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The E-Commerce Promise: Accessible Information

February 11, 2000

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The Internet has the biggest potential to impact trucking by breaking down inefficient information barriers, speakers said at the recent Heavy Duty Dialogue 2000 in Atlanta.
Chris Lofgren, Schneider National chief information/logistics officer, said e-commerce will make intense competition a way of life, driving costs and prices down because the same information is universally accessible.
"Supply chains will become supply networks," he said. Schneider, with 1,200 carrier partners, labels itself as an asset-based logistics company. Only 45% of its freight business is truckload, and its own trucks haul just 12% of that, he said, adding: "We've already driven most of the cost out of logistics...they've been very low for the past 7 years."
Lynn Gorman, Federal Express worldwide maintenance vice president, said there should be total electronic links in the supplier-distribution community partnership, including computer vehicle ordering, warranty claims, parts ordering and shipping direct to fleet shops, and tracking new truck order status. "If I can track a 2-pound package, you can track a truck I've ordered," he told suppliers.
"Put your parts catalogs on-line," Gorman said. "It's better for us than an 800 number." As for e-business on board trucks, "voice recognition is just around the corner. I ran trucks in the '60s and they were rotten," Gorman said. "In the '70s they moved up to bad. In the '80s they got much better, and in the '90s they were outstanding. But there's still room to grow."
At the same time, Gorman warned manufacturers to keep trucks in perspective as they developed new technology. "Trucks are what make (freight delivery) work....don't dream up gee-whiz stuff that's not cost-effective," he said.

Derek Kaufman, C3 Network president, described productivity as "western society's key offense" in the global marketplace, and its "great enabler" was e-commerce.
Supporting productivity advances, he said, requires companies to better connect intellectual resources, redefine how they share data, and being pro-active in safety, urban congestion and environmental issues. He said rapid expansion in communications storage and retrieval capabilities should be used to move trucking from playing a proprietary game in which you are bound by technical committees to open industry business models.
Kaufman believes Application Service Providers (ASPs) will dominate business-to-business
e-commerce. Under such a system, engine, axle and transmission producers could buy generic technical hardware and eliminate time, expense of developing their own sensors. The ASP would offer universal languages for things such as service management data & trip information.
A way the industry could be proactive on safety would be to fund an ASP to develop video streaming accident data from digital cameras on trucks to record & store the last 30 seconds of black box data before a crash. The data could be used in training and litigation defense, Kaufman said, and to pool industry records.
Kaufman had five e-commerce "do's":
1. Develop e-commerce applications across the entire company spectrum.
2. Use outside ASPs to fuel growth through open source information.
3: Think in terms of business models.
4. Create small scaleable projects rather than large enterprise solutions.
5. Expect to change the way you sell & service.
"Your customers are getting smarter about the details of your products...about the truth of your promises, simply by talking to one another," he said. "They're getting smarter faster than your business-as-usual approach can handle."

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