About a year ago, TMW Systems asked Epes Carriers to test an integration of the IDSC TripAlert exception monitoring system, its Innovative Software platform for operations/dispatch, and its TMT Fleet Maintenance software.

Through the integration, the North-Carolina-based company can track the vehicles in its fleets and uncover opportunities to schedule trucks for maintenance service within the dispatch system. In the process, Epes doesn't jeopardize any pick-up or delivery commitments for assigned loads. The integration increases its asset utilization, reduces out-of-route miles and improves productivity in the shop planning process, according to Josh Sugg, application support analyst with Epes, a truckload fleet based in North Carolina.

The integration also makes for better communication between the carrier's departments. "For a company to function as a unit, you have to tear down the barriers between departments," says Mike Glynn, TMT administrator. Integration doesn't quite tear the walls down, but it does make the walls a lot lower, he says.

Enterprise software, or transportation management systems, have become even more critical for fleets of all sizes to run their businesses efficiently. Integration of these business and dispatch software systems with third-party offerings ranging from maintenance to navigation takes the value of this software one step further. It allows fleets to operate in one interface and helps departments within a fleet to work together seamlessly.

What Drives Integration

We've seen a lot of recent integration announcements. For instance, PeopleNet recently integrated its Fleet Manager program with TMW's TMT Fleet Maintenance software, and Decisiv announced a similar integration with TMT. SkyBitz and McLeod Software announced a partnership to put new SkyBitz features into McLeod's LoadMaster transportation management software. ALK Technologies integrated its PC*Miler Solutions with Oracle's Transportation Management 6.1. Rand McNally made enhancements to its IntelliRoute Software integration with TMWSuite and TruckMate operations software, both from TMW Systems.

At TMW's User Conference, held in September in Dallas, President Dave Wangler commented on the trend of integration: "I think there's a lot of emphasis in our little ecosystem for improved collaboration, cooperation and integration. It's customer-driven; [they ask us to] please work more closely with company X."

Prior to TMW's acquisition of TMT in 2007, the software provider's customers recognized that there was a lack of collaboration between the shop and dispatch operations, says Scott Vanselous, senior vice president and general manager at TMW. Customers had both systems, but the interfaces back and forth allowed only for the one-way transfer of information. As a result of the acquisition, fleets can now take advantage of two-way communication and improved collaboration between the maintenance and dispatch departments.

Make or Build?

But a company doesn't have to make an acquisition, as TMW did with TMT, in order to integrate their product with another.

Prophesy Transportation Software's integration partners also are driven by suggestions from customers. Prophesy offers load building, mileage, fuel tax reporting, dispatch and accounting software, among others. The company looks at what customers are asking for, then determines whether it's a "make or build scenario," as Vice President Bill Ashburn puts it.

If Prophesy doesn't have the capability or expertise to build the product from scratch, it makes more sense to integrate with a third party, Ashburn says. You can't be the master of all technologies, he says, and integration can bring the capability to market quicker.

Ken Weinberg, vice president of Carrier Logistics Inc., also believes a software provider should focus on their core competency. Weinberg says CLI integrates to best-of-breed technology providers, those that focus on one element and specialize in it. "Why would we want to build a very simplistic approach, when people are spending their whole lives building a complex system?" CLI offers Facts, freight management software for the less-than-truckload sector, which includes delivery planning, billing, dispatch, dock management and scanning, EDI, and driver communication, among other capabilities.

McLeod, which integrates with more than 75 partners, believes there are many companies out there with complementary technologies that can help McLeod's software work even better, says Mark Cubine, vice president of marketing.

McLeod's strategy has been to grow organically by focusing on one customer at a time. If the company does buy, it will do so to complement its capabilities, Cubine says. In fact, last month the company announced the acquisition of Enterprise Information Solutions (EIS) of Downer's Grove, Ill., allowing it to move into the less-than-truckload market. Through an integration with the EIS application software product, McLeod has launched LoadMaster LTL, which extends the company's LoadMaster enterprise software beyond its traditional truckload customer base.

"By bringing EIS's TSS product and their team into our organization, we have completed what is probably the most complementary acquisition we ever could have imagined," says Tom McLeod, CEO and founder of McLeod. "From a functional point of view, their products are a terrific extension for our current applications, and from a technology and systems architecture perspective, their development has been on a parallel path with ours for some years now."

Order to Cash Cycle

McLeod's Cubine defines fleet management software as the stuff that allows fleets to run their day-to-day operations, including how they're taking orders, covering those orders and dispatching those orders. It's about managing the entire cycle, from "order to cash," he says.

CLI's Weinberg says the company's Facts software handles all customer activity from the time the fleet gets the call to the financials. For certain aspects in between, CLI works with a partner. For example, for maintenance, Facts integrates with the Squarerigger fleet maintenance system.

Some of these partnerships, acquisitions and integrations are also encompassing the larger supply chain.

TMW, for example, has moved from fleet management to supply chain execution, says Randall Burrell, senior vice president at TMW. Monica Truelsch, director of marketing at TMW, says the company integrates with partners or merges with other providers that will be complementary, add value and extend what TMW already offers. The company's goal has always been to go beyond the concept of fleet management to cover the supply chain.

Chris Silver, senior product marketing manager at Qualcomm Enterprise Services, says technology providers are not buying their competitors, per se, but rather buying those who have play in other parts of the supply chain. "Software is a very powerful thing. Where there's synergy, it makes a lot of sense."

This seems to be the impetus behind Accellos' acquisition of Prophesy in September 2008. Accellos, which provides logistics, warehouse, third-party logistics, transportation, and mobile resource management solutions, wanted to build an environment of industries where that information could be shared, Prophesy's Ashburn says. The thing missing was a transportation management system; that's where Prophesy came in. The acquisition went beyond transportation management to supply chain management, where data could be shared between and across industries, Ashburn says.

Another example is PCS Software's XpressTrax Internet portal, which creates a communication loop between the driver, dispatcher and the shipper, creating an improved workflow across departments. The system addresses the needs of each department because data is shared across departments in one application, accordi