What do an old-school auto manufacturer, a soft drink maker, the world's largest discount retailer, a consumer packaged goods company -- and some of the country's most creative trucking companies -- have in common? Innovative use of information technology.

Dave Wangler, president of trucking software provider TMW Systems, focused on these innovators in his opening remarks at last week's TMW TransForum user's conference. His goal? To inspire trucking companies to think about creative use of IT.

If you look at the top of BusinessWeek magazine's 50 Most Innovative Companies list, Wangler said, you'll find no surprises. The number one spot went to Apple Computer, which has revolutionized the way we interact with computers and the way we buy and experience music and other media. Other top companies included Google, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon.

A little further down the list, however, and you see names like Ford Motor Company, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and Procter and Gamble.


P&G, for instance, decided it needed a dramatically different R&D strategy: acquire 50 percent of its new product innovations from outside the company. They decided to call it "Connect and Deliver." They built a network of secure, online portals and a global team of technical professionals to manage the effort out in the field.

"Want some examples? Next time you bite into a Pringle's Prints chip you should think of the university professor in Italy who used his small bakery as a laboratory to perfect ink jet printing techniques with edible inks."

Ford, Wangler said, recently won awards at the Consumer Electronics Show for something called Work Solutions. This is a collection of technologies created by Ford for their commercial truck and van customers to provide connectivity, flexibility and improved security to manage their businesses better. This technology is now available on an in-dash computer powered by Microsoft Auto that comes as an option on all Ford F-Series pickups, E-series vans and the new Transit Connect commercial fleet van.

The news that put Coke on the top innovators' list was something called "Freestyle," a software-driven dispenser for various soft drinks. Using a micro-dosing technology borrowed from the medical industry, the new Freestyle machines can serve up to 106 different varieties of sodas, teas, juices and flavored waters Not only does it provide a cool experience for the user, but it also transmits data back to Coke each night -- data that can be used to help Coke see how new drink combinations are doing and help retailers identify the best-selling drinks and know when to order more cartridges.


"And then we have Wal-Mart, the world's largest and most successful discount retailer," Wangler said. "I certainly didn't expect Wal-Mart to appear on a list of the 50 most innovative companies, nor for IT to be a competitive strength. Like many people, I just assumed they brought everything in from China, efficiently delivered it to their shelves and then sold it with a nice markup."

Wal-Mart is now deploying Behavioral Targeting Technology-- or BTT-- at their Asda business unit in Great Britain. BTT is a class of consumer marketing research systems that connect a customer's journey through a retail web site, their exposure to online advertising and marketing emails, their search engine activity and even their interaction with a retailer's affiliates.

Wal-Mart also plans to implement in its U.S. stores is Smartcard Payment Technology, also known as Chip-and-PIN. Widely used outside of the U.S., the smartcards use microprocessors and flash memory embedded in a credit card to store information about the cardholder and his account. To complete a transaction, cardholders must enter a PIN code, much like you do with a debit card today. Credit card fraud is way down where Chip-and-PIN has been adopted, so crime rings are moving their operations to the U.S.


But guess what -- there are trucking companies that are doing innovative things with technology, too. Wangler went on to highlight some of the creative ways TMW customers have been using IT.

First Fleet in Murfreesboro, Tenn, has taken advantage of the open design of TMWSuite to meet the needs of customers, partners, drivers and other employees, using iGoogle gadgets and web portal mash-ups combining truck tracking and imaging data. Each of these high-value applications was designed to do a small number of things extremely well.

BevHAUL Logistics, a dedicated carrier servicing major beverage producers and their distributors on the West Coast, used Innovative Access, a TMW software-as-a-service dispatch software, to integrate with their existing IBM-based accounting software. Managers were given laptops with wireless Internet so they could use the system while out working with customers. BevHAUL has grown from 14 trucks to 50 in two years, and expects to double again in size by 2012.

Mobility was also key for Nashville, Tenn.-based Irving Materials. It took its TMT Fleet Maintenance software on the road with ruggedized laptops for its five mobile repair trucks, equipped with air cards for wireless Internet access on the road. They can pull up vehicle histories, open repair orders, and record work competed. Mobile staff can identify preventive maintenance asks due and take advantage of warranty recovery opportunities, just as if they were working back at the shop.

Central Refrigerated Service, one of the nation's largest temperature-controlled truckload carriers, used IT to deal with the cutthroat rate pressures of the past couple of years. They were one of the first carriers to deploy IDSC MatchAdvice 6.0 load-matching application. Central was able to realize a 15 percent average drop in deadhead mileage each month. By combining their use of IDSC Match Advice with IDSC Netwise, they were able to boost their profitability by picking the right loads to accept and reject. Brad Culy, director of sales at Central Refrigerated, says MatchAdvice generates solutions that people normally wouldn't have considered.

Next year, TMW will recognize more of these technology innovators as it presents its first-ever TMW Technology awards. Because, Wangler said, "The real secret to innovative technology, why it works and sometimes doesn't, what kind of potential it holds-it's worthless without the people who create it and use it and support it."