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Software on the move: driving your materials forward with transportation tech

The market is full of software options to improve transportation management.

June 11, 2024  By Matt Jones


Transportation management software can help companies find efficiencies and streamline processes. Photo: Blue Yonder

A wide variety of industries are moving toward increased efficiency and automation, with the gravel, aggregate and roadbuilding industries proving no exception. 

A key tool to help make processes more efficient and reduce costs is transportation management software (TMS). These tools can help streamline, simplify and even automate some of the key facets of your business. Rock To Road spoke with representatives for companies that offer TMS (and the technology such systems are based on) to learn more about the options available.

SAP

Formed in 1972 as Systems Analysis Program Development, SAP’s promotional material boasts that their software “established the global standard for enterprise resource planning software.” The current generation of their software is SAP S/4Hana Cloud. 

“What that means, is we’re looking at things that you’re selling – services or products – to whom, your ability to invoice, bill, receive funds, park the funds someplace, the assets you’re going to need to run your business, and the proper ability to budget and care and feed for those assets,” says SAP industry advisor Dave Blatner. “If we think of trucks in terms of hauling, they’d be tractors and trailers, dump trailers, what sizes, et cetera. And there’s all kinds of things in the portfolio, including the world of telematics.”

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Blatner notes that they have now moved into realms beyond telematics, such as smartwatches that monitor heart rates, blood pressure and other factors. Such technology could be used to alert a driver if they are becoming drowsy.

“If you were a trucking company moving gravel, or maybe you were the gravel pit that had taken an order from a toll road or some authority, ‘I need X number of feet of this grade of rock,’ how do you accept that order?” says Blatner. “And how do you measure the material as it’s leaving your yard?”

SAP’s software covers traditional transportation management as well. Looking at the example of the Ontario’s 407 toll road authority, Blatner notes that a key consideration would be where is the best mine to source gravel from, and what are the load bearing limits of the roads that the trucks must travel on.

“And if you’re the operator of the pit, as the truck comes in, we know its empty weight, as it goes out we know its full weight, and we can start to, almost daily, incrementally bill,” says Blatner. “At the same time, you have the ability to use high-speed imagery to look at the condition of the truck, and could sense that perhaps the truck left without the tarp cover across the back. So, the ability to send a driver an alert and let them know they need to put the tarp roller down. So you can bring that safety aspect into it.”

Blatner notes that what makes SAP’s offerings stand out is the incrementality, which allows for significant flexibility for all companies involved, as well as their incorporation of Esri technology to help manage and track assets.

CRADLEPOINT: A look under the hood

While the other companies Rock to Road spoke to develop software and systems, Cradlepoint is the developer of the base technology that many such systems rely upon.

Cradlepoint’s Jason Falovo describes his company’s technology as the ‘plumbing’ that makes transportation management software work.

“We’re the plumbing for these applications,” says Cradlepoint vice president and general manager, Jason Falovo. 

While the company started with providing failover – offering a wireless backup network at a point of sale, to prevent losses if an internet connection falters – the company has now made a third of their business in mobility. They build cellular routers which go inside vehicles to provide a Wi-Fi connection, which are often used by police forces to connect body cameras or counting fares on public transit. 

“And where we started to see it used more is in heavy equipment manufacturing,” says Falovo. “It started, from my perspective, around asset tracking. With the value of these vehicles, somebody taking them off the lot is quite costly. At its base root, our technology does GPS tracking.”

Rock to Road should note that Cradlepoint’s technology powers the TMS of companies such as Forward Thinking, but they are not necessarily the driver behind the other TMS services mentioned in this article. Forward Thinking employs Cradlepoint’s tech for GPS, as well as connecting sensors for tracking maintenance and other applications. The technology can also be used for ‘geofencing’ – constricting vehicles to a specific area.

“What we’re working on today is, as consumers are moving more and more to wireless and cellular and seeing the benefits of 5G and the freedom it provides, we want to make sure its secure,” says Falovo. “We’re doing that with a product called NCX – it’s our security platform. The ‘internet of things’ connections are mostly wireless, and you have to have security posture in place to take care of that. So we’re focusing on security because we know consumers are going to cut the cord.”

Software such as WrightPlan allows users to manage dispatching in great deal of detail, among other functions. Photo: WrightPlan

WRIGHTPLAN

WrightPlan launched in 2009 and emerged from the need for managing operations software in the construction industry. Its VP of operations & customer experience, Randa Fernandes, says the company’s founder and CEO, Michael Cox, had heard of construction companies using pen and paper-based systems and spreadsheets, and wanted to develop a software solution.

“It was an iterative approach,” says Fernandes. “It started with solving for quoting needs and estimating, and evolved into managing project scheduling, dispatch and so forth. It truly has been an evolution and a journey as we build this product lockstep with our customers.”

WrightPlan is a centralized software tool for administrative staff and field operators. Every step, from estimation, quoting and invoicing, are incorporated into the system. 

Randa Fernandes of WrightPlan says a key focus of their software is eliminating human errors in data entry.

“The biggest thing that we do is we are eliminating data entry at every step,” says Fernandes. “When you start with WrightPlan, and you get your estimation and project quotes in, that same data carries forward through all the way to invoicing so it’s less clicks, giving you more efficiencies during the day.”

Fernandes says the software has allowed some of their customers to get quotes out in a matter of minutes, while reducing misquotes and other losses which occurred due to human error. The system also incorporates all the costs of labour and equipment into its calculations. In the end, it is very easy to look over all aspects of your projects to see where costs may have gone over or under.

For potential customers in the gravel and roadbuilding sectors, WrightPlan is highly customizable. While some businesses in the sector may only be interested in using the system to manage scheduling and dispatch, they may also find value in operations management tools for project tracking.

“We are highly configurable and customizable,” says Fernandes when asked what makes WrightPlan stand out. “We cater to your workflow, we take the time to listen, we take the time to understand, and then we give you a tool that meets your needs. And being SAS-based cloud technology, we can be accessed from anywhere in real time.”

BLUE YONDER

Blue Yonder’s Supply Chain Execution solutions incorporate a variety of options, including transportation and warehouse management systems. 

Ann Marie Jonkman, Blue Yonder’s vice president of global industry strategy, says their platform can help any business that runs product from one site to other locations. Their solutions are applicable to almost any industry, she explains.

“From growing bananas and fresh fruits to hospital deliveries to navigating gravel roads, maintenance, dust and construction, our solutions can connect, collaborate and align your transportation needs,” says Jonkman. “Our solutions are horizontal across all industries.”

Blue Yonder has been developing its TMS for more than 35 years, and is constantly focused on innovating.

Jonkman recommends using their software to digitize planning and labour, as the software can collect data points from a variety of aspects to determine possible efficiencies.

“Since there is digital data available, you are able to perform optimization of routes, labour crews and deliveries,” says Jonkman. “And that optimization serves driving less, saving time for your employees, and generating an improved carbon footprint.”

The company’s software focuses on three stages – digitization, automation and optimization. 

The next step for the software is a new solutions that incorporates predictive AI to compare your business’ historical data with other information, such as weather forecasts and road conditions, to find even more efficiencies.

“We’re launching new cognitive execution solutions in the near future that incorporates both predictive and generative AI,” says Jonkman. 

“Say I’m automatically sending a signal to a local gravel company where I’m going to buy,” she explained. “I’m going to be six hours late, but I have a commitment to buy ‘X’ inventory and deliver it to my customer. I’m automatically sending a signal to buy something, while giving a real-time update of my driver’s location, which will allow the inventory to be ready when the driver arrives to pick it up.”

While this software, even when predictive AI is incorporated, won’t automatically place orders, she statated that it will drive efficiency by preparing an order so that a human can quickly sign off on it.

Jonkman says that what makes Blue Yonder’s offerings stand out is their product innovations, their drive to connect the end-to-end supply chain and their ambition for the future.


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