Johnson: We are currently most concerned about capacity. An improving economy is increasing demand for transportation and hours of service (HOS) rules are making carries less efficient. Estimates I have seen indicate an impact of anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent. So it is like there are that many fewer trucks on the road. We have been very focused on being more efficient and carrier friendly---measuring dock turn times, addressing "problem docks" with our carrier base. Quarter four is our peak volume time. Last year, we spent a lot of time and effort as a cross-functional/supply chain team to make sure we had the trucks we needed. I expect this year to be challenging too.
Foster: Today we face considerable challenges in fuel costs, driver turnover and shortage, network consolidation and rationalization, equipment manufacturing lead time and costs… all combined with mounting pressure from shippers and receivers for improved service and lower costs. Interestingly, the new HOS regulation has proven to be more of a minor issue compared to others and not catastrophic, as many industry naysayers were proclaiming before enactment.
Factors for driver availability substantially more influential than HOS include: private fleet reductions, expanded outsourcing, more owner operators vs. employed drivers, insurance requirements and consistency in driver training programs, as well as lifestyle value for the workforce.
We are using a "component" strategy for technology. That is, selecting what we consider to be the leading technology for operation-specific requirements and then linking those solutions via "bridging" systems we’ve developed internally. We have discovered that this approach has the most comprehensive impact on the business. This is an important point. In the past, many organizations have taken a path that drove solutions toward a homogenized, "one-size-fits-all" outcome or a purely technology-driven direction that met infrastructure requirements but compromised business requirements… or worse yet, sometimes both.
If we do compromise today, it is in the technology support, not the business side. Technology for our company is business-directed, whereas in the past, technology was "pushed" to the user community, with a shortfall in systems capabilities, or the wrong capabilities for the enterprise. The "business-leading" method has been extraordinarily powerful in bringing technology-supported process improvement into a large-scale and complex industry.
How have your transportation management systems been changing to enable your company to operate more efficiently and serve customers better?
Meister: We have moved to a transportation management system from LeanLogistics that is fully integrated with our ERP system. This Web-based system has allowed us to connect all partners in the delivery process (sales, customer service, warehouse, carrier, transportation management) using the Internet. Users have access to the same information at the same time, which means the number of phone calls and faxes has decreased. Automation of the execution of routine transactions reduces cost and allows us to focus on exceptions resulting in improved customer service.
Johnson: We utilize our TMS, Nistevo, for tendering loads via EDI or the Internet for real-time load visibility and for metric reporting, on-time delivery and dock turn times. Later this year, we expect to utilize it for dock scheduling and for optimization of routing of customer freight.
Kent: Dedicated fleets and engineered solutions provide higher levels of service, dedicated capacity and the most competitive pricing.
Parry: We are now providing information to our customers and addressing issues in a proactive and near-real-time manner. For example, we are able to change schedules to avoid congestion and delays at our supermarket delivery docks. We are also utilizing more cross docks of DSD goods onto our private fleet.
How are you incorporating visibility into your transportation planning?
Kent: Visibility is an important goal across our supply network. It will allow us to better meet the needs of our retail customers and the consumers we both serve. As we work with retail customers to have more lead time, we electronically tender loads five days in advance of shipment. If we need back-up capacity, we will post loads available to a select group of carriers via a private exchange.