Economy and Technology and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

Trucking firm to roll out own software product: Hoosier Tradewinds targets driver shortage

January 10, 2005

Carmel trucking line Hoosier Tradewinds Inc. plans to deliver an unusual product-its own software company.

Tradewinds Technologies will offer an intranet portal product trucking firms can use to track everything from delivery status to driver revenue.

The company will break ground by the end of next month on an 8,000-squarefoot facility at U.S. 31 and 236th Street. It also will house new corporate offices for Hoosier Tradewinds.

The TIRES portal, short for Tradewinds Information Resource, will be marketed partly as a tool to reduce driver turnover, a problem plaguing the long-haul trucking industry.

Already in use at Hoosier Tradewinds, TIRES alerts managers where a driver sits in terms of revenue, miles and other key measurements. If he he has too much down time, which can ding a driver's income, a manager can intervene before the end of the week and steer more work to the driver.

"We can say, 'You only had two trips this week. We need to get another load on you.' That makes him happy. That makes us happy," said Matthew Deck, executive vice president of Hoosier Tradewinds.

The trucking line contracts with owneroperators. About 90 tractors pull more than 130 trailers between the Midwest and East Coast.

Tradewinds Technologies will employ a handful of workers, initially. The 7-year-old trucking line has 20 employees.

Product will start shipping in the second half of the year.

"We want to target the other 29,000 trucking companies that are small to medium-sized," said Ben Becker, vice president of information systems.

Having a chief information officer at a smaller trucking firm is unusual. Purdue University graduate Becker previously worked for Chicago-based Braun Consulting to help Fortune 500 companies with data warehousing. Such stockpiles of information help a client's disparate divisions cross-sell products to one another's customers, for example.

Becker was tapped a year ago as company principals sought to design their own information systems to help recruit and retain drivers. Losing a driver can cost a trucking firm $4,000 to $6,000, including the cost to recruit a new one. About 90 percent of Hoosier Tradewinds' marketing budgeting goes to recruitment and retention, money that could be used to cultivate new shipping customers.

Although there are several off-the-shelf software products, including one Hoosier Tradewinds bought for dispatching, the cost of customizing them was prohibitive. Many are not transportation-specific.

Becker's portal ties together a plethora of information and crunches it in excruciating detail. A driver profile includes a log of miles driven, revenue, average time late-and can chart how the driver's stats compare with all drivers.

"Our driver retention manager can see a driver's miles trending down and approach the operations manager to make sure that we focus on getting more miles or find out why he hasn't been running as much," Deck said.

Any technology to address driver concerns could be helpful in alleviating turnover, said Kenneth Cragen, president of the Indiana Motor Truck Association. Driver retention "is probably the most common problem in the trucking industry right now."

The shortage was caused in part by soaring freight volumes and an exodus of experienced drivers who left the business when the economy soured.

Probably the top reason drivers cite for leaving a particular company "is because they don't get home often enough," Cragen said. Some of that problem can be attributed to drivers tiring of long waits to be loaded or unloaded.

Deck said Tradewinds' software would be especially effective when married with on-board tracking systems in trucks. By showing if a driver has been waiting for an extended time, a manager not only knows to react, "but eventually [we can] determine if we want to keep delivering to that location per the consistent excessive waiting time that we experience."

Becker's portal is linked with a scheduling database so a truck's availability can be listed days in advance, improving the odds of finding a shipper for a return trip. Brokers also can access that information online, reducing the burden for the trucking firm's staff.

Becker said Tradewinds Technologies has yet to price the intranet portal product.


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