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October 31, 2011 8:00 AM, EDT

Opinion: Business Process Management

By Kenneth Weinberg

Vice President

Carrier Logistics Inc.

This Opinion piece appears in the Oct. 31 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

There is no question that the trucking industry in the past decade has made substantial progress in its embrace and use of technology to achieve best practices for every vital function and process from fleet management, dispatch and accounting to sophisticated tracking, business intelligence and almost any task you can name. Now comes serious discussion and development of the first game-changer in the industry in many years: business process management (BPM) technology.

The “new” technology is actually the automation of a very old idea — industrial engineering — that came of age during World War II and led to an examination and emphasis on streamlining operations and procedures in the private sector, which became known as process management.

Now, computer applications are taking us toward reduced operating inefficiencies by having an entire organization work together to optimize processes and maximize service to customers. BPM programs can help organizations:

• Make timely responses to customer queries.

• Help customers track urgent shipments.

• Resolve schedule conflicts.

• Handle rate requests and late payments from customers.

The difference is that BPM unifies an entire company’s operations so that the organization’s processes run seamlessly and in concert. BPM has nothing to do with replacing the human and personal element; rather, it is to better integrate technology and staff so that the best interests of your customers are fulfilled.

When I first learned about these tools from the company on whose platform our customers’ systems run, I was immediately intrigued and wondered how our clients might be able to use BPM technology to improve their operations.

We subsequently met in Chicago with five representative customers and sought to identify problems all five faced. I challenged them to come up with issues they had in their business processes that would be significantly enhanced by BPM technology.

• One project related to drivers checking in when they return at night. How often do problems exist in the paperwork? With a BPM technology checklist, these problems all would be eliminated up front, and delays and missing steps would not occur, resulting in fewer problems later.

• A second project dealt with e-mail processing. Large companies receive thousands of e-mails daily from customers that require a proper response. If an executive is on vacation, that e-mail could end up sitting in the recipient’s incoming e-mail box.

Another scenario features the trucking company that gets thousands of e-mails addressed to different people, but no one responds because each assumes that the other person is responding. With BPM technology, e-mails automatically get circulated until an authorized executive responds in a timely fashion — adding an automatic alert if no one responds.

• A third project focused on the problem of late linehauls. With BPM technology, if freight is late in arriving at the terminal, alerts can be created to notify the carrier whether the cargo will make it the next morning in time for the outbound truck.

These alerts will be sent automatically to everyone affected by the late arrival. The program will notify your customer when their shipment will miss a scheduled 10 a.m. arrival for the assembly line. The customer may not be overjoyed with this information, but you will have gone a long way toward minimizing ill feeling — and will probably be credited for your courtesy.

BPM technology can address other situations trucking companies face daily. If a shipment is delayed, BPM technology not only will alert the receiver, it will locate the shipment and schedule its arrival, resolve interline problems and lost shipments, provide proof of delivery and expedite the response to the customer — all without significant human intervention.

BPM technology will handle scheduling conflicts, rate requests, CODs, and delinquencies of accounts receivable and accounts payable, including lateness in paying and credit exceeding or nearing the dollar limit, again, all automatically and without a labor cost.

If you think this is simply a matter of programming individual processes, think again. The beauty of BPM technology is that it works on procedures easily applied to other situations. Once the system is installed it can easily be transferred to other processes without having to write new computer programs. The real value is that the program can be reused any number of times. BPM technology also can be applied to legacy systems.

BPM technology already is being used in many other industries. Airlines are using it to identify preferred customers and track lost luggage, and BPM technology is being used in a school system to give and score tests online and speed up the substitute teacher process, among other processes. And, of course, the leading large transportation carriers are already reaping the benefits of BPM.

The best news is BPM technology is affordable today for carriers of all sizes based on its robust ROI and money saving features. And its value will only increase as it is applied to more and more processes, making it only a matter of time before companies in every segment are using BPM as a competitive advantage.

Ken Weinberg is the co-founder of Carrier Logistics Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y., a provider of transportation and logistics software management systems.