This Opinion piece appears in the September 10 print edition of
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
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
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
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
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