Logistics software helps small fleets tackle industry challenges

Trucking software has the potential to provide small-scale transportation businesses with unique opportunities to remain competitive in an increasingly challenging industry landscape. Freight management comprises a large sector of the U.S. economy in which large corporations often compete directly with smaller operations to deliver products and services to customers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Such characteristics of the industry have created multiple obstacles for small enterprises. For example, the massive capacity for growth and production among the large freight organizations has a profound influence on the existing federal regulatory framework governing daily business operations. Similarly, the need to keep up with rapid advancements in industry technology has made it especially hard for small businesses to retain customers and maintain a competitive edge over similar companies.

"Shippers want to move their goods as cheaply as possible," Marlaina-Gayle Betnaza, a trucking professional wrote on her blog, Life with No Fixed Address. "The major carriers have volume to drive down price. The challenge for the small trucking fleets and owner operators is to persuade shippers that their services and equipment offers qualities worthy of a price premium."

Some of the most recent developments regarding the regulatory and economic issues affecting the heavy-duty transportation industry have highlighted the benefits of investing in advanced fleet management software programs:

Compliance with CSA and other federal rules
One of the most pressing issues facing small trucking business in the U.S. is the advancement of Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) regulations established recently by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). According to FMCSA, the rules were created with the overall goal of improving highway safety for large trucks and buses by introducing new enforcement and compliance models.

Commercial Carrier Journal has reported extensively in recent weeks about the effects of these regulations on small fleet management operations. In fact, many transportation organizations have banded together in recent years to convince the FMCSA to ease the severity of many of the regulations. Many industry experts believe the regulations unfairly place small operations under the same scrutiny as the largest carriers.

"The trucking industry is made up of tens of thousands of small-business people, and they're under assault in terms of trying to deal with a system that is unfairly classifying those carriers as having a safety issue," Tom Sanderson, CEO of Transplace and president of the Alliance for Safe, Efficient and Competitive Truck Transportation (ASECTT).

Despite the challenges related to CSA regulations, owners of small fleet management operations can utilize transportation software programs to keep better track of ongoing deliveries and increase individual driver safety without compromising efficiency or low overhead costs.

Pricing issues related to unfulfilled loads
Small businesses face a variety of challenges on economic fronts as well. According to Betnaza, simple logistics challenges can have magnified impacts on small and medium-sized carriers. For instance, if a fleet owner sends a truck out to pick up a load, but the customer backs out of the assignment at the last minute, companies run the risk of losing large amounts of income.

"Small business owners everywhere leave too much money on the table," Betnaza said.

To make up for these losses, dispatch software can help business make the most efficient use of available resources and ultimately limit operation costs as much as possible.

Increasing fuel standards
Several factors contribute to the growing need for freight companies of all sizes to limit fuel costs. The volatility of the global oil market often has unpredictable effects on gas prices at the pump. However, an increase in federal scrutiny on greenhouse gas emissions as a result of a growing concern about the negative impacts of climate change has also made it necessary for many fleet owners to consider alternative fuel options. A recent article in The Washington Post said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tried to increase the level of ethanol and other biofuels used in cars and trucks. However, the agency recently announced it has scaled back its plans for 2014, meaning gasoline refiners will have to use only 15.2 billion gallons of biofuels as opposed to 16.55 billion this year.

Regardless of the amount of alternative energy required for vehicles, fleet managers can benefit from investing in equipment maintenance software programs that make it easier to update existing fleets to handle new kinds of fuel.