The 2015 HDT Truck Fleet Innovators

March 2015, - Cover Story

by Deborah Lockridge and David Cullen

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Braxton Vick keeps SEFL on technology’s cutting edge. Photo: Southeastern Freight Lines
Braxton Vick keeps SEFL on technology’s cutting edge. Photo: Southeastern Freight Lines

Braxton Vick and Southeastern Freight Lines: From punchcards to prognostics

When Braxton Vick got out of college in 1974 and went to work at Carolina Freight, the use of computers in the trucking industry was in its infancy. In many ways, Vick helped raise that infant to the indispensible and complex part of trucking it is today.

Vick’s career has centered around the concept of using real-time information to make fleets more efficient and serve customers better. It began at Carolina Freight, where he was hired as an industrial engineer to improve processes and increase efficiencies. He quickly realized there were many systems that could be automated, and he began designing applications to automate billing, accounts-receivable and equipment control.

From there, he moved on to lead the industry in areas such as electronic data interchange, bar-coding, electronic logs and more.

“It was being in the right place at the right time to jump on that bandwagon and ride it,” he says. “You cannot run a trucking company today without it.”

Vick will be retiring this year as senior vice president of corporate planning and development from Southeastern Freight Lines, the privately owned less-than-truckload company based in South Carolina that lured him away from competitor Carolina Freight.

Vick’s career has been built around the concept that “moving freight is not enough.” To be successful in a society driven by data and used to constant updates, trucking companies must provide information customers need when they need it.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, working with the American Trucking Associations’ Transportation Data Coordinating Committee, Vick helped bring EDI to the trucking industry, developing standards that would link shippers, carriers and receivers. EDI slashed ordering and billing costs and remains the cornerstone of customer-to-fleet communication in the LTL sector.

During this same time, Vick also spearheaded work that led to a bar-coding format that would become the standard tool for tracking shipments.

In the early 1980s, soon after the first personal computer, Vick designed one of the first talking computers. “Sally” could provide rate quotes, copies of receipts and tell a customer a shipment’s status over the phone.

When the Internet became a personal and business communications tool, Vick applied it directly to Southeastern’s applications, making it one of the first fleets to allow customers to trace and enter bills of lading.

Vick was also one of the earliest in the industry to realize that computers weren’t just for the office, but also could be used on the truck.

Braxton Vick, senior vice president of corporate planning and development, Southeastern Freight Lines
Braxton Vick, senior vice president of corporate planning and development, Southeastern Freight Lines

In the early ‘80s, he started looking at on-board equipment, starting out with digital radio for local communications. By 1994 when he arrived at Southeastern Freight Lines, onboard systems had evolved into satellite tracking and communications.

“We have kept improving that process, adding more capabilities to it,” he says. “Today we are able to not only transmit pickup and delivery info in real time to the vehicle, we also can provide, for example, a pickup to a customer that the driver doesn’t know, providing navigation to get the truck to the customer.”

In 2010, Southeastern became the first LTL fleet to use onboard systems to estimate the time of delivery for a shipment within a one-hour window. Vick says this is especially helpful today as e-commerce means more deliveries are going to homes and small businesses that need a time frame for deliveries.

With all this onboard capability, Vick spearheaded the development of electronic driver logs and driver vehicle inspection reports, one of the first to implement this in the LTL industry. The move cut out some 18,000 pieces of paper a day in the network. These technologies are becoming more common today, but when Southeastern implemented them, Vick explains, “we had to build the majority of the stuff, because it simply didn’t exist.”

By building all these systems that integrate with each other, he says, “you just keep compounding the benefits to your customer while you’re reducing your overall cost and gaining more and more reliability in being able to perform excellent service for your customers.”

In 2014, Southeastern revamped its onboard technology for the fifth time in its history, again led by Braxton, and he’s turned his focus to telematics and diagnostics.

“We’re working with PeopleNet to transmit to us a lot of telematics data, so we are working to improve mpg, and we are taking advantage of all the onboard diagnostics so we can predict failures before they happen.”

How does Vick stay on top of the rapidly changing pace of technology? He laughs. “The best you can… it is a challenge! By the time you install something in the truck, within six months there’s something else out that’s bigger and better and cheaper.” So Vick focuses on developing a partnership with the supplier, making sure the manufacturer is headed in the same direction as the fleet, looking five to seven years out on the technology.

As fast as the pace of technology is progressing, Vick says it’s sometimes frustrating to not be able to get things implemented faster. “I’m a driver,” he says. “I’m someone that pushes forward and tries to get things done quick and efficiently. A lot of what I do is four, five and six years out before it’s fully in place and working the way I’m satisfied with it. I’d like bringing a vision to reality faster.”

What kind of technology will we see in the future? There’s a lot of talk about driverless trucks, but Vick says while the technology is well on its way, “there are a lot of legal and legislative hurdles.”

One thing he thinks does have promise is artificial intelligence. “There are some AI call systems out there today,” he says. “It’s like the old automated voice response, except you don’t have to hit any keys.

You’d be hard-pressed to find many fleet executives who know as much about the workings of all the different parts of a large company like Southeastern as Vick does. “Anything that a computer touches, I’ve been involved in,” he says. And these days, that’s everything.

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  1. 1. Jon [ April 09, 2015 @ 01:54PM ]

    Panther was not purchased by ABF, Panther was purchased by ArcBest.


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