin to realize how easy the technology makes doing business with a carrier, they use the carrier more and more for their shipping needs. Over time, that translates into more business and healthy growth for the carrier.

There are a number of methods carriers can use for making freight-management systems accessible online. Two are:

  • Purchasing a Web module — essentially a password-protected Internet site that is a link to a carrier’s existing freight-management system and provides access to all pertinent information.
  • Using an entirely Web-based freight-management system.

Discussing these and other options with a technology consultant can help determine which type of system is right for a carrier’s needs and goals.

Whatever a carrier chooses, it is vital to make sure the company’s information is secure. It is worth the investment to have information-technology experts with the highest level of expertise come up with the most effective security mechanisms for an online freight-management system. Too often, smaller carriers have tried keeping costs low by downgrading their security options, only to pay for it later on when the system is breached.

Finally, a Web application that provides access to freight-management information should be part of a well-designed company Web site — particularly for smaller carriers. The more business moves online, the more the company Web site becomes the face of that company. An attractive Web site, coupled with cutting-edge, easy-to-use technology, has particular value for a smaller carrier, giving it the polish of a much larger, more sophisticated company.

By making Internet technology a key part of managing freight information, smaller trucking companies will be doing what the large haulers have done for years. Now that the technology is accessible enough for even the smallest trucking operation, there is no reason not to take advantage of a powerful tool that could usher a modestly sized carrier into the big leagues.

Web technology is the wave of the future, and carriers that take advantage of it open up a world of business possibilities for themselves. To ignore those opportunities is to risk being left behind.

Ken Weinberg is the co-founder of Carrier Logistics Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y., a provider of transportation and logistics software management systems.

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