"99% on-time service used to be good, but in ecommerce it's barely acceptable," said president and CEO Douglas Duncan.
Like others involved in ecommerce, Duncan sees dramatic changes in the traditional supply chain. The shipment that formerly went from manufacturer to warehouse now goes from manufacturer to small business on 18th floor - that does not have a loading dock, he said.
"It's still LTL but it's not traditional LTL. It's more individual deliveries, which means that capacity requirements go up."
This trend could put Viking in an equipment bind. Right now the company uses tractors pulling single pups for local pickup and delivery, and doubles or triples for long hauls up and down the coast. But more frequent deliveries to small businesses may require smaller units, and that could reduce the efficiencies of this dual-use configuration, Duncan said.
Ecommerce creates other stresses, as well. Viking must provide a wide range of technologies and services to everyone in its large customer base. Some customers still rely solely on the telephone, while others are at the leading edge on the Internet. "We have to support all and everything in between," said Duncan.
He said the company is experimenting with some of the new dotcom companies, but is approaching that market with care. As a high-value carrier with a high cost structure, Viking must distinguish itself from commodity-type carriers, he said. The company can't, for example, use portals where shippers go to shop for the lowest price.
In other areas Viking is moving ahead quickly. Duncan said drivers will start using wireless handheld personal computers in the cab this summer, replacing radios and telephones. The plan is to link the units to inbound planning and automated dispatch software.
That way, customers will be able to use Viking's web site to place orders for shipment. The company then can send automated messages for pickup, sequencing, assignment of equipment.
"This will produce tremendous efficiency," Duncan said. In effect, it will link the customer directly to the driver, and give the company much more control over the daily freight flow and equipment use.
The key to surviving the ecommerce revolution, Duncan says, is to use customers as your teachers, and remain open to change.
"We will be shaped and reshaped numerous times as ecommerce proceeds."