As TMW Systems continues to expand the depth and breadth of its fleet software offerings, helping fleets improve their operations by better management of information, President and CEO Dave Wangler envisions building something "as cool for trucking" as the ability to "pinch and zoom" on a touchscreen.

Speaking to the 1,600 attendees of the annual TMW Transforum in Dallas Monday, Wangler noted that many trucking companies have proven to be resilient in a generally poor economy. "Individual transportation companies have demonstrated that they can survive, and even thrive, under difficult macro-economic conditions."

He emphasized metrics, both for understanding what's going on in the industry and what's going on in your company. "There just might be a lesson here in the role that the right metrics can play in truly understanding our situation. Right now, micro-economic metrics like the ATA's supply vs. demand chart or spot rate indexes are much more useful than the old gold standard metrics like tonnage."

Secrets to Success

At least some individual companies, he said, are doing extremely well. "You can bet that those firms aren't succeeding just by doing the same things they've always done," Wangler said. "Every organization needs to benchmark itself against the top performers, to set ever higher goals, even if you are the top performer."

Yet, he said, many organizations will measure things such as pricing comparisons, cost comparisons, a few management KPIs. "But benchmarks like these are generally the end result of many inter-related factors and activities," he said. "It's very difficult to target business changes to specifically affect these measures. And information that you can't turn into action won't do you much good."

Through conversations with successful fleets, TMW has identified a few key areas where the best companies are focusing attention:
* Maximizing utilization,
* Controlling maintenance costs
* Managing capacity constraints, and
* Managing your freight network.

Of course, TMW has software that can help. For instance, when it comes to maximizing utilization, TMW is seeing growing interest in its MatchAdvice product, which uses complex algorithms to match loads and trucks with drivers.

To help with managing your freight network, the Netwise application is designed to help fleets target, price and win freight business while identifying and resolving problem freight.

For controlling maintenance costs, TMW recently added capabilities to automatically work scheduled PM stops into booked trips that will pass by your shops. And with the new Electronic Driver Vehicle Inspection Reporting, or EDVIR, the maintenance department can be automatically notified when a condition needing repair is discovered during a pre- or post-trip inspection.

To help in managing capacity constraints, a new offering, TMW Driver Management, provides a highly integrated solution to speed up the recruiting process and the on-boarding of new drivers.

"To build the right benchmarks that support real performance improvement, you've got to ask the right questions, and then be able to answer them clearly and quickly," Wangler said. "The questions can be simple: Do you know what your fleet is doing today? Who in your organization is doing the best job managing utilization? Would it take you longer than 30 seconds to answer these questions? Sometimes the answers are right in front of you. At other times, it's simply a matter of setting up the right report or dashboard."

Growth in Dedicated and 3PL

Wangler welcomed the newest member of the TMW family, Appian Logistics Software. "Appian represents a very strategic move for TMW -- not only taking us deeper into the dedicated and 3PL world, but also wider into the private fleet market as well," he said.

The May acquisition of Appian expands TMW's presence in logistics planning and transportation management for 3PLs, dedicated logistics operators, courier services and private fleets operating in retail, food & beverage distribution and restaurant supply markets among others.

"One of the hottest trends we've seen in the past two years is the growth in dedicated carrier operations," Wangler said. "Some of those same dedicated providers are also expanding their service offerings to include more value-added services -- like warehousing or even light manufacturing. They are transforming themselves into 3PLs -- with assets."


"As an industry, it seems that we spend an astounding amount of time trying to figure out how to improve the performance of our rolling assets, and by comparison, very little trying to improve the performance of our drivers," Wangler said. "And when we do focus on drivers, we often focus on the wrong things."

"Far too often, we focus so much on problem employees, that we neglect to enable the vast majority of people who truly want the business to succeed."

Wangler encouraged companies to share business information and metrics with drivers. And it's a two-way street, he said. "Drivers are the face of your company to the outside world, to your customers and often to their customers. They can be a source of market and business intelligence as well, yet it seems they rarely have a channel to share their insights with the rest of the organization.

"If you are competing for talent in a shrinking labor pool -- and let's face it, isn't everybody? -- maybe it's time to treat drivers more like the valuable assets they can be and less like commodities."

Looking ahead

Wangler says TMW is working to make it even easier for fleets to get the information they need to do everything from manage drivers to optimize routes to asset management.

"Consider one of the coolest technology developments in recent years, the user interface capability to 'pinch and zoom' inside a screen display. I put two fingers together and spread them across a touch screen, and I can zoom in on what I'm seeing. I bring them back together and I've got the broader view again."

He cited the 2002 sci-fi film "Minority Report," where Tom Cruise's character in 2054 interacted with a giant touch screen, using hand and arm gestures to drill in to data, expand views and compress or dispose of unwanted information.

"I would love to see us build something just as cool for transportation companies," Wangler said. "The next generation of trucking and logistics professionals will be coming to the workplace already accustomed to solving problems this way."

While TMW's current tools manage operational transactions with many options to put these details into an insightful, high-level view of a fleet's business, Wangler said, "I think we can still make it easier. That way, you'll never miss an opportunity to improve performance, and never miss a warning to take action and minimize a risk.

"It will become easier to pull data together from your existing applications, and make it more digestible in the context of the business problems you need to focus on today. It's our vision to bring you the ability to easily benchmark your performance against objective industry metrics and to put those comparisons right at your fingertips, on your operations screens, and in your management dashboards.

"Ultimately, we want to be the single point of access for all the information you need to make better decisions with a new generation of decision support and business intelligence tools. These tools will allow you to spend more of your time working on the business and less of your time working in the business."